Editor's Desk

Real World

Helping others get more than a foot in the IT door.

Because he has a young face, the only way you can tell Michael Rodgers from some of his students is that he tends to dress better. He speaks with the dulcet accent of a native Tennessean. And from his empire, which fits inside two classrooms at Dyersburg State Community College, Rodgers could change the face of IT education.

I came to know Rodgers when he kept showing up at our conferences with a ragtag bunch of people who acted as volunteers. These were Rodgers’ students. And they weren’t all straight from high school. Some were career changers put through the two-year Communications & Information Technology Degree program by state money.

The way Rodgers figures it, by bringing them to these events, his students get to sit through classes and see how professionals act, dress and talk in a business environment.

Rodgers has a background in IT, having worked as the senior network engineer and director of IS for a hospital conglomerate and as the security and network manager for a regional ISP out of Memphis. He also works for a consulting firm that provides security and network management services.

He taps his contacts to set up internships for his students, a requirement of the program. “I call these people and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a student who really wants to get into this area. I know you’re working on this new project. It’s not going to cost anything. What do you think?’” Rodgers says.

Rodgers also takes field trips closer to home. He’s hauled groups of students to network operations centers, telephone offices (“so that when they hear the terminology, ‘CO,’ ‘demarc’...they see what it’s like”), the local Cisco office, Microsoft events.

“I can talk until I’m blue in the face,” he says. “But it’s not the same as taking the students and putting them into the actual physical environment. Here’s the chair where you’ll sit and work. These racks and rows of servers, here’s what you’re going to do on a daily basis.”

He’s not shy about asking for corporate support. Microsoft Press recently donated $7,000 worth of material. Companies like Cisco, 3Com, SonicWALL, WatchGuard Technologies, Internet Security Systems and Check Point Software have provided demo equipment for weeks at a time so that students can install it, configure it and test it in their classroom network. A corporate sponsor picked up the tab to house students at a recent conference. He’s pushing Cisco to donate a wireless lab.

In a country mesmerized by celebrity hype, stories of teachers doing their job in west Tennessee don’t rank high—except when one of them turns what could be an ordinary job into an extraordinary endeavor.

Do you know somebody doing an uncommon job? Share the story at dian.schaffhauser@mcpmag.com.

About the Author

Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.

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Reader Comments:

Wed, Jul 28, 2004 gurinder singh vpo balbera patiala 147001 punjab india

dear respected sir please send me the all information thanks

Wed, Feb 25, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

ditto - Microsoft Employee Keep up the good work!

Fri, Jan 2, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

The only reason I didn't give him five stars was because he doesn't work for us - Microsoft Employee
Keep up the good work!

Thu, May 15, 2003 JB TN

Refreshing.Wish I could be like Mike.

Thu, Oct 31, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Wonderful to hear of someone actually trying to fix the problem of paper-certified techs! Wish we could clone guys like this.

Tue, Oct 29, 2002 alan osprey UK

Where I come from we have a glut of IT staff and you are forced to look for alternate employment. I have 15 years of infrastructure design and network management on hetrogeinious networks with over 200 NT servers, I am not alone. I like my friends have NT4 MCSEs, 2000 MCSEs and MCDBAs. 4 of us passed the 240. This is of little relevence however when there is no work for IT staff. You earn more money in the UK if you are a Train Driver, Call Center Manager of eaven a small retail store manager. In the UK stay clear of IT!

Wed, Oct 16, 2002 Chevy South Hadley, MA

I had a friend at a local technology company who offered to bring me in for a little hands-on, volunteer experience under his plan to revamp their IT infrastructure in the evenings after work. The company was just sold, however, and my friend himself has to look for a new job or face a 1,000 mile transfer to a different facility.
I'd love to have an apprenticeship opportunity without pay - now that my lab-challenged MCSE classes are history - to show what I can do and make new job contacts. Where do I sign up?

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