When Mike Dougherty graduated from high school in 2021, he was ready to put school behind him and jump into the workforce. A chance email from his high school advisor about an IT apprenticeship program changed his mind. Today, he’s earning his associate degree at Wright College while gaining valuable work experience in the software development field.

Mike graduated from Taft High School on Chicago’s Northwest Side in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. His two older siblings had gone to college straight out of high school, but Mike felt a call to enter the world of work right away instead. When he received an email about the Software Development Apprenticeship program offered at Wright College through the Center for Information Technology Talent Acceleration (C4ITA), he realized it was possible to start college and a career at the same time.

“It said I could join an apprenticeship program where I’d be employed by a real company, doing useful things, and gaining work experience straight out of high school. I was sold,” Mike said.

At Wright, Mike felt supported through the process of interviewing and selecting the right apprenticeship for him. He interviewed with three companies and felt that his experience learning to code in middle and high school helped him stand out with interviewers. He landed a software development apprenticeship at his first-choice company—Network Merchants Incorporated (NMI) in Schaumburg—and works 20 hours a week while studying software development in the Computer Science program at Wright College.

“One of the biggest reasons that I didn’t want to go to college was because I didn’t want to graduate with lots of debt and no work experience. The apprenticeship program solved both of those problems,” Mike said.

Through grants, employer support, and the City Colleges Star Scholarship, Mike will graduate with his associate degree next spring with no debt and meaningful work experience.

Mike has enjoyed connecting with his professors and other aspiring software developers at Wright College, and he hit the ground running at NMI, doing quality assurance work for the company’s merchant software before moving to a software development role on their Marketplace team. He finds incredible value in the knowledge and mentorship received from the employees at NMI.

“It’s so helpful to be in a work environment surrounded by professionals already doing their thing in the software development world. I get to understand the way the software business actually works as an apprentice instead of simply understanding software development theoretically,” Mike said. “I’m already learning best practices and industry standards, and these lessons were presented to me immediately because that’s what they’re doing every day. I don’t know if I would have learned those things otherwise at 20 years old.”

While Mike is officially an apprentice until he graduates in spring 2023, he is excited that NMI seems eager to have him join their team full-time. In the meantime, he recommends apprenticeship programs to anyone exploring their options after high school.

“Apprenticeships are a fantastic choice for anyone who wants to get a head start on their career and be financially self-sufficient while earning a degree,” Mike said.