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Join us for our series featuring interviews with Community IT employees. In this series, we will talk about nonprofit technology career paths, career resources, skills, and certifications. We will also touch on mentoring opportunities as you start out on your career and ways to give back if you are further along.
Today Carolyn talks with Johanny Torrico about what it is like to be the Chief Operating Officer at an MSP for nonprofits, her career path to reach executive level, and her personal journey, which took her on many twists and turns but which she regards as preparing her to be at Community IT in this role at this time.
Johanny has a lot to say on staff development and encouraging staff to be happy and capable, and the focus at Community IT on customer service – the face to face interactions with people. Learning technology will come, especially if you have a passion for it – but there is nothing that can replace a drive to help people. She also delves into her insights into cloud migrations and the ways the pandemic and remote work have changed the nature of IT support.
..Life is molding all the people who need to be at Community IT so we can help Community IT be a better company, because we are helping our clients be better nonprofit organizations and it has a domino effect.– Johanny Torrico, COO
What does a COO at a nonprofit-oriented MSP do? Can you see yourself taking on this role? What qualifications do you need, and what kind of life experience prepares you for an executive role in a tech company? Or, as Johanny says, a customer services company where the services happen to be nonprofit IT!
Johanny Torrico is currently Chief Operating Officer, leading the largest team at Community IT. She joined Community IT in December 2006 after serving as Director of Technology for The National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) for nearly four years. Previously, she worked for 11 years at Whole Foods Market, where she was executive chef and eventually the Facility Leader for their food plant in Landover. While working at these places, Johanny gained extensive leadership, planning, management, and customer service skills.
During her tenure at Community IT, Johanny has mastered every role she took on including network administrator, network engineer, and service manager. And she still enjoys providing technical support to our clients, participating in our professional services team, and implementing technical solutions. She draws on her long experience interacting with clients in various roles to understand how best to partner with our community.
Johanny holds a B.S. in Computer Information Systems. She is a VMWare Certified Professional and a Microsoft Certified IT Professional for Office 365.
Carolyn Woodard has served many roles at Community IT Innovators, from client to project manager to marketing. With over twenty years of experience in the nonprofit world and marketing, including as a nonprofit technology project manager and Director of IT, Carolyn knows the frustrations and delights of working with technology professionals, accidental techies, executives, and staff to deliver your organization’s mission and keep your IT infrastructure operating.
Carolyn is excited to help manage Marketing at Community IT Innovators and is always looking for new ways to tell stories and reach people. She has a master’s degree in Nonprofit Management from Johns Hopkins University and received her undergraduate degree in English Literature from Williams College. She thinks the best thing about being with Community IT Innovators is the people.
Carolyn Woodard Welcome everyone to the Community IT Innovators’ Voices series. My name is Carolyn Woodard, and today I am interviewing Johanny Torrico. So Johanny, would you like to introduce yourself?
Johanny Torrico Yes, thank you Carolyn for inviting me. My name is Johanny Torrico and you did a great job pronouncing my last name.
Johanny My job title is Chief Operating Officer, and what I do is basically oversee the service and technical operations for all the teams at Community IT. To be a little more specific – that means I focus on business processes. Either creating business processes where it is needed for service delivery optimization, or revamping existing processes. This can be around service delivery.
A lot of the things that I do also focus on staff development. Staff at Community IT, as you know and as many people who have heard Community IT Voices have probably realized now, staff is a key resource at our company. Since it is a key resource, it requires a high level of focus to nurture staff growth and understanding.
It’s good for us as a company but it is also good for our clients, for the nonprofit organizations that we work with to have capable staff, to have happy staff. Capable, happy – it’s great for service delivery and great for our clients. Anyways, that is a big focus of my job to focus on staff development.
That kind of equals staff retention, and that’s another win for Community IT. A lot of the staff that work for Community IT have been with us for 20-25 years, and I think the average retention rate, the average tenure is 10-12 years last time I checked.
Carolyn I think Community IT is known for that; our staff stay with us for quite a long time. Especially in this sector, but also for MSPs I think.
Johanny Yeah, that is a typical day for me! A lot of internal meetings.
I still have a handful of client accounts where I deliver direct services as a consulting IT Business Manager role. That is great to have in addition to my main responsibilities.
It keeps me current. We’re an IT company, a technology company, and it keeps me on my toes. It’s always new things coming up from clients.
The clients I usually work with are new clients coming in, where they need some handholding, or they are in technical debt and we need to take them to the next level. Those are the clients I really enjoy working with and the clients that I generally engage with.
[Technical debt is a term from coding and software development, and can be understood when talking about nonprofit organizations to refer to current critical IT issues stemming from previous under-investment in IT; either from a financial perspective, from a internal cultural and strategic planning perspective, or probably both]
Carolyn That’s a great segue to my next question, which is
Johanny I think there are two main things for me. One is, of course, we are a service-oriented company and mission-oriented. And you have heard this over and over with the different people you have interviewed. Just knowing that you are working with nonprofit organizations that are making a difference out there, it’s very rewarding. And that is for me, something that I enjoy. When you listen to the radio or you watch tv and you see one of Community IT’s clients on the news advocating, it’s just great to say ok, that’s one of our clients! That’s very nice.
I think the second one, on par with that, is I really, really, really like to see the staff flourish. In the work that they do. Every little milestone, every certification, every goal that they accomplish, it just fills me. When we are able to move them closer to reach their career goal within Community IT, it’s a big win for me.
Johanny Yeah, that’s a good question.
I would say a lot of what I do is I do a lot of problem solving. I don’t know if a lot of people realize that. A lot of problem solving. I’m presented with challenges and we take a business process route to solve that problem or we do data analytics, and go to a process flow or tree to solve that issue. It’s not something that I do alone but I do a lot of that. The members of the MSP leadership team are a big part of solving those things.
Carolyn Do you remember when you applied to Community IT and
Johanny It’s a nice story actually. I worked for a long time for a big company outside of IT or technology – I was an executive chef for Whole Foods and I started when I came to this country. After that I moved to a nonprofit organization that happened to be a client of Community IT.
I was there for 2-3 years and I kind of grew up to be the accidental techie, to have an IT role within that organization. We had a [Community IT] engineer assigned at that time, Nate. And he used to come to the office all the time. And most of the issues were already resolved by me, I had a soft spot for technology. In my country I went to school for that, too. He used to come to the organization and say what do you have for me? And most of the things were already solved.
And the things that weren’t solved, I like to do research, I had some sort of solution but I wasn’t very comfortable putting that in place. I used to run that by him and 9 times out of 10 it was yeah that’s good you should do that, do it. I think he found me to be a quick learner and I just love technology, I guess in his eyes I was a good fit for Community IT. He recruited me, he brought me in for an interview.
Before he brought me in for an interview, he brought me in for a week at Community IT for training, for bootcamp. I got to meet a lot of people in the office, engineers. I went to a couple of clients with him, and after that he called me for an interview and that is how the story began.
Carolyn That is such a great story and that reflects some of the other interviews I’ve had where people made a career change to come to Community IT but found that it was a great fit.
It’s a little hard to design a career path that brings you to work at a nonprofit technology or at an MSP like Community IT, but
Johanny Yeah, I would say, find if technology is your passion [and] don’t give up. Start slowly, find a mentor, find somebody who is working in that area, working in IT and just bounce ideas. Sometimes you have a passion for something, but it doesn’t mean that that’s .. you know – I have a passion for singing and I’m not a singer.
Find a mentor, don’t give up, pursue your dreams, and be also mindful of your strengths. Make a plan. Have a list of your strengths and your weaknesses. Go and look at your strengths and just exploit your strengths. Don’t worry about your weaknesses. If technology is your strength, then go for it.
Carolyn That sounds good. I think a lot of people have some stereotypes of people who work in technology. Some of them are fair, some of them unfair.
Johanny I would say when you think about technology you think about sitting in front of a server trying to solve technical issues. And you kind of overlook the face-to-face interaction with the user.
It’s great that you can have all the certifications and the skills to solve a technical issue, but if you don’t have the customer service on top of that, that’s going to maybe get in your way of advancing. Especially for Community IT.
Again you probably heard this already, we’re not a technical company, we are a customer service company. And that is hammered and hammered especially to new hires. To us, that’s very important. That’s one thing – solving technical issues and customer service.
And then the other is also when you are in technology, there’s a lot of jargon and acronyms and things like that, and you tend to communicate in that way. So you have to also have the mentality of communicating complex technical issues into simple terms and words, so that the user can also understand. And that goes with the customer service piece, maybe, but sometimes you just don’t think about that.
Those are the two main things.
Carolyn I think that’s a great point, I think sometimes the jargon and the technical language is what frightens people to either get their problem solved, they think “I’m not going to understand what the person is telling me.” Or to go into a career like this as well. They might think “I’m not really into all of the acronyms and I don’t want to live and breathe technology all the time.” I think having those people skills – If you have the people skills and the interest in technology and in helping people, I think you can learn the rest.
It sounds like mentoring is just so important to you, and of course it is very important at Community IT.
Johanny Nowadays you have access to different groups and member organizations to help you get that connection if you don’t have a connection with a colleague in your group of friends.
NTEN comes to mind as a membership organization where you can find good webinars and community groups and focus groups and you can join them and bounce ideas.
Carolyn My next question is,
I know Community IT supports our staff in getting further certifications in the technology that they need to provide support to customers, so how does that work?
Johanny I think A+ continues to be relevant, it gives you the foundation. So if you are starting your career in IT look at the CompTIA certifications and trainings. Don’t overlook Microsoft certifications either. The workstations or the operating systems like Windows 10 certifications, that’s important in that class.
And then the other one that I would say is becoming more relevant is getting certifications in cloud technology solutions like Microsoft 365. You can get an entry level fundamentals certification in Microsoft 365 and that will kind of boost your career when you are looking for an IT job for sure.
It used to be that Microsoft 365, they were hammering that more and more, but now I’ve seen Google certifications and more clients joining the Google environment as well, so that’s another that’s nice to have.
If you are starting and you are looking for not so much a technical path, but more on the IT consulting or advisory role, the ITIL Information Technology Infrastructure Library Foundational Certification is great to have.
Carolyn I was going to ask about – I know for our clients you’ve told me that we’re working with more clients that are in the Google environment and also, as an MSP we’re able to support Macs and all-Mac environments, which is a little bit more of a niche but it’s something that we’re seeing in a lot of clients.
Johanny There is an Apple Certification entry level that the name skips my mind but there is a certification there. But what I have seen, and maybe a little bit it’s the same for Microsoft, but for Apples, I think the certification is nice to have, but the hands-on experience is what will give you – it’s another world, supporting a Mac it’s a totally different world. So yeah, the Apple certification is nice to give you that theory, but you definitely need that hands-on experience.
Carolyn It seems like in many of our clients we’re seeing hybrid situations where some people will use their Mac and will never give it up, so we have to provide support for a mix of those technologies, so having a lot of support with these different systems and platforms helps you be more effective.
Johanny For sure.
Carolyn I want to ask you a slightly different question. I think you also have worked in the past on some implementation projects and projects in general, which is a little bit different from the ongoing support we provide. You work strategically with the clients to make sure that everything is working the way it is supposed to be.
But sometimes we have some clients who have a project. They are moving to a different platform or they are moving to the cloud.
Johanny Are you talking about cloud specific or in general?
Carolyn Exactly, cloud-specific I think is the project that we see a lot of.
Johanny We’re seeing a lot of movement from clients. More and more clients are already in the cloud but we still see, especially for new clients, they still have the servers in-house. And are trying to move entirely to the cloud.
We always start with some kind of discovery. You hear a lot of buzz about Microsoft 365, and all of the donations make it very appealing to an organization to try to move to Microsoft 365.
But sometimes Google might be a better fit. Going to Dropbox or Box might be a better fit for an organization. So that discovery and that consulting first-hand is very important to do with an organization before jumping to solutions. So that is the first step. And once you pick your solution, it’s important to find the vendor that is going to – don’t do it all at once. Because there is a lot of change management.
It used to be that you needed some change management with servers. With cloud it is times 2 or times 3. So you want to break that whole project into different pieces, and so you want to find a vendor that will understand “what do we need to do first?” Take care of that, make sure your users understand that. Go through dotting your i’s and crossing your ts, complete that. Move to the next bucket and then expand it until you have completed all the roles and can decommission your domain at the end.
For some organizations, and this is part of the planning too, for some organizations you’re never going to get rid of the server. There’s always going to be a server, for authentication or whatever reasons, there might be a need for a server. So that’s another thing that you need to discuss early on with your consultant: does it make sense for us to go serverless in totality or not? And if we need to have a server, does it make sense to have a physical server? That has some other implications. You might need a better firewall than the ones that you might need if you were totally in the cloud. So those conversations are some conversations that you need to make sure you have before you move to that strategic plan and the roadmap.
That is key to success. I hope I answered your question, Carolyn
Carolyn Yes, that was a great answer! I’m so glad that I have you here, because I have a lot of questions about how we help our clients.
I have another question about maybe the way things have changed over the past two years, and if you’re seeing, with the clients and with the strategic IT planning,
Johanny That’s a great question. You know, thinking back to March of 2020 when all of these things happened. I’m not going to say it was 100% great, because it was challenging. But for most of our clients, the transition to working from home was seamless. And that kind of speaks to the fact that those conversations were conversations that we had had with them early on.
Making sure they had a sound remote access, using a remote access server or using a VPN or even moving them to the cloud. For most of our clients that change was a little bit difficult to do but the technology was in place.
The transformation that I have seen after that, clients regardless of size have actually matured a lot in the last 2 years. I think strategic IT planning was probably on a second level [previously] – you wanted to have all your infrastructure up to date, and you needed projects for the workstations and all those things [took priority]. But I think now, strategic IT planning is taking the first level, and I think clients realize that having a good plan in place is important. I am seeing and I am happy to see that organizations of different sizes are thinking about IT in a strategic way.
And the second thing that is part of their maturity and part of their growth is their focus on security. We have a baseline cybersecurity roadmap that we always include in our strategic IT planning.
Two years ago, that was probably seen as an additional cost: to have security training, to implement Multi-Factor Authentication, to make sure that the organizations were able to join their network remotely without putting some security controls in place. They were looking at that as a kind of cost. Now I think security for them, when we talk about that as part of our strategy planning, they get it. They understand it, and we’re able to add those line items to our three-year budgets and that’s great to see.
Carolyn I think this experience has brought home for me at least that Community IT is a little different from a traditional MSP in that we’ve always focused on strategic planning. For nonprofits you have to have a strategic plan and a roadmap to even make the investments that you are going to need to make next year or the year after, so we always do a lot of counseling around that aspect.
I agree with you that it wasn’t a great way to test this, but the fact that we already had the strategic planning in place made us able to better support clients through this huge transition for sure.
I want to shift gears and just ask you a little more about your personal journey because earlier you told me “when you came to this country.”
Johanny I’m from South America, I’m from Peru. “What made you come to this country?” My mom came first, and she was here for 5-6 years and then she brought us to the US. It was a difficult transition. I was already 17, almost 18 when I came to this country, and my sisters were still early on in teenage-hood. It’s hard. Learning, making sure that you continue in school, and work, and learn the language. It was all packed. I think in the end it was worth it.
I think for me it was a blessing to join Community IT. I mentioned that when I was in Peru I was pursuing a systems engineer degree. When I came here, the first job that I found was in the food industry. And I realized that I also had a passion for cooking and so I worked for Whole Foods for 11-12 years and learned a lot and worked my way up the ladder.
That gave me a lot of experiences and I learned a lot of the skills to use with Community IT. They didn’t give me any of the technology skills, but I learned a lot of the leadership and management and business processes, and data analysis, and all of those things.
I think for me all of those experiences, life, was just preparing me to have a role at Community IT, and to give whatever I learned to Community IT. Community IT, I honestly in my heart feel that we are making a difference. And so life is molding all the people who need to be at Community IT so we can help Community IT be a better company, because we are helping our clients be better nonprofit organizations and it has a domino effect.
Carolyn That is a lovely way to say it. When people ask you what Community IT does, what do you say?
Some people ask you more and you can talk about how great a company we are, all the success stories, starting with our CEO. We all started [at the entry level] and all the way to the C level, and all of the success stories that we are needing now, with the staff who are starting now. The new Community IT generation as I call it. That’s usually what I say.
Carolyn Thank you so much for this interview today and for taking the time to talk to me. I really enjoyed learning about you and your job. Thank you.
Johanny Thank you for having me, Carolyn.
We hope you enjoyed this Community IT Voices interview with Johanny Torrico. Community IT is the right place for you if you find fulfillment in helping others succeed and love mastering new technologies.
Our employees stay and grow with us, and over half of our staff have been with us for over a decade. Community IT is an employee-owned company with a positive, sustainable workplace that promotes professional development and a healthy work/life balance. We have been 100% employee-owned since 2012. Check out careers with us here.
Join Dominique Diggs from Social Justice School and Norwin Herrera and Carolyn Woodard from Community IT Wednesday, July 27, 2022 at 3pm Eastern, 12 Noon Pacific to discuss managing a hybrid platform.