Carol Walker

Carol Walker lives by one simple rule: Always try to stay a step ahead of the competition.
When computer programming looked like a hot industry in the 1980s, she made it her major. Then when HTML emerged as the Web standard, she had already built a reputation as “the guru” of the new programming language among her peers at CNA, the Chicago-based insurer, where she worked for more than 16 years.

“I have all the hottest skills,” the Far South Side native said. And she has the credentials to prove it. In 2007, Walker earned a master’s degree in computer science from DePaul University. She’s in the process of finishing up a second graduate degree in online teaching from the University of Illinois at Springfield. What she doesn’t have is a job.

Walker is a casualty of the volatile job market. CNA laid her off in 2002. She landed on her feet the next month when AT&T hired her. When the economy took a nose dive in 2008, she was laid off again. She has been looking for permanent work since.

It has been an exhaustive search; she has submitted dozens of resumes throughout the city as well as the southern and western suburbs. “I’m not getting a lot of calls though,” she said. “It’s dry. Everything’s dry.”

In the meantime, the mother of four grown children has cobbled together an income by teaching classes at Kennedy-King College. She has also done some programming work on a contractual basis. Her kids are picking up a bill here and there to help out.

“The last time I was laid off, I only had one set of skills: IT. Now I have IT and teaching,” she says. “I don’t give up hope.”

is a staff reporter at The Chicago Reporter.