My Career Path – Part 1 “The Choice”

pencilMy post about Mike Murray’s Building a Sustainable Security Career article made me think about the question that gets asked to every security professional at some time during their career – “How did you get to where you are?”

Everyone follows a different path but some of our journey’s start out quite differently. In this 3 part series I’ll attempt to explain how I went from a average High School student, with aspirations of being a history teacher, to the leader of a team of security-oriented software developers for a successful startup.

Part 1 – The Choice

In grade 11 I was positive that my career path was going to take me to University to study to become a history teacher. I loved history and social sciences and figured teaching it would be a great way to spend the rest of my life. At the same time, Nortel Networks was booming and hiring people straight out of University and College with degrees/diplomas in Computer Science. I decided that computers was probably a more realistic career path and switched high schools to one that offered a semester based system.

After graduating high school I enrolled at Algonquin College in the Computer Engineering Technology – Computing Science program. After struggling through the first year and a half I decided that the idea of sitting behind a desk, programming into the night, was not the path I wanted to follow. I switched to the Computer Systems Technician program as it appeared, on the surface, to be more networking oriented. Under the covers it was still very much programming oriented so I only made it through half of the term before withdrawing from Algonquin College. In hindsight I think that there were multiple reasons that I didn’t succeed at college:

  1. I had just turned 18, which was the legal drinking age in Quebec (a short drive from Ottawa which had a drinking age of 19)
  2. I was too young to understand the focus and dedication required for ‘higher’ education
  3. I let the promise of money dictate where I should focus my studies

After making, what my parents then referred to as, “the biggest mistake of my life” I started looking for a job in the real world. I hooked up with a computer wholesaler as your typically sales guy. “Hi, I know you purchased two computers 5 years ago but we have a great deal on hard drives if you buy 200 of them…..hello?” After about 4 weeks I that this was not the career for me. I was offered a job at Taima Corporation (now Convergys), a fast paced call center supporting ISPs from all over North America. The catch? I had to attend one month of unpaid training which covered basic operating system configuration, dial up networking technology, and troubleshooting. The money was twice that of working at the local fast food joint so I figure “why not, I’m still living at home for free”. The training was surprisingly good as Taima wanted to make sure that when you were thrown on the phones you knew what you were talking about. The made sure everyone had a firm understanding of:

  • Windows 3.1,95,98,NT
  • MS-Dos
  • MacOS 7.51-X, AppleTalk
  • BootP, DOCSIS Standards
  • Cable Modem Technology and Structure
  • Network Architecture, Design, Connectivity
  • UNIX
  • ATM, Frame Relay, ISDN, xDSL
  • Citrix

Most people trash call center jobs but I think it’s a great place for people to start out. You don’t start as a General in the military…you start on the front lines.

Check back shortly for my next posting which details my move from my first call center job, to my next call center job, to my ‘dream job’ at Nortel Networks.

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