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From mops to megabytes

February 1, 2024 | By Dakota Dunsford

Like many high school students, I lacked the confidence and appropriate guidance to be certain what a career would look like for me. My peer group was small, my school attendance was sporadic, and I wasn’t the best student, leading to some sketchy grades and made me constantly worry about my future. I had one thought: If high school was this tough, how would I ever handle a real job? 

After graduating, my first job was in maintenance at Mastercard at the company’s  O’Fallon, Mo., operations center. I worked evenings, so the job was quiet and afforded me the opportunity to think. I loved getting there early, sitting by the lake next to the office to read “Game of Thrones” before my shift started. During the workday, I'd sometimes listen to my favorite podcasts, which was always a nice escape. Being a janitor gave me a routine. It taught me the value of showing up every day and doing my part — a valuable lesson. Then I moved on to a job at a local grocery store. While working there, I started to build my confidence around work and was inspired to take my life in a new direction. 

I signed up for an online technical training program through nPower, which helps veterans and young adults from underserved communities launch digital careers. We began with the basics like building a computer, then progressed to harder things like using PowerShell and memorizing port numbers. After nPower, I got a summer internship at a global IT services and consulting company and was given a mentor. Every day I shadowed him as he explained how to best manage deadlines, pair programming, test automation and how project management is used. 

When summer ended, I returned to Mastercard, but in a much different role. I was now an IT apprentice, walking through the same hallways I once cleaned. It felt like a dream — from cleaning those rooms to troubleshooting tech issues in them. It was the kind of opportunity that I imagined for myself when I used to work maintenance there, to one day be sitting at one of those desks.

At first it was challenging. I volunteered for the Mac team, despite not being familiar with macOS. I didn’t know what I was doing, but my team was incredibly supportive. They were busy people, responsible for managing thousands of computers, and yet they patiently answered my questions and spent time training me. 

When I wasn’t busy, I would shadow at the Tech Bar. It helped me a lot to better understand how everything connected by meeting with the users in person. It showed me their perspective, what they saw when an update my team pushed went live, or hearing what they thought about the changes we made. The techs there taught me a lot about being on front lines of IT. 

Six months into my apprenticeship, Mastercard offered me a full-time position. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening! I started my first day as a full-time employee in August. 

Words can’t express how it felt when I came back into the office for the first time as an employee. I went to my desk, listening to people around me talking about their weekends as I sipped my coffee. That evening after work, the people in my department took me out to celebrate getting hired. It was an incredible opportunity to be hired, but being part of a team, feeling that sense of belonging, was even more  special. 

The journey from high school student filled with self-doubt to IT professional has been amazing, and I’m proud of the company I work for and the type of work I do every day. I never thought I would get this far, and it feels like a dream I haven’t woken from yet. Thank you to everybody who helped me get here.

Dakota Dunsford, Enterprise operations engineer, Mastercard Technology