How IBM SkillsBuild Supercharged a Community College Student's Career Path


IBM, Tuesday, October 25, 2022, Press release picture
IBM, Tuesday, October 25, 2022, Press release picture

In honor of National Online Learning Day, which recognizes the advantages and vast potential of online learning, we are fortunate to have contributor Bria Whitehead publish the first-person account here of her career readiness journey. She hopes it will inspire others who are deciding how they can best achieve their education and career training goals.

I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with my twin sister, a paralegal, and my older brother, a computer science high school teacher. My mom worked in human resources and my dad worked as a manager for a paint manufacturing company for over 30 years. Growing up, my parents always encouraged us to do whatever made us happy. At first, I thought about going to nursing school but that quickly changed because I'm emotional and get attached quickly. I felt like I needed to major in something related to technology because, at home, I've always been the go-to IT person. Everyone would come to me with tech questions, and I've always been interested in how data works, so I ultimately decided that computer science would be a good route for me.


After high school, I enrolled in Baton Rouge Community College where I studied computer science. Starting at a community college felt like the best route for me, not only to save money, but I knew college credits would transfer should I decide down the line to pursue a four-year degree. While in college, I was introduced to IBM SkillsBuild via my computer science instructor. I looked through the program online and found it very interesting and helpful, so I took a few courses and received badges in cybersecurity, professional workplace skills, and agile learning. During the pandemic, I found myself with free time, so I was happy to find a new avenue to spend my time while gaining new skills. IBM SkillsBuild was extremely valuable in giving me a foundation in the many fields of computer science and gaining fundamental knowledge. The ability to take courses at my own pace, without due dates, was tremendously valuable.

When I heard about the IBM Apprenticeship program, I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of it. This is a paid, one-year program with a competitive admissions process, in which participants take IBM classes and receive on-the-job training. I'd been working part-time at the Louisiana Department of Education for a few years as a student worker and felt like I was ready to train for and potentially take on a job within the field I majored in. Initially, there wasn't an opening for IBM's Apprenticeship program in Baton Rouge, so I would check the website periodically until a local opportunity became available. I applied and the next thing I knew I received an offer. I was shocked - and so happy and proud of what I had achieved.

I'm pleased with the decisions I've made for my career so far. If I hadn't joined Baton Rouge Community College, I probably wouldn't be here today. Community college classes are smaller, so I was fortunate to have one-on-one time with my professors and other students. When it came to my career journey, they looked out for me and introduced me to the many resources IBM has to offer.

My advice to students trying to get into the field of technology or those unsure about their career path is to take the time to learn and practice and find something that makes them happy. It's easy to get frustrated if other students pick up skills or find a job faster than you. Their pace isn't your pace. Coding and programming might be the first thing people think of when they think about a tech career but that's not it. There are hundreds of free online tech courses, like IBM SkillsBuild, to get your career started and see if this field of study is for you. Go in with a growth mindset and be curious because technology is an ever-growing field.

I can't wait to see what the future has in store for me. In the next five years, I hope to see myself still working in the tech field and at IBM. Having worked on projects that made a difference for people. Being a mentor to others like me to help them see their potential.

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