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Career Quick Look
Salary: $69,760* Education:
Years in Field: 12 B.S. in Computer Systems in progress
City/State: Seattle, WA View Susan Collicott's Resume

Getting Started: "I was actually going to college to be a pulp and paper engineer," Susan says, "and as I started realizing that I really didn't want to do that, I met some friends who worked at the computer center, and I started hanging out there." She took a part-time student job in the computer lab, and found she loved what she was doing. Susan left her engineering program to concentrate on working with computers. "That was 1989," she says, "and there really wasn't a degree in what I wanted to do."

She worked for a few years at the University of Washington on mainframe computers, then left to work as an operator and consultant at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). "That's where I really started to get into networking," she recalls. "I was the one in charge of our connection to the internet, on a daily maintenance basis." Subsequent jobs in software and networking companies earned Susan additional experience in customer and product support. Her current position with ASTA Networks - a start-up software and equipment firm for network technology - enables her to combines all these skills, and to further pursue her interest in network engineering. "I started here at ASTA in June and I love it," she says.

Education: Susan had studied engineering at Michigan State University and then the University of Washington, before she discovered her love of computers. "I met some friends who worked at the computer center, started hanging out there, and then I got a student job. I soon realized that I was ecstatic about going to work - and that was just as a lowly computer operator. So I turned a part time student job into a full-time position and have just been working my way through the industry ever since. So I never finished my degree."

Susan says her years of job experience has always compensated for her lack of a college degree - but in the current job market, she's noticed more and more employers requiring a Bachelor of Science. For this reason, she's decided to go back and complete her B.S. in Computer Systems from Seattle's City University, while working at ASTA Networks. "They have distance learning classes," she says, "so I'll probably only have to do one or two in-the-room classes."

At the same time, she says, "ASTA networks is training me and paying for my CISCO networks certifications, so I get to go do all the CISCO certifications I want for free." The company has an in-house, full-time trainer, so anyone in the company who would like can get their certification. "And they'd like as many people as possible to be CISCO certified," she says.

Greatest Professional Achievement:
Susan says she's proudest of creating the deployment department at her last company, Aventail, a maker of encryption and safety software. "At the time," she says, "the field engineers and the NOC had no communication whatsoever between the two of them, so I stepped into the middle and created the deployment department, which worked with sales, field engineers, NOC and internal engineers." She also developed a test for equipment and the software, to be sure it would perform properly in the field.

"I was able to take this chaotic situation and set up processes and communication flow and testing and I got it running smoothly," she says. "We saved the company so much money, cut the workload so far. But what I really felt most proud of was just that I seemed to be the person that enabled this. I stepped in and made decisions and made things happen."

Barriers: "I'd say I've experienced more barriers from dropping out than from being a woman," Susan says. "At first the computer industry was focused on what you could do rather than what degree do you have, but especially in this harder market I see much more 'must have bachelor's of science in computer science or electrical engineering' or something like that. I'm lucky in that I have quite a few years of experience that can offset that. But if somebody had less experience it would be a real barrier right now." With this in mind, Susan has begun the process of completing her own bachelor's degree, studying part time while she continues to work.

Working with Men: Susan says in her early days she came across a few men who seemed uncomfortable working with women. "But that's really decreased lately," she says. "I haven't seen anything like that since the early 90s." Although she did work in one company with an all-female engineering department, most of her colleagues these days are men - especially on the technical side of the business.

"This company is very definitely male-dominated," she says. "But I have been lucky enough not to have run into problems… I think I was also lucky in that I grew up with three older brothers and they treated me like one of them, as did my parents. So I've always been comfortable in what I was doing."

Advice for Women: "I had some friends in the 80s and 90s who would try to 'de-feminize' themselves, but I have never tried to do that," Susan says. "I think you have to find your own balance, be yourself and try to take everything with a sense of humor."

Her advice for other women is to "be yourself - and have a sense of humor about it all. If you're too prickly about it, it's hard to work together as a team."

" I have had to prove myself technically a few times, before I could get the unquestioning trust of the other engineers," Susan says. "But I don't think it was any more or less because I was female, I think it was because of how I've moved through the industry, because my knowledge is self-taught, and I don't have the degree. So sometimes I've had to prove myself, but once I did there were no problems," she says.

Typical Workday/Environment: "My typical day starts with reviewing what's happening at all our customer sites," Susan says. "I use our software to look at alerts about network happenings, I check on every piece of equipment that's out there and make sure it's functioning properly."

Part of the start-up challenge is working to build relationships among various departments within the company, and help define internal processes. "I have a couple of meetings where I go over the activities of the past 24 hours with developers, engineers, program managers, sales people, and we look at anything interesting at the customer sites over the last 24 hours," Susan says, "and then the afternoon is mostly set aside for providing product support and answering customer inquiries." She has also gone out with installation teams to various client sites, to educate herself on the installation process, so she is better able to respond to customer questions.

Career Ladder: Susan says there are two different ways to get started in a network administration career. "One would be getting the college degree in computer science or electrical engineering, and out of school getting a junior network engineer type position," she explains. "That's more the theoretical, routing side of things…the other way would be getting a job say as a NOC (Network Operations Center) technician or engineer."

At the start, she says, "you'd probably have to take the weekend shift or the night shift. But once you're there you can use your time in the NOC to get experience working with the equipment, talking with the other engineers, talking with the customers, using the time to study for Cisco certifications." For an NOC engineer or technician, she says, it might take five to seven years to work towards a full-fledged network engineer position. "In order to get to the senior stuff, no matter where you come from," she says, "you do have to have the Cisco certifications."

Salaries for a starting position might be in the low 30s, but Susan says each certification you earn will bring you a raise. "You can get very high very quickly," she says. "In five years you can be earning in the mid-40s and with certifications and more than 5-7 years you can get up into the 60s easily."

Professional Associations: Susan is a member of Digital Eve - a Seattle group of women working in technology, and NANOG (the North American Network Operations Group).

Hobbies: "My big one is racing cars," Susan says - mainly a Miata that's been prepared for racing, although she has also raced in a Yugo and an Austin Healy. She also enjoys bird watching. "And I read everything I can get my hands on," she says. "History and biography are some of my favorites, along with good classic fiction." In keeping with her historical interest, Susan makes period costumes for special occasions and events.

*Annual salary number is not the role model's actual salary. Salary for Computer Networking based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition

 


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