Turning a COVID-19 Layoff into a New Career: Eric Thompson

Turning a COVID-19 Layoff into a New Career: Eric Thompson

After getting laid off in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Eric decided to focus on a new career in cybersecurity. This is the story of how he made that switch.

“I’ve always been a techie. I’ve got tons of computers at home that I tinker with all the time. And I just love helping people by looking at their current environment. They tell me, ‘We’re having trouble with this, how can we fix it?’ And that’s what I’ve always liked doing with IT.”

Watch the video below, and read on to learn more about Eric’s IT training success story.

Trouble with the Pandemic

Eric moved to Colorado in 2012 and had a great career in IT sales. In college, he had double majored in business and computers and enjoyed having one foot in each world.  Eric switched companies so that he could stay in Colorado. Not longer after this switch, his company merged with another. They were struggling when COVID-19 hit, and he was laid off in April of 2020.

Looking for a next step, Eric’s brother reminded him about his passion for cybersecurity. Eric started working on getting some certifications he hadn’t needed for his career in sales, and completed his Security+ in a month of self-study. He was looking for a next step when he met up with Ken Hoerning. Ken is one of the Career Training Consultants here at ACI Learning (formerly LeaderQuest), and was able to advise Eric on a plan of action.

“Ken walked me through start to end, ‘Here’s how we can get you into this class, here’s kind of what it looks like, here’s what the courses are going to be, here’s what you can anticipate,’ all the way through the test.”

Training at ACI Learning

Eric took our one-week CISSP prep training course, and chose to also attend an evening schedule.

“For the CISSP program, I actually took the class both in the day session and the night session. The day session was about 8 hours a day. Everything was remote, so you’re basically on your computer and the instructor is talking about things and it’s very interactive. You have sample questions and group discussion, but mainly it’s going through the book in the best way possible. ACI has their own materials for this. ACI will let you resit as many times as you want so that was a very nice offer.”

“I think ACI did a very good job as far as being able to get in the highlights and provide materials in the time they had. They give you access to several test banks, which is very nice. I worked with some of my classmates and we started a daily training session to share information and go over practice questions.“

CISSPs are information assurance professionals who define the architecture, design, management, and/or controls that assure the security of business environments. The CISSP certification was the first certification in the field of information technology and cybersecurity to meet the requirements of ISO/IEC Standard 17024.

Our CISSP training offers a job-focused approach to the cybersecurity process while providing the basic skills required to prepare for CISSP certification. Get live training, online or in person, from an instructor with industry experience. You’ll also gain access to a plethora of practice tests, videos, and other resources designed to teach you everything you need to know to pass the exam. If you’re not feeling ready, you can resit the course as many times as you’d like for up to 24 months! And when you’re done, you’ll have the full support of our Career Services team to help you find the job that’s right for you.

If you’re not ready to tackle something as advanced as CISSP, we offer foundational courses in our Computer User Support Specialist program, as well as mid-level certifications like CCNA, Certified Network Defender (CND), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and more!

Career Services Support and Getting a DoD Job After Training

Eric worked with our campus Career Services staff to find his ideal job: working with a DoD contractor. Our Employment Development Managers (EDMs) specialize in helping graduates perfect their resume and online presence, make connections with local people and companies, and get the interviews needed to land their dream job.

“Michelle Martin has been wonderful. She sent millions of things to me per day saying, ‘You should check out this and this and this’ and it was really helpful. So just the energy and the passion that ACI had and their commitment of making sure everything went well, all the follow-ups, everything else, was very helpful.”

Michelle and I talked many times. I was very passionate about finding a DoD position. And so she said you should connect with this person on LinkedIn or this person on Amazon, and talk to these individuals and she made some introductions and it really helped.”

As of early August 2020, Eric has accepted a position as a Cyber Network Architect for SAIC, pending a clearance level approval. Congrats, Eric!

“ACI’s main benefit is the fact that they have a recruitment specialization that will help you locate your new job. You can use that as much or as little as you want. So if you ignore them they will not be able to do much, but if you say, ‘Hey I need some help with this,’ they are very willing to step up, help, make introductions. And the other part is that if you went through the week and you still feel like, well I need some help, ACI is constantly having these classes and you can re-sit these classes as many times as you want. And they’re more than happy to do that.”

Are You Ready to Level Up Your Career?

With classes running weekly for the most popular IT certifications, there’s never been a better time! If you’re ready to have a conversation about training at ACI Learning, just fill out the form below.

From Teaching to IT: Lauren Wilson’s Success Story

From Teaching to IT: Lauren Wilson’s Success Story

Lauren had been working as a highschool English teacher for a couple of years and was enjoying her job, especially having the summers off. But we can’t always control what’s in store for ourselves or our spouses, and life had a few surprises in store for her.

Check out her story in the video below, or read on to get all the details.

Moving to Colorado Springs

When Lauren found out her husband was going to be stationed in Colorado and they would have to leave Florida, finding a teaching job in Colorado Springs was her first concern. She had about 5 months warning and took all the right steps: she got her teaching certification for Colorado, got references, and applied to every job she could find. But she wasn’t able to find any open positions for teachers in the area, and started to look for other options. 

“There’s not a ton you can do with a literature degree so I was feeling kind of hopeless. And I did not want to go back to college because it’s a lot of extra money, and it’s a lot of extra courses you don’t need that don’t help you in a job. So when LeaderQuest popped up on Facebook, ‘You just need these certifications to be successful in an IT career’ I was like, sign me up!”

“The thing about IT that interested me was the massive amount of opportunities. You can create your own career path. If you’re teaching, you really only have one avenue to go down. And it’s a lucrative career! They pay a lot more than teachers get paid.”

IT Career Training at LeaderQuest

Lauren enrolled in the Computer User Support Specialist program. This program is designed to help those with zero experience gain the skills and certifications needed to get started in the IT industry. It also teaches foundational skills that can be built on to help our students to specialize as they advance in their career, going into areas such as networking, cyber security, or management. 

“The teachers were very knowledgeable, very helpful, and the resources they offered were amazing. Coming in with zero IT experience, it was a bit overwhelming at first. But they give you every resource and every opportunity to succeed.”

“When you enroll, you’re with the same group of people throughout all the classes. We got to network with each other and make new friends. Everyone was there to support one another and everyone had different levels of experience  with IT, so it was cool for me to talk with the gamers or someone who had been in IT for 5 years and just needed the experience.”

There’s no doubt that the material will be challenging for those with no background in IT, but we make it our mission to help anybody who is interested in IT and committed to training complete the classes and get their start. It’s important to pay attention in class and take good notes. Once the class is completed, most students will spend a few weeks studying the material and using the resources provided to make sure they’re 100% ready for the exam. Lauren took advantage of our expert instructors to make sure she learned everything she needed to pass.

“I worked with Greg Gardner a lot and he was phenomenal. When I was feeling super down and overwhelmed by all of the material, he lit a fire in me because he knows his stuff and he wants everyone to succeed. Not only is he a great IT professional, he’s a great teacher. And coming from a fellow teacher, I think that says a lot.”

“He didn’t just present the lessons and go over slides, he dove into it and gave us things to put our hands on, and told us about real life experiences. He’s an author, and I got to look at his books, which as an English person I liked that a lot. You can email him any time, you can meet with him and go over everything before you take the certification exam.”

“It’s hard coming in and sitting down and listening to an instructor talk about IT when you have no clue what he’s talking about. So they give you these labs to do that simulate a lot of things you’re talking about which was easier for me to learn because I can see it in real life terms, I can actually physically do something. So those were super helpful.“

Getting Hired in Entry Level IT

Lauren passed exams for two certifications: CompTIA Security+ and ITIL Foundation v4. She worked with Shari Carroll, the Employment Development Manager (EDM) at Colorado Springs, to look for work in the IT industry in the area. Our EDMs are experts when it comes to job hunting, and offer each of our graduates one-on-one assistance with perfecting their resumes, brushing up on interview skills, and finding jobs that are the perfect fit for their skills and desired career path. 

With help from Shari, Lauren was able to get an entry level IT position at Valdez. 

“I work for Valdez and they contract with the Airforce here. I’m in Change Management. It’s entry level, and it’s easy to do, so I have a lot of time to study and a lot of helpful people who are super willing to train me and help me get to different positions.”

Next Steps: After IT Training

At LeaderQuest, our number one goal is to help individuals get the education and certifications they need to start a successful career in the IT industry. Support doesn’t stop when you complete your last class. You can come back and resit a course any time for the next two years if you don’t feel fully prepared for the exam. We also have an Instructor Mentor on each campus who is available for one-on-one meetings about the material to help you master it front to back.

“Even though I’ve completed the program, I’m still in contact with Greg, Ken, and Shari. They contact me all the time to ask how my job is going, what’s your next step, can we do anything to help you. It’s more than just a mentorship, it’s a friendship because they care about where I’m at and where I want to go.”

“I would highly recommend LeaderQuest to anybody who is willing to put in the work to fight for their dreams to succeed. LeaderQuest is not a cake-walk. You can’t just walk in here and expect to pass the certification exams, especially if you have zero experience. But it can be done. If you put in the work, if you rely on the resources that they have, if you lean on the Instructor Mentor teacher. If you put in the work, you can do it and you will be successful.”

Curious about training at LeaderQuest?

If you’re interested in starting an IT career, we can help. We offer training on the most in-demand certifications in the IT, cybersecurity, and networking industries. Our courses will quickly give you the skills and knowledge you need to pass exams and get hired. Instructor Mentors are on hand to help you with any tricky material. We’ll help you get trained, certified, and hired.

If you’re ready to take the next step in your career, click the link below!

Helping Veterans Transition into Brave New IT Careers

Helping Veterans Transition into Brave New IT Careers

LeaderQuest is committed to helping veterans transition into the civilian workforce. We’re very proud of the work of our Community Engagement Manager, Aaron Kiewicz. In Colorado Springs, Aaron serves the veteran population as an aide and a confidant on behalf of LeaderQuest. His mission is to create effective bonds with veterans and support them as they shift from working in the military to a civilian profession. He spends his days assisting veterans with practical skills like how to create a resume, how to find jobs for veterans, how to create a LinkedIn account, and how to leverage networking effectively. It may seem daunting to look for jobs after military retirement, which is why it’s important to find organizations that want to help.

Aaron Kiewicz retired from the Air Force in 2014 after working as a jet engine mechanic, a maintenance instructor, and a military trainer. He gave a lifetime of service to the armed forces and wanted to remain in a service role as he shifted to civilian life. Kiewicz’s first position was at a non-profit where he assisted active duty service members with their transition. That’s when he realized his next mission in life. Aaron saw the trials that arise with a transition and wished to encourage others to succeed as he did.

“It is like teaching them how to fish but not fishing for them. We want to teach them how to interview. We want to teach them how to write a resume. We want to teach them how to cater their resume to find the career they are seeking. We want to teach them how to put all the correct words in LinkedIn so recruiters notice them. We want to teach them how to network the proper way and how to stop using military jargon that confuses a civilian employer.”

Aaron has knowledge as civilian and a soldier which helps him bridge the gap between both environments.

Jobs for Veterans – Partner Organizations

As they transition, soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines are trying to create a completely new identity. In any given month, 400-700 people leave the military in Colorado Springs. When making a new life there is so much to consider. LeaderQuest is actively working in the city with other organizations to make this transition a smooth one. We work with four partners in Colorado Springs:

  • The Mt. Carmel Center of Excellence is a nonprofit that concentrates on wellness programs for veterans and serves as a “services hub” to help veterans find everything they need in one place.
  • The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, a Department of Defense effort, helps National Guard and Reserve service members and their families connect with local resources before, during, and after deployments.
  • The Wounded Warrior Project seeks to foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation’s history by providing unique programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members.
  • The Employer Services of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) works to encourage employment of Guardsmen and Reservists who bring integrity, global perspective and proven leadership to the civilian workforce.

In addition to the partners above, LeaderQuest works with three air force bases, and one army base, Fort Carson. Fort Carson is the largest employer in Colorado Springs.

These organizations all speak the same language when it comes to helping veterans make the transition. They share the same objective, which is just to be a guide in this crucial period. LeaderQuest and these partner organizations love to help out by advising on career strategy and giving veterans an opportunity to get in front of experts that can advise on valuable life skills that ultimately lead to fulfilling career options.

All of the veteran support organizations have a very holistic approach. They are in it for the success of the veterans and work together as a unit to make that happen. Each organization is equipped with knowledge of the opportunities available, even if it is outside of their focus area. They provide the resources and it’s up to the veteran to make the decision if it’s right or not.


Veteran outreach happens primarily through events and introductions. The most common outreach event is Q&A sessions with 20 employers. These are casual events with open invitations to veterans to come and ask questions followed by a breakout session. The breakout is an opportunity to for veterans have a one on one exploratory conversation with an employer or program that seems interesting to them. This is simply information gathering for veterans to learn more about what’s out there. The most important outcome is to provide resources and be of value to someone seeking a career for the next phase of their life.

Aaron says it’s about finding a good fit for the veteran. “I want to give them the skills to make that career change as seamlessly as possible. I do this by matching up the skills they have from the military and the skills they need to change careers and show them how they line up. It’s really seeking out if they want a career change or if they want to improve upon the skills they already have. I can also determine if they have a different skillset that can be used in other industries and guide them to that organization.”

Cross referral is Aaron’s other outreach technique. If Aaron is working with someone who has a deep-rooted interest in a different career path and he can make an introduction for the veteran, he does. He’s well connected in the community, and he knows many people offering jobs for vets.

Guiding Veterans

Aaron is an expert when it comes to guiding transitioning vets to the IT certifications that will get them where they really want to go. He takes pride in connecting people in the community with cyber-security, product, and project management courses that can help them get the civilian career they’re looking for. He knows not everyone is suited for a career in IT but those that are can really add value to their lives with the training.

“It’s my nature to help. That’s what LeaderQuest is about. We are a company that’s here to help. Ultimately, our goal is to help you in the three areas we specialize in. Lending a hand is sometimes all someone needs. Even if they may not ever touch a computer in their life. It all leads to a positive outcome. It is a selfless type of job because deep down it’s all about helping.”

If you’re a veteran seeking additional information, please reach out to us. You may want to get started with one of our events, which are always free and open to the public, or you can learn more on our website about how you can transition into a lucrative career in IT. The skills you have been nurturing in the military can easily be applied to a program in IT, and the VA benefits you earned while serving in the armed forces may help to pay for it. We realize that transitions can be difficult, which is why we have people like Aaron to guide you along the way. If you have any questions or just want to chat with someone who has been where you are standing now, LeaderQuest has the staff to assist you. We want to help you achieve success, and we love finding jobs for veterans! The first step is sometimes the most difficult one, but we are here to help.

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