As a kid in awe of his sister's computer career, Lenny Jaramillo started taking computers apart and putting them back together.
Like many computer-oriented students, Lenny wanted to skip the “unnecessary academic classes” and focus on learning about computers and programming, so he headed for Chicagoland's DeVry Institute for his bachelor's degree. He graduated and quickly landed a job as an entry level programmer in the 300-person IT department at a leading office supply distributor.
Eight years later, he has moved up the corporate ranks to become a technical analyst, and has found that interacting with management and system users (aka fellow employees) is just as critical to his current IT role as his technical skills.
Lenny, who is currently earning his master's degree in software engineering from DePaul University, tells ComputerSchools.com that he believes one of the biggest perks of an IT career is the need to continually learn and apply new technology, an aptitude he considers critical to ongoing success in the field.
YOU & YOUR CAREER
Tell us about your computer/IT career. Where did your interest in computers start?
My interest in computers started with my sister. I saw how exciting it was for her when she was working on computers. So, as I got older I would take computers apart and put them together just to learn about the parts.
How is your career unfolding?
When I was in high school and getting ready to make a decision about college, I decided to go to DeVry Institute. Ever since I graduated eight years ago, I've been working at the same major office supply distributor. I started off as an entry level programmer and made it through the ranks to my current position, technical analyst. Starting off as an entry-level programmer and going through ranks made IT life a little easy.
I received instructions from my mentors, who included project leaders, system analysts and technical analysts, and I would program code to my heart's content. That started to end when I became a senior analyst programmer, when I was expected to look into new technology, get training in this new technology, and teach the new technology to my peers. I was viewed as a very knowledgeable and dependable resource. It was the step right before technical analyst.
To date my career's been skyrocketing. I've been taking on leadership and architecture roles to help the organization, and I continue evolve to become more efficient.
What do you enjoy most about your current position? Your career?
What I enjoy most about my current position is the ability to learn new technologies. I would say that learning new technologies has been one of the perks of this career for me. Some people classify me as an over-achiever.
Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?
Before my career started my sister was my biggest inspiration. Since I've been working, I would say that my past project leaders were my biggest inspiration. Some of my former project leaders are now managers and directors in the company, and I still look to them for advice.
What are some of your favorite projects completed in your career and why?
Some of my favorite projects include: Supplier Zone, where I was the architect and created a new “Classified Zone” (secured internet site) for our hundreds of suppliers; Supplier Agreement Automation, where I was the architect of a contract management system for our suppliers and product managers which also has a section for our suppliers to enter funding for our programs; and Custom Printing, where I created a custom printing solution for our warehouse personnel to print custom invoices. The Custom Printing project was challenging, because it forced me to think like a warehouse works, and to make it fast enough so that it wouldn't slow down warehouse work progress.
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
My personal goals include purchasing a condo by the end of 2005 and to complete my Master's degree in software engineering. My professional goals include continuing to complete all projects on time
Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about computers/IT in order to be successful in the field?
The unfortunate aspect of this job is that almost anyone can be a programmer. The best part of this job is that not everyone can be great at what they do. Fortunately for me I am real good at what I do and I try to help my peers become better at what they do.
EDUCATION INFORMATION & ADVICE
Tell us about your computer/IT education.
My college education is from DeVry Institute in Addison, Ill. After I completed the program and started working, I was sent multiple times to Information Management Group (IMG) and to DePaul University (both in Chicago) for training. I recently finished a bunch of SAP training classes, and I'm excited about starting to do more work with the technology.
How did you initially decide to study computers/IT at an undergraduate level? And how did you find a school?
I decided to take up IT at an undergraduate level when I saw how much fun my sister was having. It was easy to find a school…I simply didn't want a school that I had to go through all the unnecessary academic classes.
You are currently working towards your Master's degree in software design. What drove your decision to return to school, and how did you choose the program?
I started school again because I wanted to advance my career further than where I currently am. I realized that the only way to better myself was to go back to school. The reason I chose Software Engineering is I really like building things. Software Engineering is about design and building things.
How can prospective computer/IT students assess their skill and aptitude?
The best advice I can give someone about IT especially computer programming is if you like building things and figuring out how things work, then programming is right for you. If you don't like building things and figuring out how things work, then don't waste your time.
How has your education benefited your computer/IT career?
My education helped me get where I am. Without my education I wouldn't be able to do anything that I do today.
Based on what you hear in the industry, what do you think are the most respected and prestigious schools?
In my opinion, for IT personnel, MIT is best of the best.
Does graduating from a prestigious school make a difference in landing a good job?
I think graduating from a prestigious school or even a half-way decent school will help someone get a good job. I know that from graduating from DeVry helped me get a job.
THE ACTUAL WORK
Describe a typical day of work for you. What exactly do you do? What are your key responsibilities? On a basic level, what skills does your job demand?
Every day can be and is usually different. I usually spend some time of the day dealing with our Marketing Resource Management software package and applying fixes or enhancements to it. I'm also responsible for making sure that the product is very reliable and that there is no downtime.
Some of the demands of my job are being able to think quick on my feet to keep my users and other IT managers happy with decisions I'm making.
What is your favorite gadget?
My Treo600…I love that phone/pda.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
One of the most challenging aspects of the job is keeping our users and management happy. We usually keep both groups of people happy by delivering projects on time and meeting the specified requirements.
How is the job market now in the industry? How do you think it will be in five years?
The job market right now is sketchy. The popularity of offshore development has burdened U.S. programmers. I'm hoping this frenzy will end soon, but unfortunately I don't think it will.
What are the best ways to get a job in the computer/IT field? How available are internships?
In my opinion the best way to get a job now is through a headhunter. They usually have all the contacts with the software companies and can easily suggest IT associates as contractors for jobs.
What is the average salary for your field? What are people at the top of the profession paid?
It varies widely…..people usually start out with $40k or so, and some CTO/CIO positions are getting as much as $200K
What are some of the trends that you see which could help computer/IT students plan for the future?
With the future market, students cannot limit themselves to just programming skills. They also need people skills and project management skills. More than half my job is now spent dealing with management and my ability to coordinate tasks with other groups.
How has the popularity of the internet affected your profession?
The popularity of the internet has affected my profession as another media for applications to be built to reach the consumer market.
What is one of the top challenges facing the computer/IT field over the next decade?
What career advice can you give to computer/IT school graduates who want to succeed in the field?
Learn how to program but also learn how to manage and coordinate projects. The people that succeed are those that can talk to programmers and talk to management.
Other than knowing your field of study, the best advice I can give someone that wants to go into the IT industry is that you need to know how to sell yourself and your ideas. If you have the gift of gab, you should do fine within the industry.
Editor's Note: Want to ask Lenny a follow-up question about the computer field or life in a large IT department? Click here and include the following in the subject line: ComputerSchools.com Interview.