This feature first appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Austin Mikesell, 20, is the classic example of a restless young man on the move. He is curious, determined, adventurous, eager to succeed, and knows what he wants out of life.
Austin was raised in Madison, Ind., a quintessential Midwestern town described as being "large enough that it isn't small, and small enough that it isn't large." Founded in 1809 on the banks of the mighty Ohio River, Madison was a thriving river port linking Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. Early industries included milling, boat building and pork. The town was also renowned for iron-working — most of the famous decorative iron-work found in New Orleans was produced in Madison.
With a population of just over 12,000, Madison is a living museum of architectural style, dotted by hundreds of historic homes. The downtown area is designated as a National Historic Landmark District — the largest contiguous one in the United States.
Growing up, Austin had a boy's curiosity regarding technology, particularly how things were put together and how they worked. "When I was younger I would take apart broken game systems, and radios just to see what made them operate, and then try to repair them," he said. His curiosity about mechanical devices soon became a natural entryway to computers. "This is what I found so cool about computers — I could take them apart and fix what was broken."
Attending Southwestern High School in nearby Hanover, Austin regularly volunteered to help set up basic computer devices along with constructing and running networking cables. He enjoyed these activities and learning how they enabled systems to work together: "I liked making networking cables and running them throughout the school, and especially seeing them work once they were set up."
At the start of his senior year, Austin learned of a new class dealing with computers and certifications. It was a small class, of just three students, but it had two dedicated and knowledgeable instructors, Marvin Reece and Kevin Dillman. Both Reece and Dillman put forth great effort to help their students succeed.
"They were always there to help me with anything I had difficulty with," said Austin. "They supported me, encouraged me, and made sure I stayed on top of things and did them correctly."
Although Austin didn't have a strong background in computers when the class began, he soon realized that he had a knack for messing with hardware. Before the school year ended, he started his own computer repair business. As his IT knowledge and skills increased, he began buying broken laptops, repairing them and then reselling them for a profit.
As Reece put it, "Austin was my poster child for how the program would work and how it could help students. I told my students that, "Even if you don't go into the tech field, this skill, an IT certification, will keep you from having to flip burgers to pay for college.' "
Austin realized those benefits right away from his repair business. During his first month, he earned several hundred dollars. "I started out by repairing a friend's laptop, and buying replacement parts. That's when I realized how much computer shops were making in profit," he said. "So, I decided to do it myself. I would buy a broken computer for $50, and after repairing it I could resell it for $200."
While learning about computers, Austin also earned the PC Pro certification offered by TestOut. "I was really proud of Austin," said Dillman. "He took the class seriously, worked through every section, completed the course and passed his certification."
Reece said that Austin's certification is proof of his extraordinary gifts: "When the class started he had some basic knowledge of computers, but not much. He caught on and kept working at it until he passed the cert exam — with a score higher than the national college average. I was so proud of him."
Since completing high school Austin has been attending Ivy Tech in Bloomington, Ind., and working as a member of the Geek Squad at a local Best Buy store. Originally hired on to work at the front desk, he was soon promoted to the back room to do hands-on repair of computers.
He attributes his getting the job and promotion to being certified: "I do think that having my PC Pro certification did help me get the job, and especially the promotion."
Austin enjoys being an Advanced Repair Agent, "It's a good job. I can pay my bills, and it offers lots of good opportunities." Constantly repairing computers is also helping him learn new things about technology.
"Every day I learn something new," he said. "I especially enjoy seeing the looks of satisfaction on the faces of clients when they receive their computers back. It makes me want to continue improving as a Geek Squad Agent."
Although he stays busy with work, Austin does make time to relax. It's almost a requirement in Indiana for one to be proficient at basketball, and Austin fits right in. He played for a couple of years at Southwestern High — a school noted for its strong program — and regularly enjoys playing pickup games.
He's also into skateboarding, relaxing with friends and family, and spending time with Lilly, his two year-old German shepherd/pit bull mixed-breed dog.
Austin also rides a Kawasaki Ninja 500, and describes himself as being adventurous and into adrenaline: "I like roller coasters, bungee jumping, and parasailing." His first choice among fictional characters is Spider-Man "because of the adrenaline rush I would get swinging around the city, climbing walls and jumping from building to building."
His favorite getaway vacation spot is Gulf Shores, Ala., which has the motto "Small Town, Big Beach." He likes to get down there every couple of years to "do some skim-boarding and swim with the dolphins."
Austin recently completed an associate's degree of Applied Science in Criminal Justice at Ivy Tech, and plans to pursue a career in law enforcement. His goal is to become a conservation officer (CO) with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
COs are often thought of as game wardens, but they do quite a bit more than just check tags during deer season. As law-enforcement officials, they are not only tasked with enforcing state laws, but act in a variety of nonlaw enforcement capacities, including providing outdoor education to boaters, snowmobilers, hunters, and anglers.
A CO must also regularly conduct outdoor rescue and recovery operations. Because they focus on protecting natural resources and the environment, and handle a wide variety of specialized equipment, COs are among the most highly trained and well-equipped law enforcement officers in the nation.
The decision to become a CO may seem like a strange turn for someone so well-suited for a career in IT, but for Austin it was a natural fit.
"I've had some experiences that have led me this way," he said. "When I was younger I often went hunting and fishing with my grandpa and enjoyed the outdoors. After graduating high school, I couldn't really picture myself doing anything else besides being an outdoorsman and doing what I love."
As tech savvy as he demonstrably is, Austin has no plans to focus on the field of IT, although he does say that he "may obtain a networking certification in the future." (Hey, it never hurts to have reliable and documented IT skills to fall back on.) Austin said that he feels strongly about law enforcement and he doesn't seem to be the type of guy who would enjoy working in an office environment all day.
Regardless of his career choice, Austin will still be relying on IT skills, just like the rest of us. All of the new technologies being developed that add comfort and convenience to our lives, or that help us perform our jobs, don't quite work entirely on their own (yet).
Austin is quick to acknowledge the value of his IT certification and the opportunities it provides. "It's very beneficial to be certified because of the constant changes with technology," he said. "Change is always happening and, in the future, all of our jobs are going to require us to keep up with technological developments."
With his IT knowledge and skills combined with an adventurous personality and a love of adrenalin-inducing activities, Austin Mikesell is well-equipped to handle any challenges that come his way.