Today synED, a national non-profit organization that identifies emerging best practices for effective articulation between employers, job seekers, and education providers, announced that Nam Duong is this month’s CyberHero.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of billions of people around the world, and Nam Duong is no exception. In September 2021, Mr. Duong’s employer closed due to the pandemic. What happened next is what sets Mr. Duong apart: he began a career pivot that saw him earn a Bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, get more than half a dozen industry certifications, and prepare himself for a future-sustaining career, all in a matter of ten weeks.
Every job seeker is unique, and certainly Mr. Duong’s process is not for everyone, but the way in which Mr. Duong took charge of his retraining and education lights a path that every job seeker can learn from. In fact, he’s now paying it forward by helping others navigate the same education and training resources he used, volunteering to share his advice and even mentor one-on-one those struggling to get through certifications.
Mr. Duong’s first step, upon losing his job, was to secure a spot in a retraining program focused on getting job seekers trained and certified for a career in the health care information technology field. Futuro Health, a partnership between Kaiser Permanente and SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), runs an education-to-work model that supports candidates through career exploration and determining the best pathway toward credential or licensure attainment.
The Futuro Health IT Specialist Program is 24 weeks, followed by synED’s additional 90-day CompTIA A+ certification concierge program.
“I was able to complete that whole 24-week course in under a week,” Mr. Doung explained. “It was competency based, so you move at your own pace. You watch the videos, you read materials, and then they’d give you a quiz and then you move on the next module.”
Mr. Doung figured out how to speed up the process in a way that worked for his learning style and capability. “The videos were straightforward, and I liked watching them, but they were a little slow and repetitive. Futuro didn’t have the option to speed up the video, so I had to implement a ‘hack’ into the video to speed it up by 3 or 4 times.”
“I think there’s a lot about the human mind that we’re still learning, and I think we process information a lot faster than we think we can,” Mr. Doung said. “When a professor is lecturing and it’s in the morning and they’re mono-toning, your brain is going to fall asleep because it’s not actively engaged. But if they were to talk much faster, you might be more engaged, need to write notes much faster, you’re on orange alert – maybe even red alert.”
After completing the 24-week course in one week, Mr. Doung was ready to move on to the SynED A+ certification concierge program.
SynED’s concierge program helps participants achieve a high level of competency with the subject matter and helps prepare them with exam strategies to keep them from getting stressed out by the exam-taking environment. Normally, this process runs about 90 days – Mr. Duong passed in thirteen days.
Hungry for more and knowing that the A+ Certification was entry level, Mr. Duong took and passed the Network+ certification.
“After I passed the A+ Certification, I aimed even higher. Eight days after that, I passed the Security+. Those are still entry level certifications, so then I went after the medium tier. Those can require four years of experience. I passed the [CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+)], the [CompTIA PenTest+] and then I completed level three certifications. Wanting even more, I found a cybersecurity Bachelor’s degree program at Western Governors University,” Mr. Duong said. “They’re competency-based and on a semester schedule, with 12 or 14 units per semester. But if you finish faster, they’ll open more classes to you.”
With credits from his Associates degree from a community college, it took Mr. Duong about ten days to finish his degree: a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance.
Critical to Mr. Duong’s success was keeping up his momentum, taking advantage of the time allowed by his layoff and his aptitude for the subject matter to zoom through education and certification steps that normally take months, if not years. He didn’t stop after reaching his first or second goals, he kept going and set new goals.
At his previous job, which only ended because of the pandemic, Mr. Duong’s self-taught skills in API scripting, a process by which business systems interface, resulted in increased revenue of $1.5 million for his company.
“While I don’t want to start at the bottom of the totem pole, I’m not opposed to it, if that’s what it takes. But at the same time, I’d like to shoot for something in between changing passwords and protecting a corporate network.”
In the meantime, Mr. Duong is helping other cyber job seekers, even over the busy holiday season.
“In December, I asked my SynED coach if any students needed mentoring, so she set up a free webinar for students with questions, personal or otherwise,” he shared. “I want people to know that it can be done. I’ve never been top of my class – I’m a pretty average student. Some people sell themselves too short, they can do it.”
One individual who connected with Mr. Duong was re-entering the IT field amidst a career pivot and was downtrodden after struggling with a certification. With Mr. Duong’s advice and inspiration, he got certified on his next try.