Careers in IT are booming and the career path for people in IT isn’t always a straight line. Sometimes, starting your career is about being open to opportunities.
ITS staff members Alex Tocchi, Alison Campbell and Jason Cross all stumbled into IT and UNC-Chapel Hill ITS, but have since forged their own path. They each found, then made, opportunities at ITS that they didn’t envision when they first started.
When Alex Tocchi stepped through the doors of Connecticut’s Fairfield University library in 2008, it was to get a job as a librarian. Instead, she left with a job in IT. At Carolina, Tocchi joined ITS as a contractor working on the Microsoft 365 rollout. More than five years later, she provides dedicated on-site and remote tech support for more than 15 buildings, including South Building.
While pursuing her degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Alison Campbell got a job at the University’s IT help desk. “One of my roommates worked there,” Campbell said. “It seemed like a position where I still might be able to do some of my homework at night.” Campbell’s first position in ITS was at the Service Desk. Ten years later, she’s a project manager for ITS.
When Jason Cross, then 22, first got a job as a student tech with the ITS Service Desk, he was just looking for a way to pay the bills until graduation. “To be bluntly honest, on day one it was just needing a job.” It wasn’t until later in the year that he “really got to thinking about what I wanted to do once I graduated.” That’s when he started considering ITS as a place to build a career. From that first position as front-line support at the Service Desk almost 17 years ago, Cross has evolved his role to data analysis and reporting.
But how they started wasn’t why they stayed or how they found a space for themselves in ITS. A common thread among the career trajectory for Tocchi, Campbell and Cross is a love of learning new things, understanding their strengths and carving out their own niche.
For Tocchi, her career in tech was “unexpected, but worked out really well.” Most of the IT experience Tocchi gained through the years came from her willingness to step through unknown doors.
With each move, she learned something valuable to apply to her next opportunity. “Hopping between roles within IT has been helpful,” Tocchi said. “I’ve learned something new about where I’m heading and what people need.”
For Campbell, her rise within ITS can be attributed to her persistence and willingness to seek projects outside the scope of each of her jobs.
“It’s absolutely been a lot of volunteering and saying, ‘I think I’d like to do that,’” Campbell said. Volunteering for an assignment outside of her role, organizing Fall Rush for the ITS Service Desk, was how she found her love for project management.
Fall Rush was a “big effort with a lot of planning and coordination,” but Campbell found seeing the results very satisfying. Without volunteering, she wouldn’t have known that project management was a role she’d like for her career.
Cross had a similar experience. “I carved out a position of trust volunteering to work the front desk when there was a need,” he said. Later, he took on documentation and discovered his interest in data, reporting and storytelling.
“You have your written job description, but then you have everything that is unwritten that your job can be,” he said. “This is where you find open space to grow.”
Value of a mentor
Tocchi, Campbell and Cross all had other ITS staff and leaders serve as their mentors.
Tocchi credits a former colleague with giving her knowledgeable insight and mentorship.
Camilla Washington, who at the time worked with Tocchi in ITS’ Managed Desktop Support “was my biggest champion,” Tocchi said. “She was my role model for problem solving skills, dedication to client communication and stress management.”
For Campbell, a mentorship with former ITS Assistant Vice Chancellor Sandra Germenis formalized her project management career path.
“Sandra had approached me in the hall one day saying she wanted to be my mentor,” Campbell said. “She helped me with project management classes to take, assigned small projects to me and generally supported my desire to do more.”
Cross said that he has had many mentors in his time at ITS. His advice? “Find people who are doing things you find interesting and ask them to be your mentor.”
Advice for others
Having strong mentors is invaluable, but Tocchi, Campbell and Cross all emphasized two things. First, how important it is to advocate for yourself. And second, to think about what type of career trajectory interests you.
“People expect careers to be this line where you go from a starting point and then you go up, and it’s not always like that,” she said. “I think the moment I knew I wanted this career path was when I realized my IT skills kept coming into play no matter what job I was in,” Tocchi said.
“Don’t let opportunities pass you by,” added Tocchi. “There are training programs, mentorship programs, skill/knowledge presentations … it’s all available to you, so take advantage!”
Campbell says she once had a tough conversation with her boss. She said she was “feeling like I was a little stuck, like I didn’t have any growth opportunities.” That self-advocacy paid off. Her boss talked to others in ITS leadership about finding opportunities for Campbell to grow.
Cross echoes that sentiment. “Talk with your manager about your career goals,” he said. “Don’t just assume they know where you want to be in five years, especially if you are not sure yourself.”
When it comes to applying for jobs, Cross and Tocchi shared a similar sentiment: just apply! “Do not pass up applying for a job just because you think someone else is in line in front of you,” said Cross. “Let the hiring team decide if you’re qualified; don’t psych yourself out,” added Tocchi.