An Interview with Mr. Shawn Conaway, Network Professional & Systems Analyst

An Interview with Mr. Shawn Conaway, Network Professional & Systems Analyst

Mr. Shawn Conaway is a Systems Analyst at Kohl's Department Stores, where he has worked for three years. Mr. Conaway holds COMPTIA A+ and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certifications, and he is in the process of becoming a Certified Citrix Administrator and a Microsoft Certified Database Administrator. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Geophysics from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and next year he will begin the Masters of Information Science program in UWM's School of Business Administration.

Mr. Conaway is a member of the Board of Directors of the Network and Systems Professionals Association (NaSPA) and is also involved with the Wisconsin Association for Systems Management (WASM). He also served eight years in the United States Army Reserve.

He enjoys camping, gardening, and spending time with his family. He has been happily married for 7½ years, is the proud father of a three-year-old, and is expecting a newborn at the end of March.

Mr. Conaway & His Career   |   Education Information & Advice   |   Job Information & Advice   |   Closing Remarks



What exactly do computer networking professionals do? Describe a typical day of work for you at Kohl's.

Networking professionals manage computer networks. Management of the networks include maintaining the workstations and servers on the network; managing remote hardware and software; optimizing network bandwidth; optimize domain controller performance; add, maintain, and control user accounts and user rights; automate repetitive maintenance tasks like updating files, backing up data, defragmenting data, and monitoring performance.

What do you enjoy most about your job, your career?

There is always something new every day. As the needs of the company change, I am able to meet those needs with new, exciting technology. Also, due to the great demand for information technology professionals, the pay is excellent.

How difficult is it to keep up to date with changing technology? How can you tell when a new product in your field is for real?

Keeping up with changing technologies is difficult. Major versions of operating systems and major programs like database applications and programming suites tend to change every two to four years. Since most companies do not use just one operating system, database engine, or programming language, an IT pro may find himself learning many technologies in a year just to keep up.

You can be sure a product will achieve industry acceptance if the product is non-proprietary, supported by multiple vendors, approved by standards organizations, and fills an industry need.

What are some of the professional organizations for computer networking professionals? Why are they important?

Network and Systems Professionals Association ( The organization serves as a means to enhance the status and promote the advancement of all network and systems professionals. A member's professional career can be improved through the sharing and dispersion of technical information at one of the growing number of local chapters.


Tell us about your education, including degrees, training and certifications. What did you like and dislike about your computer networking related education?

I have a Bachelors of Science in Geophysics from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. I have my A+ certification and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certification. By the end of the year, I expect to be certified as a Citrix Certified Administrator and a Microsoft Certified Database Administrator. In January, I will be enrolled in the Masters of Information Science program at UW-Milwaukee.

I have had a variety of technical training covering MS NT 4.0 Enterprise, MS Server and Professional 2000, MS SQL 7.0 Administration, MS SQL 7.0 Database Programming, Visual Basic 6.0 Programming, Citrix, etc.

My preference is classroom training, then CBTs, then online training. The downside is classroom training is very expensive.

Do you have any advice regarding what kind of education, training and/or certification is important for networking professionals to pursue and when to pursue it?

Pick a field that is growing. Mainframe COBOL programming is not growing. There is a huge demand for java programmers and CISCO networking professionals.

I suggest getting an Associate or Bachelors degree first, then certifications. Afterward, maybe go for a Masters degree. Writing magazine articles, books, and becoming a technical trainer are good as well. Also, getting some work experience in your target field while getting a degree is a smart plan.

How do prospective computer students assess their skill and aptitude for this field?

Pick something you enjoy. If you have no experience with computers, get some experience before investing a lot of money in a degree. A part-time job fixing computers or volunteering to design web pages are good ways to see if you would enjoy a technical job. If you pick a job you enjoy, skills should be easy to pick-up.

Based on what you hear in the industry, what do you think are the most respected and prestigious computer schools in the US that really make a difference to students who graduate from these schools/depts.?

University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. They have a nationally recognized and awarded degree program.

University of California, Berkley. They harbor innovation.


What is the average salary for an entry level computer networking professional position in the US?

An entry level position should start in the $28,000-$35,000 range. Some experience and certifications should earn $50,000. Much experience, certifications, and management skills should earn $65,000-$75,000.

What are the best ways to find a job in computer networking?

Get some technical skills. Become a member in some technical organizations. Let the members know what you are interested in.

Also, you could get a foot-in-the-door position in a help desk or desktop support position at a company you like. Once you establish yourself as a competent and skilled professional, advancement should be nearly automatic.

How are the advancement opportunities?

Fantastic. Any competent person that pays attention to detail should have no problems progressing in their field. Most important is goal setting. Consider what position you want to have in 5 or 10 years (for instance: help desk, then network administrator, then project manager, then department manager, then CIO/CTO). After you know what you want, define the steps that you need to take to gain the positions (degree, certifications, training, writing, start business, consulting, volunteering, memberships, etc.)

What are the hottest specialties in the computer industry for the new decade?

Anything related to e-commerce. Know the technologies used in N-tier e-commerce: designing ASP/JSP pages; highly-available operating systems like NT or Solaris; using databases like MS SQL and Oracle; programming interfaces between the database and the browser in VB or Java

Do you have any advice for those who are considering entering the job market in this field?

Use a balance approach to developing your skills and qualifications. Don't get into a position where you have a degree and certification, but no experience in your field. You will be too qualified for entry level positions and unqualified for higher level positions.



Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to enter and succeed in computer networking?

Learn how to program.

If you have any questions for Mr. Conaway, you may e-mail him directly at

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