Leveraging an Associate Degree into an IT Career

Leveraging an Associate Degree into an IT Career

When Minneapolis College alum Errol Ilbuga graduated from Rochester Century High School in 2008, he took a gap year, working for a home construction company to save money for college.

The son of an Iowa-born mother and a Turkish immigrant father, and the product of a culturally diverse community thanks to the international clientele and staff of Mayo Clinic and IBM, Ilbuga was drawn to the diversity of students and faculty he found at Minneapolis College. He also chose the College based on accessibility—far enough but not too far from home—and affordability. Still, it took all his savings plus financial aid and a part-time job taking driver’s license photos at the Minnesota Department of Motor Vehicles in St. Paul to pay tuition and to rent housing near campus.

Ilbuga initially planned to get an associate degree at Minneapolis College, then transfer to Metro State University for a bachelor’s degree, but that’s not what happened. Instead, he found a way to accelerate his real-world learning and experience by getting involved in extracurricular activities throughout his two years at the College.

“I was on the Student Life Budget Committee, where we had to approve or ask questions on budgets for thirty-plus student groups—and these were real budgets that the school was giving us students the ability to fund, if it made sense from the perspective of the mission statement of Minneapolis College. So that was really fun,” Ilbuga said.

“And then within the School of Business we started up Collegiate DECA, which is like a business competition. I was able to partner with faculty advisor Jennifer Malarski and eventually Jason Cussler. In Collegiate DECA we got to travel and compete against four-year schools [including] the University of Minnesota. Getting that exposure was exciting for me,” he said.

“Being a part of both of those allowed me to experience real world scenarios,” he said. That experience paid off in job offers and promotions.

A Career Path Leads to IT

While at Minneapolis College, Ilbuga applied for an internship in marketing at Sunrise Bank, where he held his personal accounts. Instead of marketing, the bank hired him for a role in the fraud detection department governed by the Bank Secrecy Act, based on two key qualifications: the Microsoft Office courses he took at the College and his previous job with another government-regulated organization, the St. Paul DMV. It also helped that he had actively networked with a banker at Sunrise who gave him a reference for the internship.

In 2013, after two summers as an intern at Sunrise Bank, Ilbuga interviewed for the position of third-party risk analyst and got the job, moving to full-time employment with benefits. The analyst job involved transitioning the bank’s vendor management process from Excel spreadsheets to a governance, risk and compliance (GRC) platform called Archer RSA. Having learned the required programming on the job, he became the bank’s internal SME, or subject matter expert.

“That’s where my whole IT career kind of budded from,” he said.

Next, he was recruited by U.S. Bank, where he was hired as a software engineer. There he was able to expand his knowledge of the technology involved in banking, especially in managing complex regulatory requirements. Only a few years into his career, his resume already showed a valuable depth of understanding on both the analytical and the technology side of the banking industry, which opened up a range of opportunities.

“Thanks to Amazon, the Apple iPhone and Android, nowadays you cannot have a corporate structure without an IT department,” Ilbuga said.

In 2021, Ilbuga was recruited by Wells Fargo, where he works today as a lead software engineer on the RSA Archer platform, developing and deploying the technology solutions that directly benefit bank customers, ensuring both safety and convenience. He went to Wells Fargo because it housed a larger IT group with more opportunity for advancement, and because the company is committed to diversity, he said.

Hired as part of an agile team of engineers in July, he was promoted to team lead by January, and now leads complex technology initiatives company wide. He enjoys a hybrid work environment, meeting with his team at the office one day a week and otherwise collaborating online with team members in the U.S. and India.

In his role at Wells Fargo, Ilbuga relies on both hard and soft skills that he learned at Minneapolis College and on the job:

  • Hard skills including proficiency in Microsoft Office tools such as Excel, Vizio, Teams, Sharepoint, Word, and Powerpoint.
  • Soft skills like adaptability, time management, communication, leadership, and flexibility.

“We all need to be accountable to time management, and we all have to communicate and collaborate, or stuff just doesn’t get done,” he said.

Advice for Students

By all measures, Errol Ilbuga’s path from Minneapolis College to internships and an IT career has been a success. His advice to current students is:

  • Get involved. “If I would’ve asked myself back then, ‘Errol, do you want to add more work to your daily load? Do you want to be asked to present in front of these classrooms to try to get people to join your group?’ Not really. But did I do it? Yeah. And it led me to be more confident and calm and collected when I’m speaking in front of a director and a chief executive officer.”
  • Build experience. “Not everybody wants to go corporate, but have a loosely-defined road map. Get out there. If you need to get a little uncomfortable by getting some experience and getting some interviews under your belt, do that.”
  • Be flexible. I thought as a generic business administration student that I was going to get into marketing. But the bankers said I would be good for an internal BSA role, and I rolled with it.’”
  • Think of your career as a video game. “Ask yourself, if I want to get to the next level, what do I need to do?”
  • Be serious about work/life balance. “Start the day early. When you start the day early, you can get off early. Pack everything into the beginning of the day. My days in the morning are hectic. But come afternoon I can get my administrative stuff done and collaborate on other projects.”

For more information, visit the School of Business and Economics webpage or Minneapolis College Admissions

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