Apprenticeship Spotlight: June 2020
MEET CHRISTINA EICHELBERGER
Hometown: Oakland, CA
MY BACK STORY
I grew up in California, in Oakland. I mostly lived with extended family in foster care. I became an emancipated foster child at age 18.
I started my studies at San Francisco State in creative writing, but I didn’t finish that program. I had a little bit of trouble with not feeling grounded, not having the base of family support at that time. In 2011, I moved to Little Rock —I fell in love and moved there to be with my now husband. And in 2014 I got my Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Philander Smith College. I still want to be a writer, but I don’t want to have to depend on writing as a living.
MY WORK LIFE (Part 1)
In 2014 we moved to Georgia and stayed there for four years. The job market in Atlanta wasn’t that kind to me. I kept getting stuck in call center jobs and serving tables. I served tables all throughout my 20s, and it was really fun for a while. I worked at State Farm for a couple of years as an Express Claims Associate, which mainly involved communicating liability decisions to involved parties. Then I went into car sales just to get something new, but it was going from one pool of quicksand to another.
At the car dealership I worked as a BDC sales consultant, which is a fancy name for talking to people on the phone and trying to get them to come in and test drive. If someone was playing around on the website looking at cars, a pop-up comes up and they enter their phone number and I would be the person to call them and say, “Hey, I saw you were looking at this car, do you want to come in and do a test drive?” I didn’t like that work at all, though it did help with my ability to talk to people and my confidence and social skills. Things like that that are coming in handy in the tech world.
When I got into my 30s, I said, okay, something’s gotta give: I need to pick up a skill. While we were in Atlanta, my husband actually did a bootcamp at General Assembly for UX design, and I said I wanted to find a program similar to that. And that’s when I really started looking at the tech field and saying I want to find a sustainable skill that will get me a new career.
MY WORK LIFE (Part 2)
My husband got a job offer from JB Hunt, so we packed up and moved back to Arkansas. In 2018, I was able to get a job at JB Hunt too, but again, it was in the call center. I was engaging users on JB Hunt 360, the technology solution and mobile app designed to help carriers improve their overall experience. I spoke with truck drivers all day and helped them get signed onto the app, explaining how the app could help them as far as booking loads.
I also dealt with the perks. There are a lot of goodies that they get through the app, like free SiriusXM and fuel programs, so I was able to hook them up with those things. Sometimes I sounded like a scammer when I called them, so I had to explain that I was legit. But that was another time where it boosted my communication skills, because when you’re talking to truckers all day—and from different parts of the country—I would have to speak their language.
As soon as we got back to Arkansas, though, my husband and I had made a game plan for me to get into tech by any means necessary. One of the first things I did was write a very ambitious email to Stuart Scott, head of tech at JB Hunt. I told him I wanted to go through a program and be on a development team at JB Hunt. Stuart called me into his boardroom and we actually had a meeting and he helped me make my plan. He was very instrumental in helping me get where I am.
I started looking at different programs, and that’s when I found the certificate program at University at Arkansas Global Campus. At first, I was interested in a mobile development course, to help prepare me to work on the 360 app. But they couldn’t lock down a teacher so I waited for some time. When they still didn’t have a teacher, I enrolled in the front-end development course, which, it turned out, would be just as helpful and I would learn the same skills. I was in that course from September of 2019 to March of this year.
MY TURNAROUND MOMENT
I was on the path to stay with JB Hunt, but I also wanted to explore different opportunities. And one of my classmates came to class one day and he was really happy and talking about an apprenticeship that he got with Affirma. I didn’t know that was a possibility. I thought my options were just internships or entry level. Until then, I hadn’t heard the term “apprenticeship” in this capacity. When I thought of apprenticeships, I thought of plumbing.
At JB Hunt, I was going to have to be an intern at $15 an hour for an indefinite time—that versus the apprenticeship, which came with a salary and benefits and had a concrete timeline. I sent Paula Wetzel at Affirma an introductory email saying I was really interested in the program. She reached out to me and explained everything, and then I went through the interview process with them and learned all about the apprenticeship. And that’s when I found out there was this really great program from ACDS that was helping people get into tech here in Arkansas.
I’m doing a SharePoint apprenticeship. SharePoint is a Microsoft program that helps companies build their own websites. So you can have a total communication site for different teams where they can do everything through SharePoint. They can upload documents, communicate with each other, collaborate, do updates, so it takes away the need to have multiple different sites. Everything can be done directly on SharePoint and it can be done from different devices, so it’s all accessible online.
I started in the first week of April, and the entire apprenticeship is one year. The first six months we’ll be earning our certifications with Microsoft, and then we’ll be put out into the field. It’s going really well. It’s intensive, and it’s weird starting this in the middle of a pandemic and working from home. Both my husband and I are at home, and we also have a 2-year-old, so it’s been a huge adjustment. But both of our companies have been so supportive and understanding and adaptive and going with the flow. So it’s been nice. I’m anxious to get back in an office environment, though.
There will be some travel involved, once it’s allowed in the world. And then once I’m promoted from apprentice to actual developer, I’ll be working with clients, helping them get set up and teaching them how SharePoint would help their company and then also building what they need and building it in a way that they’ll be able to use it themselves. It’s been a long journey, but I’m on the right track now.