Construction contractor builds new software career

“I needed some place to start if I was
going to get a new career. Once I got
the certificates, I had that.”

From his quiet Capitola home office overlooking a blooming climbing rose and backyard catio, senior software engineer Rod Jackson hunkers down at his PC to work for a San Jose-based Fortune 500 company. The former licensed contractor who used to spend his days remodeling bathrooms and building custom homes has loved computers since he began tinkering with them in the 90s. He remembers installing Linux 1.0 on his laptop on his wedding day.

“I was really interested in programming—how you get this thing to do things and what was going on underneath,” Rod says. “I just really wanted to learn more and more. I was becoming a geek.”

After 20 years of construction, the road to a career makeover started with a few courses in networking administration and C programming. Back then, however, he didn’t really know if anyone would pay him to be a geek.

“I soaked up everything I could out of those classes.”

Rod met some people working in the industry who gave him encouragement. In the classes, he worked on the latest hardware of the day—Sun Microsystem Solaris machines—and earned two Extension certificates—Unix System Administration and C Programming.  (These certificates have been updated over the years to the Linux Programming and Administration and the Computer Programming certificates.)

“I needed some place to start if I was going to get a new career. Once I got the certificates, I had that.”

Rod had little real-life experience as a systems administrator or programmer, but a recruiter for a contract tech company had a good feeling about him and a prospective employer—Sun Microsystems—noted his skills certificates. He was hired to help set up teams of programmers in new Bay Area offices.

“I was like a kid in a candy store. Everything was new and interesting to me.”

Rod closed out his own construction business. He eventually landed another temporary job working in IT as a systems administrator for the international networking company that still employs him today.

“It was a big step up in salary and a great opportunity,” Rod says. “I didn’t know what I was going to learn. It just felt like the next right step.”

Over the years, Rod has developed more skills and works on a team that develops a product to help companies manage their network.

“If there’s something that’s gone wrong and nobody knows why, that’s where I jump in,” Rod says. “The Extension courses gave me a basis for being able to do this. I was able to build on that foundation that I got and am still working in C today.”

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