A techie finds career potential in a paper clip

Opportunity knocks for an IT student when he lands a summer job and, with the alignment of a few stars, kicks off a tech career

My IT career began in a rather unexpected way, but the experience taught me to never underestimate even the tiniest details -- a lesson that has proved helpful on many occasions since.

Early in the 2000s, I was in school for computer science but had run out of money for tuition. I took a job at a mail-order retailer/wholesaler with clients ranging from a large and well-known international franchise (we were the company's only supplier for one type of product) down to direct customers that could call or email after finding us online.

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My job was fairly standard at the company and involved doing a bit of everything; at the time, there was no departmentalization at all. When an employee took a sales call, that person processed the entire order from the call to billing to picking, packing, shipping, and follow-up questions.

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As demands on the company grew, the executives recognized the need to make IT more of a priority. "Jean," whose primary role was graphics designer, got tasked as the "network administrator," since the graphics experience had been an adequate qualification at the time. But there was still more to be done.

The computer "network" consisted of about 10 out-of-date PCs using 10 independent dialup accounts to send files back and forth over email to another PC three feet away all via WAN -- no domain, no workgroup, not even a LAN. Inventory was managed on paper and was always out of date; employees had to make constant customer callbacks to correct shipping estimates and inform of back orders. The shipping system required the call center to bump the shipper off their machine to look up tracking numbers.

For me, it was a full-time summer job going to part-time in fall. It did bother me to see so many ways to improve things, but not having earned my tech stripes yet, I hadn't found a good way to tactfully make any suggestions. I focused on it being a job to pay for my education but made mental notes to myself.

However, one day, there was a crisis. Little did I know it would be the beginning of a career.

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