South Carolina student built himself a server, then a career in IT
This feature first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
At 15, Tanner Ogden built and hosted his first gaming server. He and friends enjoyed playing the immensely popular video game “Minecraft” and, as boys often do, they mastered it to the point of boredom. “We all knew the server we played completely and would talk about how cool it would be to have a server with custom mods,” he said.
Curious and confident, Tanner decided to create a server of his own. “I thought, ‘How hard can it be to create one with my own plug-ins and custom mods?’ ” It turned out to be more challenging than anticipated. “I had no idea how difficult it would be,” he said.
Tanner is not one to throw in the towel when the going gets tough. With encouragement from friends and family, he pushed ahead using what resources he could find. “I watched instructional videos and read everything I could to help build my server,” he said.
Whenever he found himself stuck on a phase of his project, he sought out others with greater networking knowledge and skills. “I asked a lot of questions and got a lot of good advice and direction on how to solve problems so my server would work correctly.”
Tanner wasn’t shy about acknowledging his limits for completing certain tasks. Realizing he didn’t have the skills to correctly code his server plug-ins, he hired expert developers to handle the coding. “And I used my own money to pay them,” he proudly stated.
Once the server was up and running, with his buddies enjoying his in-game modifications and helpfully pointing out glitches, Tanner continued to make improvements, fixing bugs and fending off mean-spirited DOS attacks. “I just couldn’t understand why people I didn’t even know were trying to shut down my server. I was just a kid trying to play a game with my friends,” he said.
The server was a hit with his peers and word soon spread as more “Minecraft” players found their way onto the platform, opening a way for Tanner to fund improvements. Exercising his entrepreneurial skills, he began offering in-game mods for a modest fee. The response showed users were willing to pay money to earn better in-game ranks. During its first month of operation, the server earned $800.
Most 15-year-old boys would have no trouble spending the money as quickly as it came in, blowing it on fast food and fun. Not this budding Bill Gates: Tanner poured the money back into product development. “I used it to upgrade my server and hire better developers,” he said.
As his networking skills increased, others began hiring Tanner to build servers for them. One in particular garnered an impressive online response after a YouTube friend — with 40,000 followers—uploaded a video of himself playing the game. Tanner’s server was soon hosting more than 9,000 users.
How firm a foundation
Tanner grew up in Beaufort, S.C. where he and a younger sister were watched over closely and taught to work hard by their very supportive mother, Deborah Moore. She fostered a strong desire in her children to pursue their interests. “She was always supportive and encouraging me to do what I loved,” said Tanner.
Moore is an impressive and accomplished woman in her own right. After divorcing Tanner’s father when Tanner was a small child, she independently shouldered the heavy load of caring for two children on a teacher’s salary.
It is from mom that Tanner inherited his can-do attitude. She started out working as first grade teacher, eventually became a vice principal, and later went on to earn her Ph.D. in Education. “My mother was always supportive and helping me,” he said.
When it came time to host his own server, Tanner was too young to hold a PayPal account in his own name, so, mom registered it in her name. “And she knows a lot about servers too,” he said.
Mom is similarly proud of her boy, describing him as “an amazing young man who has always been driven and dedicated when learning about computers” (not so much other school topics). She has equal praise for other individuals who have positively influenced Tanner.
“He has been blessed with wonderful individuals along the way, including his IT instructors, Joseph Tokar and Jason Maroney, who believed in him before he believed in himself,” said Moore.
Minimal interest in IT
Tanner enrolled in IT classes during his freshman and sophomore years at Beaufort High School but wasn’t certain whether the field was a good fit for him. “My first two years, I just wasn’t sure if working in IT was something I would enjoy doing as a career,” he said.
It was during his junior year that he knew he had found his inspiration. “Once I started to learn more about networking, I fell in love with it and it has stuck with me ever since,” said Tanner. “There was no one moment where I knew it. I didn’t even think of doing it for a career, I just liked networking.”
Under Tokar’s guidance, Tanner began working on his TestOut Network Pro certification. He completed it in the first semester of senior year.
Tokar’s class was heavy with hands-on labs. “It was the best way for us to learn,” said Tanner. “Labs really helped, and for me the enjoyable aspect of earning my certification was being able to relate something I learned, or am learning, to real life examples. And I can use what I learn to improve myself in that area.”
Tokar could see the change in Tanner and watched him work hard to master networking. “Tanner took advantage of every opportunity to gain knowledge, spending extra time on every problem I could challenge him with. His commitment to excel has certainly paid off.”
Tanner also had the good fortune to be surrounded by like-minded and supportive classmates. “Several of my friends were in the networking class with me. We always encouraged and helped one because we were all in the same boat,” he explained. The class loved networking and “we wanted to become the best we could at it.”
Learn from the best
Like all good instructors, Tokar eagerly shares his knowledge of IT and makes certain his students know their stuff. He also does something else equally important: He teaches students how a real-world IT professional looks and acts.
Beaufort High School has a well-established uniform policy, but in Tokar’s class, things go a step farther. Students are expected to wear belts, have their shirts tucked in, and always carry their school IDs where they can be seen.
Failure to carry your ID when class begin means you aren’t getting in. “If we didn’t have our IDs with us, we couldn’t get into class,” Tanner said. “Mr. Tokar constantly reminded us that when working in IT, for security purposes, we would always have to have our IDs. We learned really fast to not go anywhere without them.”
Tokar also stresses the importance of showing respect when helping people address their IT problems. This includes learning the proper way to communicate. “We were told to speak clearly and always explain the problem and any potential solution in words that ordinary people can understand,” said Tanner. “Mr. Tokar stressed that we must never use words like ‘um’ or ‘yeah’ — it just doesn’t look or sound professional.”
Tanner and his classmates also learned how to prepare for employment interviews, including how to act while being interviewed. “Study the organization that is going to interview you, always dress appropriately, look people in the eye, shake hands properly and speak clearly,” said Tanner.
First rungs on the career ladder
Having a solid grasp of these soft skills, along with his training and Network Pro certification, helped Tanner in his first interview with a local ISP provider.
Tanner’s previous employment had been working part-time at a local pizza place and, like most high-school students with minimal real-world experience, he was concerned about how he could get a job. When you don’t have any on-the-job experience, the right certification can make a difference.
That’s what happened for Tanner. The interviewers noticed his Network Pro certification and started firing difficult questions at him that they thought he couldn’t answer. “The training and knowledge I got from my labs and Mr. Tokar and my certification enabled me to answer every question,” said Tanner. “They were impressed.”
At the time, Tanner was still in high school and unable to accept a full-time position. Soon after graduation, however, the company called with an offer and quickly hired him as a Technical Assistant Agent.
After two years of fielding inbound calls and helping resolve IT-related user issues, Tanner applied for an open supervisor position. Although he failed to land that position, he handled it with maturity and humility and, in the process, learned a great deal about himself.
“I learned a lot from that interview. My interviewer gave excellent feedback on what I needed to focus on to become a supervisor, and I did.”
Tanner accepted the feedback and worked diligently to prepare as suggested. When another position opened up, he applied and, at age 20, is now the company’s youngest technical support supervisor.
Adventures in computer networking
As a supervisor, Tanner has plenty of opportunities to solve problems in crucial situations. His company handles all of the internet business for four Marriott Hotels on Hilton Head Island, and they have his personal cell number on speed-dial.
One day all of the phone and internet systems in the hotels crashed. It took a grueling 15-hour conference call between Tanner and Marriott engineers to restore full functionality.
High-stress work situations don’t bother Tanner. He appreciates the opportunity to utilize his skills and pick up new ways of tackling network problems. “The parts of my job that I love the most are using my training to solve real-world problems, and constantly learning,” he said.
The transition from working part-time in high school to holding down a professional position has been an easy one for Tanner. “I stay positive by trying to always look at the big picture. I don’t let small things bring me down,” he said. “I guess it’s true that if you love what you’re doing, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
In a nod to Mr. Tokar’s influence, Tanner regularly returns to the classroom to share some heard-earned wisdom and encouragement on becoming a networking pro. He points out how every day in his job, he uses the things he learned in class.
“I tell them, ‘Listen to what Mr. Tokar says, because it’s the correct way to do things,’ ” he said. “I also tell them to learn to be professional because professionalism is big in getting their first job.”
His own man
In addition to doing what he loves, encouraging developing IT pros and surviving marathon phone calls, Tanner does have a life outside of work. He lives by himself in a rented townhouse (not bad for a 20-year-old). He also enjoys “mindlessly” playing video games.
“I just play and let my mind wander. It clears my thinking and helps me focus on the positives. That way I come to work the next morning with a smile on my face,” he said.
He also enjoys travel. Recently, he and a friend flew to Japan, a country he has long admired and wanted to visit. “We really enjoyed Japan. It’s a beautiful country, the food is great, and the culture is amazing,” said Tanner.
Being in a foreign land means meeting new friends and experiencing new things. One morning in Tokyo, on a whim, the travelers decided to be adventurous and journey to a distant city without any pre-arrangements — just to see what would happen.
They booked passage on one of Japan’s famous bullet trains, traveled for seven hours and, following a 45-minute bus ride, found themselves in Hokkaido. “It was a great experience,” said Tanner. “We walked around the market, met some friendly locals, grabbed something to eat and stayed in a pod-hotel.” (Pod hotels feature a large number of small bedsized rooms known as capsules.)
Continuing their lark, the following day they made their way to Sapporo and ended up lodging at a gaming café. “The café featured a small room with a gaming console and a small bed. We pretty much stayed awake all night playing video games and eating junk food,” said Tanner.
Although many high school graduates go on to spend four or more years in college and rack up student loans, Tanner choose a route better for him. He parlayed his IT training, passion, and certification into a promising career.
His career goal is to become a cybersecurity network engineer. To make the dream a reality, Tanner is already working on the necessary certs. “I’m studying for my CompTIA Network+ and after that will work on earning my Security+.”
Dedicated instructors and certifications have made a big impact on Tanner’s life and set him on the road to a rewarding career with enormous growth potential. During visits back to the classroom, he makes sure to encourage Tokar’s next crop of IT pros to pursue certification.
Tanner tells them that certs are “a great tool to get your IT career started. Certs are ‘gold stars’ that pop out on your résumé.”
Building and hosting servers enjoyed by thousands of users, especially for one so young, was a significant step on Tanner’s journey to becoming an IT professional. Since that time, he has packed his life with even more impressive accomplishments.
He is still young, still yearning for adventure, still curious, still confident — but above all, humble and teachable. That’s a pretty good formula for IT success.