With his phone carefully propped up so he can see the screen, Juan Servin looks like millions of other Americans who watch videos while they’re cooking. But he isn’t catching up on his favorite TV show. Nor is he making himself something to eat. No, he’s studying hard, brushing up his digital skills while hand-making pizzas in the kitchen of a busy restaurant – with the full support of his boss, of course.
Servin lives with his wife and their teenage children in Eastern Washington and enjoys his job as a senior pizzaiolo, or pizza chef, at Chico’s Pizza in Moses Lake, Wash. “It’s a special place,” he says. “It’s a three-generation family business and lots of people come here.”
But cooking professionally was never Servin’s dream. His lifelong ambition always has been to work in the technology industry. That’s why he’s been building his digital skills by studying online courses, as well as attending college part-time.
Learning is no longer a static activity, Servin says: “You can take it with you on your phone. You can open it anywhere, you can take quizzes, you can watch videos – you can do it in your break or in your own time.”
Servin’s passion for technology first took hold more than 20 years ago, when he worked in a branch of an office supplies retailer in Mexico City. In a front-of-house sales role, he helped customers choose the right laptop, printer and other equipment.
“I have always been very enthusiastic about technology,” he says. “And, at that time, I remember, there were many, many people that didn’t know how to connect even the basics, like their printer.”
It was experiences like this that first made Servin want to work in the technology industry. That ambition was put on hold when he moved to the U.S. But it wasn’t forgotten.
“Things change,” he says. “I moved to this country. I didn’t even know the language. So I started from the bottom again.”
Servin was able to return to his studies later in life thanks, in part, to his supportive boss at Chico’s Pizza and the availability of student financial aid. While maintaining his job as a pizzaiolo, he studied at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake.
Those part-time studies led to him earning an associate degree in computer science in 2020 – an achievement he is very proud of. Then, along with balancing his job, his family and his studies, Servin took on another learning challenge in December that year.
Making the most of online learning
North Central Washington Tech Alliance is a nonprofit supported by Microsoft TechSpark that helps people get the digital skills and technology training they need to find work.
When a month-long “UpSkill-a-Thon” event was announced, Servin decided to find out more. The event offered a cash prize of $1,000 to teams of two or four participants to see who could complete the highest number of courses.
Servin teamed up with his daughter Gabrielle to complete their LinkedIn courses. At the dinner table each night, they would share their progress, spurring each other on. He completed 41 while Gabrielle completed 107, and they came in first place.
Throughout his studies, Servin has been able to gain professionally recognized accreditations in Microsoft technologies such as Office and Windows, as well as study programming languages like Java and Python. He also took network and systems administration courses to gain the skills necessary to manage a business’s IT infrastructure.
A factor in the extent of his accomplishments is that so many of the courses are available online and optimized to be accessed on a range of devices. And he believes this mix of flexibility and access will allow many more people to acquire skills and capabilities that would otherwise have felt out of reach.
Online courses for everyone
Servin is one of 30.7 million people around the world who have benefited from a global skills initiative launched in June 2020 by Microsoft and LinkedIn.
The initiative aims to create an inclusive economic recovery in the aftermath of Covid-19 by ensuring more people can gain the digital skills that will help them find work. As well as using data to identify the skills needed to fill in-demand jobs, it provides free access to learning content and low-cost certifications.
“The only thing that you need to learn is how to be a ‘learning person,’” he says. “Because learning is open for anyone who wants to apply themselves and to achieve more.”
Servin is now making decisions about his next move. For now, he says he likes the idea of taking his education even further to study for a degree in applied science, an academic discipline that applies scientific knowledge to practical scenarios such as technology.
And he has a message for other people whose career hasn’t always followed a straight path: It is never too late to learn. “I think that we need a lot more information made available for older people, like me,” he says. “People need to know that there are no limits.”