From Retail to A Career In IT: An Interview with Centriq Instructor Eric Zoeller
Low wages, unpredictable hours, and extreme customer service – if you work in retail, all of that is familiar territory for you. It was also familiar to Eric Zoeller, Centriq’s newest Technical Coach, until he decided to make the switch from retail to an IT career. Turns out, the skills he picked up working retail – particularly those people skills – helped him make that switch.
“There’s a lot of underlying foundation things where IT and retail are very, very similar,” says Eric, who spent six years working at a specialty grocery chain before he got his IT training with Centriq. “I think for me, it was a great choice. I had the background of customer service, and I was troubleshooting and problem solving every day. So, I really just took it from a grocery market to an IT career.”
Why transition from retail?
Eric worked his way up from a part-time position to managing the meat and seafood department – he knew the ins-and-outs of the grocery world. But Eric is a family man, and the increasing demands of his retail career were not working for him, his wife, or his kids.
Scheduling Conflicts: “The schedule was the biggest challenge for me personally,” Eric says. “Every day varied quite a bit. Some days I would go in at 5 a.m., some days I would go in at 2 p.m. and be there until 10 or 11 at night. And every day was different. I realized it was impacting my quality of life. It was impacting my family relationships, friendships, and hobbies outside of work. I realized I was giving all of my time to that company, not just the time I was actually working there.”
Physically Stressful: Retail can also be physically taxing. Eric recalls being on his feet for up to 12 hours a day. “I remember at one point I was tracking my steps and I was walking like, 12 miles a day. There were a lot of demands there, and I knew I didn’t want to keep this up until I was 65.”
Customers: Are they always right?
There’s an old adage in retail – “The Customer is Always Right” – which leads many retail workers to frustration. Eric always had a positive attitude toward his customers, but he has found that he is treated differently now that he works in IT.
“The customer in IT behaves differently toward me than the retail customer,” he says. “When people approach you in retail, they often have kind of a lower perception of your understanding and skill sets. They can be very demanding and unpleasant. But in IT, I’ve found that people look at you as the ‘expert’ and will say, hey, I need a lot of help and you seem to know exactly what to do to make this right. It’s a completely different environment than retail.”
Transitioning to IT
With the long hours and challenging shifts, Eric knew he had to make a change in his life.
“I didn’t really have any IT experience, but I realized I was good at troubleshooting and coming up with solutions on the fly – that’s kind of all IT is. It’s just a different realm of doing that,” Eric says of his decision to start an IT career. “So, if you have experience in troubleshooting things or problem solving, then you can get your foot in the IT world and figure it out pretty quick.”
Before joining the Centriq team, Eric worked as a Help Desk Technician. Help Desk Technicians help keep the IT network system running smoothly by managing communications between the end user and the rest of the IT team. Eric spent his days sorting support tickets, diagnosing problems, and guiding customers to where they need to go. He had a predictable schedule and was able to spend time both at his desk and face-to-face with his internal customers.
“I had the freedom to get up and walk around, going to peoples’ departments,” Eric says, noting that this helped foster positive relationships and gave him the opportunity to move around rather than staying tied to his desk. “I got to have the best of both worlds.”
Eric says he’s grateful for the skills he picked up in the retail world. “Going through six years of retail, you learn how to talk to people well. You realize how to build relationships and rapport with people quickly. You can problem solve or troubleshoot someone’s complaint before they realize what it is. I learned a lot of patience; I learned a lot of communication skills. How to be friendly, how to be kind. All those things you need when working with other human beings that sometimes might lack patience or might be frustrated about a problem.”
How do those skills apply to IT? “In an IT help desk role, you’re helping people with their problems. They’re calling you because they’re frustrated, and they ran out of answers on their own. They’re very similar in a lot of ways to retail customers – they don’t know what the problem is, they don’t know how to fix it, and they just want somebody to help them.”
What advice does Eric have for his students?
“All the technical stuff is easy to learn,” he tells his students who don’t have a background in tech. “It’s just knowledge that you’ll learn in class. You can hone your skills there, but at the end of the day, students who have that retail experience have the soft skills needed to handle their customers. I try to encourage my students to set themselves apart by being patient, having a listening ear.”
No IT experience needed
What about the people still deciding if IT is right for them? Eric says that if anyone is on the fence, they should ask themselves if they like problem solving. “The computer and the networking equipment are just vessels to help people be functional in their jobs. If you don’t have any experience in IT, don’t worry. We will teach you that at Centriq. The big part is knowing how to talk to people and help them do their job better.”
IT Help Desk jobs are booming — and it’s important to remember that entry level IT jobs are not reserved just for technology companies. Help desk jobs can be found everywhere — from banks, to hospitals, to schools, and more.
Want to find out how Centriq can get you into an IT help desk job? Speak to an Enrollment Advisor by filling out our online form.