At just 9 years old, Rolando Estrada built his first computer from scratch all on his own after an article in PC Magazine piqued his interest in computer science. After a little research and a little troubleshooting, he remembers the feeling he got when that computer turned on.
“I knew I had a passion for technology and building things in general… it just captured my imagination,” he says.
Then, when Rolando was just a teenager, his father lost the family business. After graduating high school in 2012, admittedly with not the best grades and not immediately confident about attending college, Rolando wasn’t sure what he could do in order to help his family.
“We were not doing really well. We were scraping by,” he explains.
That’s when a lightbulb went off — why not turn this hobby into a career? But even after he became a certified PC technician, Rolando found the workforce difficult to break into as someone who didn’t receive much on-the-job experience.
Then, he enrolled at the Richard J. Daley College at City Colleges of Chicago to study computer science, where he found that the teachers took the time to make sure that he learned the material.
“Daley has been so helpful… I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”
Last spring, with graduation quickly approaching, the intensely self-motivated 23-year-old applied for what was supposed to be an internship at the oil company BP after Daley College presented the opportunity. Impressed by his knowledge, BP immediately offered him a well-paid permanent position as as a software developer trainee. He’ll be learning more complex Java language in order to write enterprise level applications in hopes of becoming a full-time software developer. And he’s enrolled at Illinois Institute of Technology to get his bachelor’s in computer science.
“I thought I would never get to this point for some reason — you know how the world is where sometimes good opportunities are very hard to come by,” he says. “Who knows where I’ll be in a few years, but I’m definitely working hard to be successful.”
In 2012, Rachida Belsifar moved from her home country of Morocco to make a new home in Chicago. With her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, Rachida held many jobs in Morocco, from working as a secretary, to teaching French and Arabic, to data entry. But it’s computers she loves.
“I think that IT is opening lots of opportunities to work now, you just need to get good experience,” she explains.
She found Wilbur Wright College to be a place where she could take ESOL classes and develop the skills she needed to land a good job. At the college, Rachica gained hands-on experience, working part-time at the IT help desk where she learned computer networking as a troubleshooter, resolving a range of software, hardware and connectivity issues. She also learned to code in Java.
After graduating in May with an associate degree in computer information systems, Rachida was thrilled to be hired at Accenture as a one-year apprentice, working on a team as a support analyst while she continues to develop her skills. Accenture is one of City College’s College to Careers partners.
“It was like a dream.”
“The apprenticeship program is a great opportunity to build on what I learned at City Colleges as I enter the workforce and gain on-the-job experience,” she said. “My goal now is to learn as much as possible, gain more experience, be part of the team and develop my skills [in hopes that Accenture] will hire me next year as a permanent employee.”
Learn more about Chicago City Colleges’ academic offerings at this link, and more about City Colleges’ College to Careers program here.
Tags: Chicago, City Colleges of Chicago, College to Careers, Computer Science Education Week, CSStories, Illinois Institute of Technology, Micosoft, Rachida Belsifar, Richard J. Daley College, Rolando Estrada, STEM