Securing His Future with MOS Certification

When we say “South Dakota” you probably think “Mount Rushmore”, but we can’t help but think “Nick O’Donnell”. The recent Dakota State grad and former MOS US National Champion has truly gone on to do amazing things since competing in the MOS US and World Championships.

Find out how Nick has been using his success with the Microsoft Office Specialist program to kick-start a career in network and security administration.

Certiport: Nick, it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to connect. We’re so excited to catch up with you and find out what you’ve been up to the last couple years.

Nick: I’m just thrilled to be able to share my experiences. Certification and the competition were such important parts of my academic and career development.

Certiport: That is great to hear. So much has changed since we saw you last, but we wanted to give everyone a little background of your story. Tell us how you got involved in the MOS certification program?

Nick: I got involved in certification my freshman year of high school when I took the course for Word and PowerPoint 2010 certification. After the first semester of this class, I continued and completed Access and Excel the second semester. Our district adopted Microsoft Office 2013 my senior year, and I worked with the instructor of the class to take an independent study to re-certify myself in all the applications on the new version. Additionally, I was able to take the expert certification test for Word and Excel, and the specialist test for Outlook.

Certiport: If we’re counting right, that means you earned 11 MOS certifications. That’s amazing!

Nick: That’s right! I would like to say a huge thank you to my high school computer teacher, Mrs. Nancy Francis, for helping me obtain all my certifications. Because I certified on the newer version of Office, I was even able to earn my MOS Master.

Certiport: Wow, not many students reach that level. You’ve gone on to do even more since taking these classes. Tell us a little bit about the last few years.

Nick: I finished high school in Montana, and just graduated from Dakota State University, with a Bachelor of Science in Network and Security Administration. Since earning my certifications and competing, I’ve been able to land jobs as an IT Systems Administrator, a Junior Network Assistant, and a Student Researcher in Cyber Security at Dakota State.

Certiport: That’s quite a bit of experience for someone in college. How did you get started?

Nick: When I was earning all my MOS certifications back in 2016, I knew I was interested in technology and IT security. After winning the gold at the 2016 MOS US National Championship, a news article was published in my home town days before my interview for the IT Systems Administrator position – this helped make a good impression for the interview committee.

Certiport: I’m sure it did! Being a national champion with competitive, real world skills? I imagine you made a great first impression.

Nick: I like to think so. I feel very fortunate too, because that job helped me when I started college and worked to gain more experience in network and security.

Dakota State University, Nick O’Donnell

Certiport: And where is that experience going to take you now that you’re graduated from college?

Nick: I accepted a job offer in the IT department at UnitedHealth Group in Minneapolis. It’s the perfect place for me to show my skills and gain even more experience. I wanted to be able to work in an environment where I could help the organization with Information Security and Systems Administration.

Certiport: Sounds like the perfect fit! What would you say to students who are looking to end up in a similar position?

Nick: Learn as much as you can and find groups that support your interests. In my spare time during college, I competed in various Cyber Defense Competitions, working with a team to secure a vulnerable network and protect the information on it from the team hacking us. Additionally, on campus I participated in the Computer Club, Defensive Security Club, and DSU’s MadLabs program. Finding people who shared my passions helped me expand my knowledge and apply my skills in new ways. I hope that other students take advantage of the same opportunities.

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