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Continuous Learning at Acato: One Man's Journey

Updated: Apr 3

A man in a suit and tie
Zack Garron

In a market where many are in a job with no career advancement opportunities, Acato provides employees like Zack Garron with continuous learning. 

Zack, 39, began working at Acato in January of 2019. At his previous position, he had worked in technical support. Having become a manager, he worked with some developers to conduct informal testing on software and decided from that experience to pursue a career in quality assurance.

“That’s what really got me started down looking towards QA,” Zack said. "Found I really liked it.” 

Zack was particularly attracted to Acato because of the learning opportunities offered, including mainly tuition reimbursement. 

“The one that shined the most to me was the tuition reimbursement,” Zack said. “I was really interested in getting some formal training on software because what I had done before was all informal. It was mostly self-taught … I had the opportunity to enroll in community college and get [an] associate degree, and that was paid for by the company … It’s enriched my production … No question. There was no mistake. It was a win-win for the company and myself.” 

Zack chose to pursue an associate degree in cyber security at Roane State Community College.  

“There was not a degree in software QA,” Zack said. “I went for studying cyber security.” 

Zack’s interest in cyber security comes from stories about cyber attacks that he has read on social media. 

“News stories [such as those] where essentially it’s possible for a kid in their parent’s basements to get into, if they know what they’re doing, they get into this government database,” Zack said. “And they have … the social securities for 200,000 people all of a sudden, and this is sold on the black market for tons … And companies have to defend against that.” 

Zack describes the cyber battle between good and evil where the “white hat” hacker, who is a trained cyber security professional, enters into agreements with companies and performs simulated attacks on them. These attacks reveal vulnerabilities and are used to teach companies how to fix them to better protect against the “black hat” hacker. The black hat hacker is the hacker who attacks companies with malicious intent. 

“The white hat hacker is … someone who goes out to attack with the intention of informing what you can do to prevent the black hat, to prevent a malicious attacker from taking down your company,” Zack said. “It’s like the knight in shining armor to me, I guess.” 

Zack completed his associate degree in cyber security and was able to receive reimbursement. Though there are stipulations, such as completing the semester’s courses with at least a B average, Acato has an official process for employees to receive reimbursement if they want to take college courses.  

It is Zack’s desire to provide cyber security testing for potential Acato clients. To this goal, Zack is currently researching the Cyber Security Maturity Model Certification. 

“It is the government standard for IT security to prevent cyber attacks,” Zack said. “I’ve been to several talks, presentations, about it. It is really thought that it is going to expand out to other departments of government, Department of Energy included.” 

Zack has taken advantage of many other opportunities to obtain certifications and learn new skills since he came to Acato. 

All Acato employees are expected to pass the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) Foundation Level exam, with Acato paying for the exam. Even though Zack attained this certification soon before he was hired, Acato reimbursed him for the cost of the exam. Zack has since obtained the ISTQB Agile Tester certification as well. 

“The Agile Tester was really zeroing in on what the ISTQB Foundation (Certified Tester) that everyone at Acato has” Zack said. “[It] was just applying that to Agile and going over the terminology, the PI, and Scrum, and so on. And they went into Kanban, and all of the different terminology. Most of which, because I had been working with the company for like 2 years had been encountered … I feel that that was more rewarding to gain the Agile tester certification, and more of a challenge.” 

Zack works on the G2 project, which has paid for him to receive SAFe certifications. 

Beyond certifications and degrees, Acato creates a work environment where learning is an expectation. In this environment, employees are given the resources they need, including time and patience. As one example, when Zack came to Acato, he did not know SQL, an important tool for testing on the G2 project. 

“Thankfully the company gives you time to study what you need to,” Zack said. Zack was given time and resources to learn how to use SQL queries so that he can better validate data. 

Zack has also learned test automation and programming with JavaScript. When he first came to Acato, he spent 100% of his time on black-box testing. This has now changed. 

“As the years have gone on, over 4 years now, I’ve been trying to apply myself more to automated testing,” Zack said.  “So, trying to better understand the product code and how I can apply that to an automated test and not just dive into the UI and manual test.” 

Zack is one of many Acato employees who has been given the freedom to self-organize and continue to learn. He is a productive leader on an Agile team. Continuous learning is mutually beneficial for both Acato and the employees. 

“At past companies, they would tell you what needed to change, but not how to change it,” Zack said. “There was no assistance and no leeway: change this or you’re dropped. Here (at Acato), they have paid for my education. They have worked towards my certifications. It’s just been amazing how the company looks to improve its employees.” 

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