May 1, 2019

An immigrant success story: How a nonprofit helped this IT professional find his calling

Year Up helps young people develop new professional skills with the aim of moving them from minimum wage to a full-time career.

Year Up participants receive professional training and guidance. Photo by Cat Laine

Editor’s note: Year Up is a nonprofit that works to bridge the opportunity divide by providing young people in need with professional training and resources necessary to kickstart a career. This is the second in a series of essays from Year Up alumni on how the program has impacted their lives. Allstate is a corporate partner to Year Up.

When I look back on my life as an immigrant from Belarus to the United States, chronologically it can be described in four periods:

1) Working retail with a sense of defeat, feeling like life stopped and without a clear understanding of what my next steps should be.
2) Learning and developing my path with the help of Year Up.
3) Landing an internship.
4) Securing a full-time job.

In November of 2017, I quit a restaurant job and was hoping for a change in my life. Not able to afford college classes, I decided to give myself a five-month break from work to recharge and understand my mission and my purpose. I dedicated this time to learning to program as it seemed like a good way to get out of a minimum wage job in food service and land a job that would bring satisfaction.

Then in January of 2018, I heard about a one-year free workforce training program that pays a stipend and places you into an internship in either Information Technology, Client Services, Project Management, or Financial Operations. Being skeptical, I did a great amount of research and, based on the reviews from people who attended, I decided to apply.

After the application process, I got placed into the IT track. This is where my journey to securing an IT career in risk management started.

The first thing that stood out to me is the energy level of the staff who were working to help us. Looking at those people it was very hard not to copy and share this energy with others.

I understood why this level of energy was needed: the classes demanded a huge level of concentration and dedication, and the instructors did a tremendous job in making an exhaustive five-day-a-week training a pleasant experience.

From the first week we learned to manage our time, dressed up every day for success, and were held accountable for our actions. We stayed engaged and committed to our goals.

The big challenge for me started with IT classes when I had to learn the nuances of computer assembly/disassembly and the troubleshooting process for most common computer problems—all without prior technical experience. After being exposed to the basis of computer networking and its complexity, I got fascinated by the field of Cyber Security, which I spent most of my time reading about and learning new information.

Besides IT, I had a class in Business Writing where I learned the tricky parts of English grammar and how to write emails that are clear, concise, and correct. We also learned the importance of code switching between personal and business emails. The class also focused on how to build our resumes to stand out when applying to jobs.

The other courses I took included public speaking, career development, and introduction to databases, all of which helped me prepare for the corporate environment and provided an exhaustive amount of practical information I needed to be a success.

Year Up has a great sense of support: I could speak up freely with any concerns without the fear of being judged or misunderstood. I was able to seek advice from staff members. They were knowledgeable, supportive, and understanding with concerns students could have during the learning, development, and internship phases.

In August 2018, I landed an internship at Allstate Investments as an IT Security Analyst. During my six months of interning there, I managed to show off all the skills I was learning at Year Up throughout the Learning and Development phase. With this experience, I learned the importance of successful written and inter-personal communication, time management, and full engagement. I had an ongoing practice of critical thinking, decision making, and finding solutions to existing problems.

With my dedication, desire to help, drive to learn new things, and ability to implement feedback, I was hired as a full-time employee.

Year Up was a unique experience in my life. It helped me connect with like-minded individuals who have all it takes to succeed and strive in a professional environment, but lacked opportunity. Year Up helped me transition from a food service worker to an IT professional in one year. Without the opportunities Year Up provided, this shift would have been impossible.

Nikita Siniauski

Nikita Siniauski is an alumnus of the Year Up program.