From Packages to Packets: Northern New Mexico College Graduate Launches New IT Career

By / January 9, 2018 / / 0 Comments

Just a few years ago, Chase Harrison was working as a shipping clerk in a Colorado paper warehouse when a routine upgrade to the warehouse logistics network brought the shipping department to a standstill—and set him on an inspiring new path towards a career in IT networking and high-performance computing.

“We were waiting for a switch to be installed, and the contractor didn’t show up,” recalls Harrison. “Shipping and receiving was completely shutdown. We couldn’t ship anything or order anything, and my boss asked if I could figure it out. I said, ‘Sure.’ I started Googling stuff and figuring it out, and then the installer finally showed up. I talked to him while he was installing it, and that really piqued my curiosity about networking.”

Little could he imagine how far his curiosity would take him. Harrison bought a Force10 switch off eBay, installed it on his home network, and started playing with it. That experience led him to earn his associates degree, and then get a job as a desktop support specialist at IBM. He went from there to Anthem BlueCross/BlueShield, where he had the opportunity to install new Cisco switches to upgrade the network. He fell in love with networking.

He also fell in love with a girl, his now-wife Tina. He moved to New Mexico to start a life with her and pursue a career in networking. He recalls, “She said there’s Los Alamos National Laboratory out here. They’re really into IT and high-performance computing. They need students. Would you want to come over and finish your Bachelor’s degree? And I was like, ‘Yeah, that’d be great.’ So I quit my job and moved everything over here. That’s when I discovered Northern New Mexico College [NNMC].”

A New Approach to IT Training

NNMC offers an ABET-accredited bachelor degree in Information Engineering Technology and is a member of the Cisco Networking Academy. The college serves mostly rural communities within a 40-mile radius of its campus in Española, New Mexico.

Because of the challenging terrain and weather conditions in the Rocky Mountains, NNMC uses Network Development Group’s NETLAB+ platform to provide remote access to its IT laboratory equipment. This enables learners to complete IT labs from anywhere they have an Internet connection.

Harrison credits the NETLAB+ system with helping him complete his degree and obtain the hands-on networking skills sought after by today’s employers. “NETLAB+ made a huge difference for me,” Harrison explains. “I was working full-time and going to school full-time, so my only free time was late at night and on the weekends. Mostly Saturdays and Sundays were my catch-up time—reading chapters, doing the labs, trying to catch up on everything throughout the week and be prepared for the next week. So it was a great benefit being able to do it from home, whenever I wanted to.”

Read the case study to learn how NNMC uses NETLAB+ to overcome geographical challenges in rural New Mexico.

Ready for Opportunity—and a New Career

The great film producer Samuel Goldwyn once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Harrison’s journey has been a testament to the truth of this statement. His diligence as a student at NNMC led the IET Department Chair Dr. Jorge Crichigno to invite Harrison to work on a NSF-funded project to deploy a 10-Gbps network on campus. Harrison later learned that Los Alamos National Lab (LANL), where he worked as a system administrator, used the same technology in its lab. This enabled him to join the HPC team at LANL.

“Then after I graduated from Northern,” he continues, “I got hired full-time as a computing system professional, and they opened up a new job where I’ll be doing not just networking, but I’ll be doing file systems, I’ll be doing architecture, I’ll be working with future technology. So I was excited to get my hands on more high-performance computing stuff. That’s what I’m doing now.”

Harrison believes that a successful IT career begins with a passion for learning: “With IT, it’s like being a doctor. All this new technology comes out, so you can’t just be comfortable. You’ve got to keep researching, you’ve got to keep looking at the future. It’s a good thing, always learning, That’s what I always strive to do is just learn, learn, learn, as much as I can.”

Harrison has enjoyed an incredible journey from the paper warehouse to his dream job at LANL, and he’s grateful to the IET program at NNMC for preparing him for the future. “NNMC is a great place. It’s very affordable, and the teachers there are just amazing. They’re passionate about what they do and what they teach. I’d highly recommend the program to anyone interested in an IT career. I learned so much and just had the best time there.”

“I’m also grateful for my mentors at LANL,” Harrison notes. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the help and support I’ve received from Jeremy Martinez, Adrian Romero, Susan Coulter, Jesse Martinez, Chuck Wilder, Alex Montano and James Cash.”