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Community IT Voices: Erik Fernandez, IT Business Manager
Join us for our series featuring interviews with Community IT employees. In this series, we 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. If you are wondering what it is like to work at a place like Community IT, you can learn about it here.
In today’s interview, Carolyn talks with Erik Fernandez, who is an IT Business Manager at Community IT and has been with us for nine years.
IT Business Managers are a unique aspect of account management at Community IT. They have senior technical expertise but also business and strategic knowledge. ITBMs function as a general strategic IT advisor; a liaison between our clients and our internal department at Community IT. ITBMs advise clients on improvement projects, IT budgeting, licensing software, hardware recommendations, general short- and long-term goals and initiatives and provide a central point to coordinate such initiatives. ITBMs help clients be forward-looking, and act as a vendor-agnostic, trusted advisors with deep knowledge of the nonprofit IT software and platforms available.
“…When you’re working with nonprofits, the people part is very important. You need to have soft skills and an attitude of helpfulness and kindness. The human component is very important, I would say … My previous work experience in IT related jobs was in kind of cutthroat environments. While I was prepared for the same here, I found the atmosphere of camaraderie, service, helping and learning at Community IT proved me wrong on that.”Erik Fernandez, IT Business Manager
Erik Fernandez previously worked in his country of origin, Costa Rica, for McKinsey and Company, as the team leader of the IT Services Coordination department, and in other American companies such as HP, IBM and Tech Data.
After moving to the United States, he completed the Computer Support Specialist program at the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School and his master’s degree in Information Technology at the University Of Maryland University College. Erik also graduated from Universidad Latina de Costa Rica with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, and he has also achieved the CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Security+, CompTIA Secure Infrastructure Specialist, Apple Certified Associate certification, and ITIL 4 Foundations.
Erik enjoys giving back to the community by volunteering as an elections worker and mentoring students looking to enter the information technology field. Erik lives in Washington DC, where he likes to spend his free time with his partner, enjoying his hobbies: arts, technology, amateur photography and discovering new places to eat or visit in the DMV area.
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 interview series. My name is Carolyn Woodard, and I’m the Outreach Director for Community IT. And today I’m really excited to be interviewing Erik Fernandez. So Erik, would you like to introduce yourself?
Erik Fernandez: Hi everybody, I’m Erik Fernandez. And I’m an IT Business Manager at Community IT.
Carolyn Woodard: And how many years have you been with Community IT?
Erik Fernandez: It’s going to be nine years in March.
Carolyn Woodard: And what are your responsibilities? You said you’re an IT Business Manager, what is that?
Erik Fernandez: Good question. Well, my job entails mainly being a general strategic IT advisor to our clients, to be a liaison between our clients and our internal department at Community IT. I also advise my clients on improvement projects, IT budgeting, licensing software, hardware recommendations, general short- and long-term goals and initiatives and their central point to coordinate such initiatives. Not very different from what is known as a vCIO, with a little bit of project management thrown in there for good measure. And in a way we are the face of Community IT to our clients.
Carolyn Woodard: So you mentioned a vCIO, that’s a virtual CIO?
Erik Fernandez: That’s right, that’s right.
Carolyn Woodard: So what do you usually do on a typical day?
Erik Fernandez: On a typical day, I would have meetings with my clients to check on their IT needs and their ongoing plans. And I also work on reports, requests our clients make on a daily basis, and coordinate ongoing projects with our internal departments. I also have internal meetings with my own team and other Community IT teams. And as usual, there’s lots of emails, right? And tickets to work on that are open. There’s also some learning on a daily basis, because we need to keep up with the ever-changing technology landscape. So there’s a lot of that, too.
Carolyn Woodard: What’s the best thing about your job?
Erik Fernandez: At Community IT, I would say work-life balance is something that Community IT provides that is very important to me. But also working alongside smart, talented, and nice people, that’s also a great factor there. The ongoing learning and being an employee-owner are all great things that have made me want to continue working here year after year.
Carolyn Woodard: What’s something about your job that maybe we don’t know about, but you’d like others to know?
Erik Fernandez: Well, the scope of responsibilities of an IT Business Manager is pretty wide. So I think that part is sometimes hard to grasp for our colleagues or clients. Some of our colleagues think we do sales. Some of them think that we are some sort of technical escalation point, something we manage. There’s a tiny bit of those things. It’s much more than that. I go back to the general IT advisor and guidance role that I previously described as a more accurate description.
Carolyn Woodard: You said that you do check tickets, and I think that is something that is a great part of the IT Business Manager role at Community IT. You see from your clients some of the problems they’re having, but then you’re also playing the strategic and advisory role. So you can connect those two things. If they’re having a certain type of problem over and over, then you might give them advice like, well, that’s a really old laptop that should be replaced. It’s having all these problems. Does that ever happen?
Erik Fernandez: That’s very accurate. And that’s actually part of our responsibilities to take a look at that big picture. If we notice trends here and there, if we notice that something starts happening more frequently than normal, then we need to start putting all those pieces together, putting all the puzzle together and come up with general recommendations, or take action based on those trends that we start noticing.
Carolyn Woodard: We have a different term for it as well, the IT Business Manager, but it’s also something extra that we can offer our clients because they get your expertise and then the team, as well. So there are other experts who are weighing in on strategy and planning and knowing what tools are available and how they need to invest in their IT to have well-managed IT.
Now, I’m going to change gears and take you back to when you applied to Community IT.
How did you find out about the job opening and what made you want to apply?
Erik Fernandez: Well, that’s a good question. I was actually at the time graduating from Carlos Rosario School, here in Washington, D.C. I was in need of a job in the IT industry and our job coordinator at Carlos Rosario brought up an opening at Community IT. I didn’t think twice about applying immediately and almost nine years later, I’m still here.
Carolyn Woodard: Do you have any sense of what you had in your background or maybe your personality or your skill set that made you a good fit for Community IT, when you got the job?
Erik Fernandez: Well, I had previous experience in IT back in my original country of Costa Rica. Later, I had IT adjacent jobs for American companies such as Tech Data, Hewlett-Packard, McKinsey & Company, IBM, and Amazon. So I think that previous experience, even if it wasn’t here in America, helped. I also have a good combination of technical and people skills that also helped a lot at Community IT. We’re not only about technology, but we’re also about people.
Carolyn Woodard: Yeah, there aren’t actually a lot of MSPs that serve only nonprofits. It’s a very specialized skill. So it’s a little bit hard to plan a career path around getting a job at Community IT, or that type of a job.
If you had been planning since high school to try to get this type of a job where you were helping nonprofits, but doing technology also, what advice would you give yourself?
Erik Fernandez: I think I would have started working on certifications a lot earlier in my life. That’s one thing that I found when I came here to America. Even without all the previous experience that I had in IT related jobs, certifications are very important, so I started working on that. I wish I’d just done that way before.
Carolyn Woodard: That’s good advice. If you know you like technology get started on those certificates.
How does someone advance their career in nonprofit technology? What certifications are essential?What other experiences or qualifications should people who want to work in the sector work on to move up the career ladder?
Erik Fernandez: Well, certifications are certainly the foundation of most IT careers, right? For beginners, I would say the CompTIA certifications are important to get your foot in the door. But as you progress in your career, vendor specific certifications such as Microsoft, Google or Apple will get you even farther.
To move up, you also need to be service oriented and work on your interpersonal skills. Networking-wise, I would say attending IT seminars, webinars, IT related events and gatherings can help you connect with like-minded people and find potential opportunities.
Carolyn Woodard: What would you say to help someone who is working in nonprofit technology, but maybe isn’t fulfilled in their job or isn’t getting the support that they need?
Where do you turn to for encouragement and how did you find mentors or training to get the nonprofit technology job that you wanted?
Erik Fernandez: That’s a good question. Moving to America many years ago, I was lucky enough to find a place in D.C. such as Carlos Rosario School, where I was able to find the environment, the guidance, the support and the mentorship that I needed at the moment. But I would say that I also have the same environmental community. People who are already into their careers or otherwise don’t need to go back to school. I’d say, come apply for a job at Community IT.
Carolyn Woodard: So you talked a little bit about coming here from Costa Rica and going to Carlos Rosario School. Do you mind telling us a little bit more about that story?
How did you end up in the D.C. area?
Erik Fernandez: That’s an interesting question and an interesting story. I was working for one of these organizations that I mentioned in the past. The organization had to go through a restructuring and downsizing and unfortunately my department was part of the departments that got closed up. I had been working for a while now in my life and I felt like I needed some time off.
My plan was to take a sabbatical and just travel around. I had friends here in Washington D.C. that told me to come here, you can stay for a little bit. So my plan was to continue traveling to a few other places, but I came to Washington D.C. and kind of fell in love with the city and everything and one thing led to another and I ended up staying here.
Carolyn Woodard: I think some of our other staff also have mentioned that there was a lot of serendipity involved. Thank you so much for sharing that story with us and I want to mention we do have staff who work remotely from other parts of the country, so you don’t have to be in D.C., but a lot of us are based around D.C. which is a really fantastic city.
Erik Fernandez: That’s right.
Carolyn Woodard: Technology support has a lot of stereotypes. Some are fair and some are unfair.
What are some overlooked or unexpected personality traits that you think help people excel at nonprofit technology support?
Erik Fernandez: Yeah, when you’re working with nonprofits, the people part is very important. You need to have soft skills and an attitude of helpfulness and kindness. The human component is very important, I would say, when you’re working with nonprofits.
Carolyn Woodard: What’s one thing you thought you knew about your job coming into it that you learned you were totally wrong about?
Erik Fernandez: My previous work experience in IT related jobs was in kind of cutthroat environments. While I was prepared for the same here, I found the atmosphere of camaraderie, service, helping and learning at Community IT proved me wrong on that.
Carolyn Woodard: So many of our employees stay at Community IT for decades.
What job in nonprofit technology support would you like to have when you retire?
Erik Fernandez: Wow, that’s some time ahead, but I think that when you love technology as a means to improve your life and other people’s lives, I don’t think you ever retire from it. But, to your question, I think that when I retire, I hope to be in some sort of IT advisory role, a consultancy related role that allows me to use all my experience to help others.
Carolyn Woodard: Did you have any doubts about joining Community IT or about working on technology with nonprofits? And now that you work here,
What would you say to someone who’s applying [who might have doubts about this type of tech job]?
Erik Fernandez: I never had any doubts about joining Community IT to be honest, or working with nonprofit organizations. From the get-go, I found it very refreshing, very different, a good challenge, so I was all for it. It’s very rewarding work in many ways. To someone who has doubts, I would say if you like what you heard here today, you’re in the right place.
Carolyn Woodard: When you meet someone and you have those questions, at a party or dinner or something, someone says, oh, what do you do? What do you tell them?
What does Community IT do?
Erik Fernandez: That’s a good one because people are not familiar with the IT Business Manager title. I tell them that I’m a business IT advisor at an employee-owned company supporting the non-profit sector. That’s a bit of a mouthful, but it kind of helps explain their role a little bit more.
Carolyn Woodard: Yeah, that’s true. Thank you so, so much for your time today, Erik. I really just enjoyed talking to you and getting to know you a little bit better. And thanks for sharing your experience and expertise with us.
Erik Fernandez: No, thank you, as well. It was my pleasure.
We hope you enjoyed this Community IT Voices interview with Erik Fernandez, IT Business Manager. Community IT is the right place for you if you find fulfillment in helping others succeed and want to work for a company that serves nonprofits.
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.