By Yvette Scorse, Communications Director
“Technology changed a lot and I knew I needed to catch up,” Cassandra Lewis-Garrett says.
As Cassandra started entering the last phase of her working life, she was working part time and unable to afford many things, and she looked back. “I had a passion for helping people and a strong passion for computers, and I had to put those together,” she says.
Love at First Tech
Growing up in Northwest Washington, DC, she was intrigued by computers, but found that you had to be “more privileged to use technology every day,” she says. “But I didn’t want to be left behind.” So, she earned a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems from Strayer University, she learned DOS, and she bought her first home computer from Radio Shack.
But Cassandra’s tech training pretty much ended there, in 1998.
Wait a Minute…
Years later, after years away from tech, she saw robots for the first time and thought, “Wait a minute, I can do this. I need to switch gears and get back into this field.” Her goal then became more focused on what she calls her “driving force” – really living.
“I didn’t want to just survive,” Cassandra says, “I wanted to live, and I wanted to enjoy the rest of my life.”
Getting Reskilled 20 Years Later
She found out about free training at Byte Back 20 years after her college graduation, in 2018. “I actually went back to the basics because I wanted to learn everything again, and I’m glad I did,” Cassandra says about her journey, starting with Computer Foundations 1 and moving up to Byte Back’s most advanced IT certification course, CompTIA A+.
At the time, she had a part-time job and couldn’t afford costly training. “Byte Back eliminates the financial pressure,” she says, “so I’m glad they have a lot of sponsors to give back to the community. I’m very appreciative.”
It wasn’t easy realizing she wanted to start from the beginning, but it was so worthwhile. “When I reentered the tech world, I knew things had changed, and it as a little scary. I really really needed to go past my fears and jump right to it and keep my mind open.”
Finding Community in Class
During her four courses at Byte Back, she found instructors who worked to engage her and her classmates, who she calls her “colleagues.” She found other supportive staff and volunteers who helped with career preparation, her resume, and mock interviews. And she found that her “colleagues” created a community of dedicated, collaborative people, who she would stay in touch with even after graduation.
“[Byte Back is] focused on working together, bringing everybody together as a family, an extended family, and you feel more at home in that learning atmosphere,” Cassandra says.
As she finished her final course, Cassandra felt knowledgeable, energized, and confident. “It’s very accessible at Byte Back,” she shares. “There’s no boundaries, everybody has open arms, and that helps boost your confidence.”
“I submitted a lot of resumes to a lot of companies, and I got that one YES, and it was the right YES,” Cassandra says.
After that “yes” came an interview with six people at a table. But Cassandra felt confident. And she nailed it! Then came a second interview, and she felt great about it.
On a Friday, she got the email, and she called to immediately say, “Yes!,” and on Monday, she was getting her badge for her new job as a Tier 1 Helpdesk at a major financial institution.
“I love my job, I really do. Every day is different. Every call is different. I’m learning different applications. It’s a lot of hands on, and I love that,” she says smiling. “It was like my dream job.”
Not only does Cassandra find the job satisfying, but she’s also very happy with the pay. “I’m catching up on bills, and just get to do those small things, like to be able to get a manicure/pedicure or go out with friends and not feel embarrassed about saying no.”
“Thanks to Byte Back, I’m earning more,” she says.
Living, Not Just Surviving
One of the things Cassandra loves most about her job is that she’s continuing to learn from her work and her colleagues. “I want to learn, I want to get better, and my boss likes that.” Her colleagues also notice her dedication to work. “It’s because I enjoy it,” she says.
She’s also confident that her example has been inspiring for her daughter, who is a college student. “She can say, ‘My mom didn’t give up, so I can’t give up,’” she says.
Needless to say, though she left the IT field once, she plans on staying put now. “This is how anyone can live, not just survive – through technology,” Cassandra says.