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October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and FTCC is spotlighting some recent graduates of its Computer Information Technology programs. This is the second spotlight in the series. Read the first spotlight here.

After serving four years in the Marines, Gerald King started what he thought would be his lifelong career.

He earned his certificate in medical billing and coding in his native Florida and was soon moving up the ranks in that field.

But after 17 years, King realized he was looking for more challenges, teamwork and a chance to flex his problem-solving skills. And he knew exactly what career could give him those.

“I had moved my way up into the management roles in medical billing and coding, and I was dealing a lot with computers because we didn’t have any IT personnel on staff,” King said. “That was my first real taste of networking and really wanting to better understand computers.”

King enrolled at Fayetteville Tech to turn his interest into a career.

Now, with a pair of associate degrees in hand, King’s working for Telaid Industries as a technical analyst, applying the skills and knowledge he learned at FTCC into real-world results on the job.

“All the things I’d learned in school I can actually apply in real life,” he said. “It’s fun to me now. That’s the fruits of two years of labor.”

Gerald credits his wife, Celia, with giving him a push.

The couple were living in North Carolina, Celia’s home state, when he decided to switch careers.

“My wife had gotten her bachelor’s degree at Western Carolina and was working on her master’s at East Carolina at the time,” Gerald said. “We decided when we got married that our education was important to us, and she encouraged me to pursue my education and find something that would be fulfilling to me.”

King took a leave of absence from then-employer UNC Healthcare to go back to college. A neighbor by the name of Luke Merriman, who had just completed his degree at Fayetteville Tech, urged King to check out the college’s offerings.

After researching the programs and taking a campus visit, King enrolled in the summer of 2017. He completed two associate degrees — in Network Management and Systems Security & Analysis — in 2020.

King said he found the support and guidance he needed in FTCC’s Computer Information Technology program, including from department chairs Carlos Bodden and Chris Herring.

“I commend Mr. Herring and Mr. Bodden for always providing positive reinforcement to the students,” King said. “I had doubts. The workload was heavy. Is this too much? How am I going to face this and work?

“They made it clear that it wasn’t going to be easy. You’ve got to put in the work and take advantage of the labs. And I did all that. Every Friday, every open lab, every study session, I was there. I had a purpose and a goal.”

As he was nearing the end of the program, King took a wide approach to the job market, casting his net across the state.

“I’m not a Fayetteville native, and I knew that the job market might be oversaturated here,” King said. “I was 46 years old. I had been out in the corporate world, but I was coming into a brand new career in a different field, and I understood the challenges of finding a company that was willing to give me an opportunity to prove myself.”

King initially found a job with Circle K, doing what he described as entry-level updates and providing end-user support.

Within six months, he had a bigger offer from Telaid Industries, a network integration company outside of Atlanta. He’s now a technical analyst there and has worked on major projects for vendors such as Target, Starbucks and Walmart.

“I’ve got a heavy workload,” King said. “But I did that to myself because I came in like a firecracker, just eager to use everything that was fresh in my brain.”

Now, King spends his day tackling challenges as a part of a team of analysts, facing something a little different each day to keep things fresh and engaging.

“In this field, it’s always something new,” King said. “It challenges me to use my troubleshooting skills and my research skills. It’s a team environment, and we’re able to lean on each other. That’s part of what IT is. You don’t have to be the smartest one in the room. Your knowledge along with that of others can be valuable in this industry.”

Learn more about FTCC’s Computer Information Technology programs.

Find more information about Cybersecurity Awareness Month.