This feature first appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Writer and novelist Pearl Buck wrote, “The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible — and achieve it, generation after generation.”
Youth do seem to have a built-in confidence in their ability to accomplish things. And, fortunately for the rest of us, history has had its share of self-assured young Turks who dared mightily, ignored naysayers, and pushed the world forward with new and better ideas.
This is especially true when it comes to information technology (IT), an industry that moves at light speed, and where inquisitiveness and impatience are among the grandest of virtues. Tech pioneers like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Evan Spiegel are examples of daring young people who have given the world conveniences and opportunities of immeasurable value.
When it comes to sheer confidence and audacity, few are in a class with Bill Gates, business magnate, philanthropist, and principal founder of Microsoft Corporation. In a 2017 television interview Gates explained how vital it is to have confidence when tackling new things.
As a child, his passion lay in computers and software, but if not for being confident in himself, he may never have realized it. He advised others that they needed to be confident to find their passion: “You must tap into this self-confidence. Doing so allows you to try out new things, and also gives you room for failure — a necessary precursor to success.”
As an ambitious 19-year-old Harvard student in 1975, Gates and a friend, Paul Allen, read of the release of the Altair 8800, the world’s first mini-computer. Unfortunately, because it was a kit computer, the 8800 didn’t have any practical uses.
The duo contacted the manufacturer, MITS Creative Electronics, and offered to write a programming language for the 8800. The company agreed, but there was a problem — Gates and Allen didn’t have access to an 8800.
Undaunted, they grabbed an instruction manual for the computer and, within a mere 30 days, wrote Altair Basic, the first computer language program for a personal computer. MITS liked the way the program performed and purchased it.
Altair Basic was just the first of many successful products from the youthful minds of Gates and Allen, and while the partners would eventually go their own ways, they are an example of youth not knowing enough to be prudent, and instead attempting and achieving the impossible.
Gates especially so: It was his confidence, wedded with a relentless drive, that helped him build a company synonymous with computer software and become the world’s richest person before his 40th birthday.
Keeping the drive (to succeed) alive
Advanced Technology Center in Virginia Beach, Va.
The siren song of IT continues today and it’s being answered by some of our nation’s best and brightest — and youngest. One young man making his way in the industry is Chris Hultin, 23, of Dell Vale, Texas. Hultin, an accomplished professional, exudes confidence, but not the braggadocio that one often sees among young people who have yet to tangle with real adversity. Hultin’s confidence is proven and sturdy, and he is refreshingly humble about it.
Hultin was raised in Virginia Beach, Va., by parents who valued education and provided him plenty of opportunities to learn and try new things. “My dad was a Navy man,” he said. “He worked on radar systems for 20 years, and then did the same work for the Department of Defense, and my mom was a full-time homemaker.”
Virginia Beach is known for its thriving defense, data centers, and biomedical industries, so it is easy to see how an inquisitive and bright young man would gravitate toward IT. It also helped that Hultin attended the district’s Advanced Technology Center (ATC), where he was immersed in IT.
“I was a member of Future Business Leaders of America and took part in the Scholastic Bowl,” said Hultin. “I was also a member of ATC’s team in the First Lego League. Using standard Lego pieces and a programmable ‘brain-unit,’ we built a robot that navigated around a miniature city. We won Best Team in Show.”
Hultin also was a member of ATC’s team at the FBLA National competitions in 2011 where they earned second place in the Help Desk event. In 2012 the team won first place for network design.
A teacher’s influence
When it comes to learning IT, one of the best advantages to have is a highly-skilled and passionate instructor. Hultin was fortunate — his ATC instructor was Linda Lavender and like all great teachers, she left a deep impression on him. “Truthfully, I would not be where I am if not for her,” he said. “She is always helpful, always willing to share knowledge, and just a great teacher. I owe her a lot.”
At least twice a year, Hultin drops into the center just to say hello, talk to students about IT and take Lavender to a well-deserved lunch.
“Chris is an amazing young man who showed great promise when I first met him,” Lavender said. “He took advantage of the opportunities we offered at our school, earning several industry certifications along with developing outstanding technical skills.”
Hultin was first introduced to certifications at ATC where he earned several entry-level certs in conjunction with his classes. He was a quick study and even found time to take a shot at Cisco’s coveted CCNA credential — an impressive goal for a high school student.
He missed passing the exam by a mere 33 points out of 1,000. “It was painful,” he said. “But it would have been worse if I had actually paid for the cert myself. Fortunately, it was a voucher that was going to expire, so, no harm.” (He has since earned his CCNA.)
Hultin credits certifications for helping him land a valuable IT internship with an architectural firm. “Earning certs while in high school is awesome,” he said. “While certifications aren’t a substitute for experience, they are a great way to get your foot in the door for tech jobs, especially if you don’t have any experience.
“Without the knowledge behind the certifications, I probably wouldn’t have gotten my internship.”
Unfortunately, budget cuts precluded an offer of a permanent position for Hultin. Never one to be discouraged, he used his skills and knowledge to land a temporary position with an IT consulting firm, where he gained valuable Cisco experience working as a network management specialist.
Taking IT to the next level
After high school, Hultin attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., to study computer science. He was a student employee in the university’s computer science department and a self-described “sponge-for-knowledge” who quickly added more arrows to his IT quiver. “I picked up a lot of hands-on experience with Linux and networking because I was the only person on staff with Cisco experience,” he said.
It was at Old Dominium that Hultin’s story took an unexpected twist. After two years of schooling and while taking capstone classes for his major, he began feeling unfulfilled and unchallenged. “I felt like I wasn’t getting anything more out of being there,” he said. “Most of what they were teaching was what I had already learned through my certifications. I was also frustrated with my on-campus job.”
Not knowing what he wanted to do, but knowing for certain that he was ready for bigger things, he left school and found an entry-level position with Rackspace in Austin, Texas.
“I worked for one year as a Windows System Administrator providing phone and ticket support, among other things. And I learned a lot,” he said.
Free now to move at his own pace, Hultin soon began to climb the Rackspace corporate ladder. The company was looking for a Linux Systems Engineer to write automation for public clouds. Realizing that he had no experience in that area, Hultin didn’t give the position a second thought. Fortunately for him and the company, another employee appreciated Hultin’s skills and submitted him for the position.
“I was really surprised,” said Hultin. “This was completely different from what I had been doing for the past year.” The company was looking for someone who could learn on the fly — something Hultin is extremely good at — and after some “typical HR stuff,” he got the job.
Hultin’s adaptability wouldn’t surprise his old teacher. Lavender said she remembers that Hultin never stalled out because of what he didn’t know. “Instead of asking why, he would investigate and discover answers and solutions on his own,” she said. “He jumped into any project, competition or challenge to increase his knowledge and is now enjoying a terrific career and new opportunities.”
For the next 18 months, Hultin did automation on Linux and became very good at it. Which led to another upward move to his current position as a Linux Systems Engineer at ObjectRocket, a subsidiary of Rackspace, where he helps with the architecting and automating of new systems and building a foundation for the next generation of products.
A unique temperament
Many young people would be delighted with, and probably a bit boastful of, such rapid career success, but not Hultin. “It’s been interesting and surprising. Not where I would have expected to land when I moved to Texas originally,” he said.
As one who loves problem solving, Hultin has job satisfaction. His day is filled with an endless stream of IT-related problems that require him to research and test possible solutions. “I do lots of trouble-shooting, always asking why something is behaving the way it is and how can we fix it. A lot of how do we build ‘this’ to make it better, what are the spots for improvement and what tech can we use to help improve it,” he said.
As mentioned above, Hultin is not only humble about his accomplishments, but also self-effacing. When asked about overcoming difficulties in his life, he paused for a moment and responded, “Challenges? I really haven’t had a whole lot of significant struggles. I was fortunate to get a good education and my parents helped me through school. I’m just a guy with some talent who got some lucky breaks.”
Even lucky and talented guys need down time to recharge their creative batteries, and Hultin does this in some fun ways. He occasionally zips around town on his Suzuki GS 500F and attends an indoor climbing gym several times a week. He finds climbing to be a handy method of staying physically fit while sharpening his mind. “I don’t have the patience to do things for hours on end and for me, climbing is more engaging as a workout than lifting weights or running.”
Hultin also enjoys regular hiking in the outdoors and trying new things. He has been in a serious relationship for three years with his girlfriend, Tiffany, who just happens to be a spirited foodie. “We enjoy going to different places and trying exotic foods like granola and caramel popcorn made with whole crickets and cricket flour.”
After a busy day the couple like to disconnect from their demanding careers. They enjoy cooking together several times a week. Hultin joked about their “lack of culinary skills,” and said, “We haven’t managed to make anything inedible … yet. Knock on wood.”
They also unwind in the company of two “long-haired and extremely fluffy cats,” Ivy and Storm. “We aren’t sure what breed they are,” said Hultin. “We found them at a shelter and they were so cute that we didn’t want to split them up, so, we adopted both.”
Hultin also relaxes with puzzle games, and by reading sci-fi and fantasy novels. His favorite series is the Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett. “It’s serious, but at the same time makes fun of pop culture and fantasy tropes,” he said. He is “really into Star Wars,” and makes every effort to snag opening-night tickets for each movie.
Owning a home — and IT skills
The one accomplishment Hultin can’t help speaking of with pride is his home. At an age when most young professionals are more interested in short-term thrills, he takes great satisfaction in the responsibility of being a property holder.
“I am very proud to be a homeowner at age 23,” he said. Of course, as a skilled techie, he has given his home all the latest IoT connections. “My home is fully automated with lights, HVAC, security, and even a 3D printer all tied into a single control panel that I can manage from anywhere with an internet connection.”
Because he has accomplished a great deal in a short time, other IT pros are often surprised at Hultin’s age. “A lot of people say, ‘Wow! I didn’t realize you were so young.’” He attributes his success to his problem-solving skills, eagerness to dig into any challenge and an attitude to learn new things.
“Tech moves so fast that time in the industry alone isn’t enough,” Hultin said. “You have to work with the new tech and new ideas.”
When it comes to certifications, Hultin strongly favors those that enable one to develop practical skills versus rote memorization. “It’s one thing to have a cert — another thing entirely to truly understand the material and put it into practice,” he said. “It’s amazing how many people are certified, but can’t follow through when it comes to doing it.”
As to his future career moves and objectives, Hultin admits that they are currently fluid. “I’m really still not sure — I just know that I want to continue to learn and grow. I don’t know what exactly I want to do for the rest of my life. I’ll stay in tech, but what and where? No idea.”
Older people occasionally say that “youth is wasted on the young.” Nothing could be further from the truth with Hultin. He is a young man with the ability, desire and just the right amount of imprudence to make a splash in the world.
His advice to others starting out in IT is direct — and bold: “Take advantage of every opportunity you have, even if you think they have small chance to succeed. You never know what’s going to happen.”