I wasn’t always in tech. I didn’t start off with a degree in computer science or even educated on something remotely close to that. My world started off in something different. Fashion.
I started sewing when I was 10. At the time, all the cool kids were wearing construction pants that had a tapered leg, so tight, you could barely get your foot through the pant leg. I wanted to hang with the cool kids, and so when I convinced my Mom to get me these pants I needed to get the legs tapered. I bugged my Mom for weeks to taper them, but being a working Mom, she had bigger things to worry about than doing alterations. I slowly began to get frustrated, and my frustrations grew to impatience. I got on her sewing machine, and attempted the alteration myself. How hard could it be, right? After many attempts of tapering pants, and many broken needles, my Mom had decided to sit down and show me the techniques of sewing. This was my first spark of inspiration and developed into a passion that I could not shake. This was the beginning of my career in fashion.
At 17, I had done my very first fashion show and that had cemented my drive to be a fashion designer and by 18 I was on my way to university. Dropping out after 1st semester, I knew that the industry had more to offer than just “the colour wheel”. A wheel designed to educate students on complimentary colours. After years of sewing in factories, working in fabric stores, creating custom designs for club kids and hustling to make a name for myself, I had met Laura (my now wife). We had decided to start a very small clothing label named “i clothing”. It started to flourish, and within a matter of a few years we hit a high sales mark of 250k, and was selling to some of the top boutiques in North America. I was on top of the world.
My world came crashing down in 2006 (I was 32 at the time) when free trade was introduced on garments coming from China. This meant that one garment that was made in Canada would cost the same price of making 10 of them in China. The whole Canadian fashion industry imploded. Alot of our main contractors and suppliers were closing up shop, and our peers in the industry were feeling the pinch. Some of them, just giving up and moving on. Laura and I were devestated. We were way too proud to go overseas to manufacture. It went against everything we stood for. “Made in Canada”. Sales dropped to pitiful 30k and times were becoming bleek. I had to provide for my family, and couldn’t see a way out. I started to spend alot of time on the computer looking for a way to climb out of the predicament I was in. Little did I know, it was time on the computer that was my saving grace. I couldn’t afford for somebody to fix my computer or my very small network, for that matter. I had to learn to do it myself.
The day that had changed my life was when my neighbour Alex had come by and was telling me about his flourishing tech contract where he was bringing in a 6 figure income. I was very enticed and started asking him more questions about it. He was telling me about his struggle to fulfill his deadlines due to the increasing amount of work. He then asked me the words that would change my life. “I could really use some help with my database. Antoni, do you know anything about databases?” My response was “I’m sure I could figure it out. How hard could it be?” His words had sparked drive in me, as this was my ticket to freedom. A way to provide for my family. It’s all I could think about. I was inspired to get the answers he needed. He left that afternoon, and I was scouring the internet vigorously looking for content on database administration. I found some books on my torrent sites, and downloaded them to start reading. This was a time where sites like Linux Academy did not exist. I worked with what I had. I was consumed by this, as I saw it as my way out of my pit of despair. After about 2 weeks of scouring the internet for books and reading about databases (which like a foreign language to me), I decided to take the plunge and re-educate. I went back to school.
I had signed up for a course at Herzing College. Database Administration. The technical college was located in the mall within the downtown core (Eaton Centre). With the help of government funding (OSAP), I was able to pay for tuition and get a bit of money on the side to live. I knew that the money wouldn’t last long, so I had to dive in and get out as fast as possible. It was a one year crash course, so I knew that it was possible to keep on track. Laura was a bit worried, but she believed in me and knew that I would come through for my family. She continued with i clothing as I was in school. At least we were able to bring in some money while I was going to school.
It was a whole new world. This world of tech was so vast and complex, yet so interesting at the same time. I learned about Oracle 10g database, Oracle Application Server, Red Hat Linux and the UNIX operating system, Solaris 10. I never thought I would enjoy it as much as I did. I studied day and night. Alot of times, falling asleep at my desk. It got so interesting and I had so much passion for it, that I was asked to be a teacher’s assistant. I loved the idea, and decided to take it on. At the same time, an opening came up as a Systems Administrator for the school and I decided to get my feet wet and dive in. I would work after class, on top of my TA duties to keep the school up to par with it’s network. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. It was definitely a hustle. It was my first time diving into Active Directory and dealing with a network that was bigger than my 3 computer network at home. But I knew that this would give me the upper hand when I graduated. It didn’t last long though, as the school eventually hired a full-time administrator. I decided to take on another job to help with the bills. I decided to head down to Best Buy and apply for a job at Geek Squad. After having a chat with the manager of the store for about an hour, I was hired! Little did I know, this would be my last job before joining the world of UNIX.
When coming up on the last few months of my course, I started to look for junior database admin jobs. There were none to be found. It was very hard for me to find a job doing what I grew passionate about. I couldn’t let all that hard work and money go to waste. I was determined. I decided to pivot (I had no idea what that meant back then) and instead started looking for a job as a junior UNIX/Linux admin. I was getting alot more traction when I did this. So much that I strictly focused on this strategy.
4 months after joining Geek Squad and 2 months after completing my course, I did it. I got hired as a UNIX admin at Citigroup. This is the job that launched me into my long-lasting career in IT.
This transformation was difficult, and would not have happened if I hadn’t been inspired and followed my passion. I encourage everyone who has read this to get inspired, and spark the passion with whatever it is that you desire to do. Career transformation can be achieved, in whatever field your passion happens to lie in.
Thank you for reading my story!