CertStudent: From nuke school to far-away galaxies and hands-on IT
CertStudent is a recurring feature that profiles students of all ages who are pursuing certification at schools, in training programs, and on their own time (and own dime). Know an interesting CertStudent ? Share the details with us at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.
Brett Rose’s certification journey has been anything but typical — it involves an atomic submarine, solar panels and the G.I. Bill.
Brett, age 44, grew up primarily in San Diego, California and says his IT pursuits actually began with the U.S. Navy. “After high-school I enlisted and eventually served as an electrician onboard a nuclear submarine, the USS Birmingham.”
Incidentally, the Birmingham is one of the most recognizable submarines in U.S. Naval history due to its appearance in the film The Hunt for Red October. The sub’s hull number (SSN-695) is easily recognized in the film from footage taken during her commissioning trials. (We know it’s from the commissioning trials because hull numbers are always removed before active service.)
Becoming an electrician for a nuclear sub involves some serious smarts and a ton of hard work. “Nuke School is considered the third-toughest in the U.S. — the equivalent of MIT,” Brett said. “They basically cram six years of learning down into six months. Our schooling consisted of three specific stages, and each stage had a less than 50 percent pass rate for students who made it in.”
Spending six years as a submariner allowed Brett lots of time to develop discipline and practice in focusing on important tasks, especially when at sea. As an electrician, his duties included maintaining motors, generators and other essential equipment while monitoring systems and maintaining uninterrupted power to the sub. “You had to keep yourself preoccupied with a variety of activities to keep from going insane,” he says.
He also explained some of the other challenges of serving on a sub: “Being deployed underwater for three months is not for the weak minded or faint of heart. It takes a disciplined person to keep your wits about you.”
“You could always tell how long we had been out by the response to a ‘hello’ or ‘good-morning.’ ” he says. “First month: ‘Hello’ or ‘Good morning’ back. Second month: ‘Yeah! Yeah! Go away!’ followed by an evil glare. Third month: Silence, with a glare that says ‘DEATH!’ Tempers would flare up much more easily on longer deployments.”
After the Navy, Brett enrolled in junior college for a time, but, as he says, “Life took over. I had bills to pay and needed to get a job. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I just kind of bounced around doing temp jobs with CompUSA, Sony, etc.”
Brett eventually utilized his G.I. Bill benefits to attend the University of Phoenix where he completed a bachelor’s degree in IT. “I liked what I learned, but it focused mainly on project management — how to oversee projects and such.” What he really wanted to learn was “some hands-on IT stuff.”
After graduation, work was sparse, so Brett relocated from California to New Mexico where he worked for Schott Solar manufacturing solar panels. “I enjoyed the work and the pay was good, but we couldn’t compete with foreign manufactures. Eventually the company closed and I was laid off.”
Because he lost his job as a result of production moving to a foreign country, Brett was eligible for re-training under the federal government’s Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. “Under TAA I was able to attend Brown Mackie College in Albuquerque, New Mexico where I earned an associate degree in IT.”
An integral part of Brown Mackie’s IT program is focusing on hands-on project work which played right into Brett’s wheel-house: “I’m a tactile kind of guy. I like the hands-on stuff — I learn by doing.”
While studying for his IT degree Brett realized the need for official certifications. “Looking for work was like hitting a brick-wall. My degree just wasn’t going to be enough,” he says. “Everybody wanted someone with experience, but how could I get experience without a job? That was when I saw the value of IT certifications.”
Brett earned TestOut’s PC Pro and Network Pro certifications prior to graduation and their Security Pro two weeks later. School kept him pretty busy, and he credits his time in the Navy with helping him earn his certs. “Studying for the certs was a piece of cake compared to all the studying required in nuke school. I did enjoy the TestOut lab simulations, instead of just memorizing and repeating information they helped me show what I knew.”
Besides being smart, Brett is also a hard worker. Tony Villasenor, an instructor with Brown Mackie College’s Information Technology Program described him as an “outstanding student. Not only does he easily master new skills that enhance his technical abilities, but he encourages and coaches other students to improve their computer skills.”
Knowing how to let off steam was something Brett learned well in his submarine days, and he continues to do the same in his spare time. “My favorite vacation spot is Disneyland,” he says. “I visit once a year just to see the new stuff they’ve added.” He also spends his weekends playing pick-up football games with friends from his church, and is currently trying to organize a city-league for flag-football games.
At Brown Mackie, Brett worked in the school library and was noticed for his unusual qualities. Hallie Barnes, his former supervisor said, “I can’t say enough good things about him and his dedication. I miss him and his computer expertise.” She describes Brett as “innovative and dedicated in his drive to succeed, especially in the IT field. Watching him prepare for his certifications, you would never guess that his quirky personality would include a love of everything Disney and coaching football.”
Like a lot of us, Brett’s quirky side comes out in his choice of movies. “I like The Lord of the Rings, but my favorites movies are Star Wars. I even have a full-size Storm Trooper costume!” When asked his favorite character, he declines saying, “Sometimes I want to be a Jedi Knight, sometimes a storm trooper. Automatic doors do make me feel like a Jedi.”
Brett’s career goal is to be a system or network administrator and he’s willing to do whatever helps gets him there. Right now he is gaining experience and paying the bills by doing temp work and helping friends with a start-up business, all while studying for his CompTIA A+ certification. In the future he plans to earn CompTIA’s Network+ and Security +, Cisco’s CCNA and a Project Management Professional cert.
Brett is man of many talents and interests, and whatever he ends up doing we’re sure it will be “anchors aweigh,” and that the Force will be with him.