Military retiree turns hobby into a future in Computer Network Engineering

Brian C. NewmanIn 2012, Brian C. Newman retired from the United States Army after 22 years of service. One might expect a retiree to relax, but that wasn’t for him. Instead, the 40-year-old enrolled in St. Johns River State College’s Computer Network Engineering Technology program. This two-year Associate in Science degree program trains students to analyze, install, configure, manage and troubleshoot computer networks. Students are trained for careers in cable specialization, PC support, network control operation, data communications analysis, network technology and computer security specialization. While the numerous career options alone would have many intrigued, Newman’s interest in technology actually began much earlier as a simple hobby.

During his time in the military, Newman found he had a knack for repairing computers. Considering himself a tinkerer, Newman said the hobby began as he took computers apart and reconstructed them. From there, he began experimenting with virus removal and computer repair. He eventually gained a reputation among other Army personnel who came to him to solve their computer problems. Newman’s interest in technology stayed with him even after his retirement.

When asked how his hobby brought him to pursuing a new career, he explained, “Well, when I retired, like all retirees, I had a general idea of what I wanted to do. I thought that I like working with computers, so I might as well become fully trained in it,” he concluded. “At least I’d have some kind of job that I would actually enjoy doing.” Newman said he was led to the program by the local Veterans Affairs office, and he is not the only one; five fellow Veterans are studying alongside him. 

 As a stay-at-home father and VA volunteer, Newman leads a very busy schedule and attributes his ability to keep schedules, exercise self-discipline and balance his home and school duties to his military service. The convenient location of SJR State’s Orange Park campus was one of the factors in his decision to enroll. Other factors included the caliber of instructors as well as the real-world training the program provides. “The professors are great,” Newman said. “You get a lot of one-on-one time, especially since the classes are not really big like some of the larger colleges. You get a lot more time to actually get hands-on.”

Skills training begins with giving students practical experience by presenting computers and networks with various real-world problems. Newman said these lessons give him a better experience than simple verbal training and prepare him for obstacles in future tasks, as technicians work with the backbone of an organization’s network. “One thing going wrong could shut down an entire company,” he said. With such high stakes, it is important to ensure competent technicians are available.

Brian C. NewmanThe program curriculum also provides students with the most current trends and network technology. “It’s not only newcomers who benefit from the program’s advanced training,” Newman said, adding that some of his classes include a few seasoned network technicians who have enrolled to remain relevant and updated in the field.

“Certificates and training from two or three years ago aren’t going to cut it,” Newman said. “The training we’re getting here, the things we’re learning here¬† . . .¬† will put us ahead in the industry.”

SJR State created a major stepping-stone for students when it became a certified CISCO Networking Academy in 2013, providing CISCO-qualified instructors who deliver the skills training necessary to prepare students for the numerous certification exams.

As trends and technology for computer networking change, those hoping to succeed in the field need to possess the knowledge required to stay current. Newman believes the lessons he’s learning will supply him with the experience he’ll need to be successful once he graduates. By studying in SJR State’s Computer Network Engineering program, Brian C. Newman and others like him will be able to march ahead of the competition.