August 18, 2005
The network administrator for the Kane County (Illinois) Recorders Office, Dan Brockmann is among the growing cadres of computer/IT professionals who take a ‘non-traditional' route into the field.
At nearly 27, Dan readily admits he had a false start or two in his early efforts at higher education. Those false starts led to a lengthy stint working at a variety of “crappy retail jobs,” and gave him the incentive to complete his education.
Dan joined the ranks of government employees working in the county building's copy center as a “glorified cashier.” At the time, he considered it “another dead-end job, but a job,” and returned to the DeVry Institute of Technology in 2002 part-time to complete the electrical engineering technology bachelor's degree he had already earned coursework toward. With three years in the county building's copy center under his belt, Dan was offered a promotion to become the IT technician for the County Recorder Department several months after he returned to school.
In effect, he went from selling hardware at a major home improvement retailer to installing it as an IT professional. Today, he is the network administrator, manages an IT assistant and is completing the final class toward the degree in electrical engineering technology from DeVry. Along the way, he has also received Microsoft certifications and completed a two-week boot camp to receive MCSA 2003 (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator) certification.
YOU & YOUR CAREER
Tell us about your computer/IT education and how it fits in with your career in the field.
The education came first! I went to the DeVry Institute of Technology back in 1996, that didn't pan out. I tried community college in 1997, that didn't pan out. I tried working retail for five years or so, but that was going nowhere. I finally got my head out of my rear and decided to go back to school for the electrical engineering technology degree.
I always had an interest in computers, worked on the family's home system, and though I never did networking before, they gave me a chance and I've been here two years now. I went into it knowing nothing more than how to fix a PC itself, I never had fixed a network or a server … I learned under fire, thanks in large part to Zlatko “Z” Koprivec, president of IT Stability in Hoffman Estates, Ill., the county's computer consultant. I consider “Z” my mentor… and my "get-me-out-of-hot water" guy.
In addition to the DeVry courses, I've taken a couple of week-long Microsoft classes and a two-week boot camp for Microsoft Certification. As of right now I'm a MCSA 2003 (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator). I have two more tests to take, which will boost me up to MCSE level; it means roughly the same thing, except I'll be an administrator/engineer.
Electrical engineering technology degree studies have prepared me for getting into the workplace for creating new electronically devices, such as at Intel working on new processors, on the actual chips. But I want to continue working in IT networks, software and stuff. In the field that I'm in, having the EET degree really doesn't help me get a computer job, except by virtue that I have a bachelor's degree.
What do you enjoy most about your current position? Your career?
I enjoy the complete lack of monotony and the new challenges. I always want to learn new things and know as much as I can about this stuff. Not only for the job security, but for my own personal reasons, I like knowing how to do it.
How have your experiences in previous positions contributed to your success?
The only thing I could say that I've taken from previous jobs that I brought into this one is management skills. When I first got the position, my job title was IT technician, and now I have an assistant. I'm still doing a lot of work on the computers, but now I actually have an assistant, so he gets the grunt work, and I get to mentor him and teach him some of the skills I have.
I was a manager at a major home improvement chain, and, until then, had always been more of the worker type than the manager type. I had just turned 21… I realize now that I was not a good manager and I wasn't prepared for it. I definitely knew all about the hardware, could help a customer out anywhere in the store, but management was not my forte at the time. I was so "by the book" there, had the whole policy and procedures manual memorized.
Now I know what NOT to do when working with the people under me, and that's to know when to show appreciation instead of being an ---. Now when it comes to my assistant, I try to look at how I would have dealt with the situation at the home improvement chain, and then I do the exact opposite. Things seem to be working out a lot better that way!
What were the biggest inspirations for your career?
The biggest is money! I'm very money-driven, and the IT field will definitely help me out with that. On top of that, it's something that I enjoy doing. So if I can get paid well for it…that's a bonus. I love computers and I'm happy making money doing it.
What was your greatest success?
Just recently, we did a switchover of from an old network system to a brand new system. We put a lot of effort into it, a lot of meetings, a lot of paperwork, strategizing. It was a very needed upgrade, we were working on a system that was a failing network a few years ago (I had to reboot it two or three times a week), and though we eventually got it worked out to having to reboot only once a month, it still needed to be replaced. The opening day of the problems with the new network, we had it almost on the brink of having it all fixed up, and then we lost power. It just figures. It all went off without hitches, and now we're on all new machines and an all new operating system.
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
To keep adding certifications to broaden my knowledge, expertise and job security. It's all about building the resume, instead of the not-so-positive, resume-generating experiences.
What are the tools of the trade that you use the most?
Microsoft has a knowledge base I utilize a lot. Plus, knowing people who can help when you've got a question comes in handy.
Have any interesting anecdotes about life as an “IT guy”?
Mostly, I'm the dartboard, and people are just shooting at me left and right. It doesn't matter how many projects I've got going on, they don't care, their stuff is the most important at all times.
The good advice I've received and would like to pass on to others working in the field is to make sure your employers knows that you are an expert at dealing with servers and systems. And, then, act as ignorant as possible about your knowledge of programs, like QuickBooks or Microsoft Office. All of the questions from employees take away from what I'm supposed to be doing; some people definitely have some challenges working with computers. I'm constantly being bombarded with questions like, “What's my user name?” For this job, it's best to have high patience levels and a low profile.
What is a common myth about the computer/IT profession?
That we're all a bunch of geeky jack---es who don't have lives beyond computers. The newer generation is starting to break the mold. We're able to take care of the job, but also not let it rule our lives. We're not like the guy on the Saturday Night Live skit.
I try to be as little as a techie geek as I possibly can be, and try to live a normal person's life. I'm the computer guy who is at the bar drinking a beer, not the computer guy at the bar debating the merits of system switches!
Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about computers/IT in order to be successful in the field?
I think so, yes. If you don't have the passion for it, you won't have the drive to learn new technologies, and if you don't have the drive to learn new technologies, you will be lost in the wind.
Some employers pay for you to go to certification courses. My work paid for the boot camp I went to, and they're paying for future certification classes. It's definitely a necessity to stay on top of things, developments in the field. My predecessor lacked passion, he lacked drive… and now I've got his position.
EDUCATION INFORMATION & ADVICE
How did you initially decide to study computers/IT?
The computer thing came naturally; I always seemed to have a natural knack for it. The first PC we had as a family sucked, and I was constantly on the phone with Packard Bell tech support. I started picking up on how things work, started asking questions and started learning from there, teaching myself; then mentors helped me. The biggest asset you can in the IT field is having someone you can look up to and learn from. I think everybody knows that it is imperative to network and get to know other people.
For the MCSA 2003 boot camp I took, I found CED Solutions on the web. They had all inclusive, we'll fly you out to Atlanta for this much money, feed you, put you up in a hotel, and give you the classes set-up. I looked through it, and said “I can be away from home, take time off work, take a flight and get fed? Where do I sign?”
In retrospect, what do you know now that you wish you knew before you pursued your computer/IT career?
I wish that my knowledge base was greater. I really lucked out in my situation with having someone available to mentor me right away, because we already had a great consultant working with our office.
How can prospective computer/IT students assess their skill and aptitude?
By trying out different practice exams online; just see how you do. If you don't do well, find out why by doing research to get the right answers.
What advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in computers/IT?
If they've got a yearning to do it, they should just do it. Take it into your own hands and get it done. The best way is to go to school in general to learn about IT, then find a niche you can become a real expert in.