Ryan Gardner’s story is one of drive and ambition, opportunities seized, and challenges overcome. But, he wants you to know that it could be your story, too.
While Ryan overcame adversity and had to find a way to pay for school, he was fortunate to know at an early age that he wanted to go to work in IT, and he joined the Army as an Active Reserve Soldier at 18. Once there, he joined the Signal Corp in an IT-related MOS. He started at Forsyth Tech in 1999 to work towards an associate degree in IT once he left Active-Duty training. Specifically, Ryan was in the Network Administrator and Support Program. Ryan figured that between his experience while serving in the Army, as well as the hands-on training he would receive at Forsyth Tech, he would be able to find a job quickly.
While at Forsyth Tech, he had a paid internship with an IT company in Greensboro, which gave Ryan even more hands-on training and experience. By the time he earned his degree, he had also had a few certifications and was offered a position with a local company. Over the next several years, Ryan worked towards earning his bachelor’s degree, attending classes at night at High Point University, and later graduated with a major in CIS at Gardner-Webb University while he was in a systems/network administrator role in Charlotte.
Next, Ryan’s career led him back to Winston-Salem, and while he was working at Winston-Salem State University, a colleague there mentioned to him that he should teach at Forsyth Tech. As with most opportunities, Ryan was interested! He began teaching at Forsyth Tech, and this led to his leadership, communication, and presentation skills while mentoring students that had a passion for starting a career in IT. Ryan says he really enjoyed listening to and supporting his students while watching their careers grow in IT.
Ryan’s advice to students today? “Everything you’re doing at school, treat like you’re auditioning for a job. You never know who is looking at you.” He remembers having instructors and mentors at Forsyth Tech recommend him for internships and jobs, which was a huge help. It was at Forsyth Tech that Ryan’s interest in formal leadership was sparked, which led him to earn an MBA from Wake Forest University. Reflecting upon his own childhood and experiences, Ryan recalls, “I just wanted to better myself and I felt like Forsyth Tech gave me that opportunity, and I seized it.”
Now, Ryan leads a team at Zirrus, a leading provider of Managed Services and Internet that has been in business for 70+ years. They are working to build out services that will allow IT to become a strategic driver for SMB companies to grow their businesses in a way that aligns with their strategic outcomes.
He is excited about what’s ahead and has once again returned to Forsyth Tech to give back to the place where his journey began. Ryan has worked with leadership at the college to develop a paid internship program for students at Forsyth Tech.
“As a student, Ryan always approached his work from a collaborative and supportive stance. He was one of the students who would finish his work and then offer to assist others in understanding the topics that we were covering in the curriculum,” says Chris Pearce, former Vice President for Information Technology Services and Chief Information Officer at Forsyth Tech. “I was excited when Ryan reached out to discuss possible internship opportunities with Forsyth Tech. These types of relationships with community partners are critical to creating opportunities for students to receive real-world experience, giving students a competitive edge upon graduation.”
While in school, they will also be hired in a full-time position at Zirrus, with the opportunity to continue on in a full-time capacity at a service desk once they have earned their degree. Ryan says they are looking for someone who is “hungry, humble, and smart,” which he knows they can find at his alma mater.