As an IT professional, I had been both enamored and discouraged in my field. At one point, I was ready to try a totally different field, until I thought further and decided to try a different company. So far, that has proven to be a great move. I was gaining great experience at the new gig, but there was one milestone that eluded me. The CISA certification. This is the industry standard by which IT professionals in the audit field are currently measured. It is our equivalent to the CPA or BAR Exam. I wasn’t really trying to get it at first. After my trials and tribulations at my prior gig, I basically said “fuck this” and put that certification in my rear view mirror. Having a new job, more time to ponder situations, and a fresh perspective gave me the foresight to recognize that I needed the CISA.
I didn’t need the CISA career wise. I can go into multiple areas IT wise, but the CISA is excellent for resume’s, salary negotiations, and it’s required for some jobs. I didn’t need it as a prerequisite for my current position. They encourage certifications, but it isn’t mandatory. I needed this for my own personal validation. Throughout my career I felt as if I didn’t get all the recognition I deserved. I worked hard and worked smart. I got promotions and recognition awards too little too late. I busted my ass, but there’s always people who will diminish your accomplishments. Getting a certification to me is like a big middle finger at anyone who questions your acumen in your field, and it also says “I actually know what I’m doing from a broad perspective”. I’ve been around long enough, it was time to add tangible credentials to my career!
In September, I made a decision to take the challenge and register for the CISA. I had good friends who took the exam to mentor me. I got all the study materials and the electronic databases with a million practice questions. I plotted out my 3 month study schedule, which ended up being 2 months while waiting for my materials to arrive. Studying for this exam made me realize why I retired from school after I got my masters. I hate standardized tests! It also pissed me off that a lot of my real world knowledge was only partially applicable because these tests were based on “best practices” which aren’t always practical in real life. I didn’t let it get me down. I utilized my prior experience with studying, along with my resources, to help me reach my goal.
I searched online for information retention tips. I consulted other people who took similar standardized tests for their studying tips. I carried my materials everywhere I went, and studied daily. I took practice questions all the time. I typed outlines for every chapter and read along with the book. I felt like a human encyclopedia by the time I was finished! So much information crammed into my brain, ready to be released at a moment’s notice. I didn’t want any regrets taking this exam, and I definitely didn’t want to have to take it TWICE!
December 8th I woke up, had a quick breakfast, hopped in my whip and headed to NYU to take my exam. The months of studying and preparation were over and it was time to apply the knowledge I attained to this unknown variable called the CISA exam. I had my #2 pencils, erasers, and ID ready for the day. I swore I was in High School during the Regents exams! I saw a few former colleagues preparing to take the test too, which was surreal. It gave me even more motivation to succeed since I just left that place due to lack of recognition, and this would be another example of why their ignorance cost them a valuable resource. They read us the rules of the day, and handed out the exam. 200 questions and 4 hours to complete them. 8:00AM the exam began! I opened the booklet, read the first 10 questions and started chuckling under my breath. I didn’t know a single answer.
I cursed to high Heaven, because in 10 minutes, 10 questions rendered all the knowledge I learned over 60+ days useless! I was discouraged, but not deterred. I implemented a common test taking strategy of mine that has helped me in the past: I went through all 200 questions in one pass. If I could answer immediately, I did. Otherwise, I left it blank. I went through the test the first time with no worries, answering where I could and leaving questions for later. I got through the booklet in abut 2 hours, and left roughly 85 questions blank. It didn’t look or feel good at first, but I didn’t panic. Panicking helps no one, and believing in yourself goes a LONG way.
I went back through the book a second time, and the impossible questions looked more normal. The answers started making sense, and by process of elimination, I was able to make the best possible selection. I went through the book a third time, taking care of last-minute stragglers and checking my original answers. I could hear the proctors calling out the times and writing on the board how much time remained, but I was in the zone. I had bigger fish to fry! Before I knew it, the clock read 12:55PM. 5 minutes until the test was over. I was confident in my answers. I signed my book, handed it to the proctor, and made my way out of the classroom.
I spoke with a few people after the test and we were bitchin up a storm. The chapters they said would be most weighted weren’t the most weighted. Most of the questions came from earlier chapters in my opinion. My instincts keep it real with me. If I feel shitty about a performance or test, that’s more than likely how I did. When I walked out, I felt uneasy, but I was confident that I passed barely. That test was humbling to me. I consider myself an intelligent individual, but those types of tests make you question your mental acumen. It makes you wonder whether or not you truly are smart. I immediately headed to brunch and drowned my struggles in Mimosas. I deserved it!
The waiting game began my next phase of the process. We weren’t expected to hear our results until early February. Two whole months of an excruciating wait. I went on message boards and read as geeks tried to extrapolate the notification date. They said probably February 7th. My goal was to forget entirely so it didn’t stress me out much. I succeeded in letting the test float to the lower recesses of my mind. I hid all of my study materials. I deleted the database shortcut from my laptop. Out of sight, out of mind.
It wasn’t until earlier this week when I realized the date was upon me. I had to do some searches in my work email, and I saw a bunch of ISACA (the group who gives the CISA) emails. Yup it was back in my mind again, but I wasn’t worried. Then out of nowhere yesterday, an email from “CISA” popped up on my screen as I was reading unread items in my inbox. I immediately tried to not look, but I clicked on it accidentally. I manned up, look, and saw the following:
The level of relief and excitement that I felt was off the charts. This email literally was received at 4:58pm. A great way to end my work day. I didn’t want to face the disappointment of failing this exam. I didn’t want to face the decision of whether or not to take it again and pay the fees out-of-pocket (since my company footed the bill originally). Either way this was one of the biggest professional accomplishments of my career and I was genuinely happy. I did it. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my friends and family, the studying materials, and the will to be better than my best. I will celebrate, but I know that this is but one accomplishment. I have more goals on the horizon that need to be achieved. 10% body fat by June has been the motto, and I’m tracking those goals feverishly. Accomplishments like this help me realize that I can set goals and be successful. You should take time to enjoy accomplishments, but never rest on your laurels. I won’t forget this lesson, ever.
On to the next one!