Smart threads keep ‘the coolest job ever’ thriving

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SWMich_smart_threadsConnected clothing appears to be the computing frontier after smart watches.

“Information technology is a really great career path” to prepare for the next big thing, according to Kyle Kelly, Southwestern Michigan College Instructor of Information Systems. “An IT degree is portable, valuable and everybody loves you because you can fix their stuff.”

SMC offers six IT tracks.

Systems administration and help desk are one-year certificate programs.

“SMC offers two-year associate programs in networking and application development,” Kelly said. “All of our programs ladder into computer information systems  bachelor’s degrees with Ferris State University. You come to the local community college all four years, pay SMC tuition for three and walk away with a bachelor’s degree for a lot less money.”

“Two degrees never go to waste and, by coincidence, I happen to have both,” Kelly said of IT and communications. “Any job in the world takes computer skills. I’m happy I have this job because every day I get to hang out with students playing cool technology,” such as Optimus Rift virtual reality headsets, Microsoft’s HoloLens or Google Cardboard, a $7 fold-out smart phone mount for an inexpensive virtual reality experience.

“Kyle is really smart, dynamic and energetic,” SMC Business Chair Joanne Strebeck said. “Actually, his undergrad was in communications, so he’s taught for that department, too. He’s very active with the IT Club. IT is a burgeoning field that’s not going away. We’re only going to become more enmeshed in technology. The possibilities are limitless.”

“Wearables, like Under Armour’s smart shirts, smart shorts and smart shoes, are blowing up.”
— Kyle Kelly, Instructor of Information Systems

Kelly’s colleague, Randy Flory, said system administration encompasses setting up servers and networking that lets users access sets of files and printers.

“System admin makes sure all software is in place to achieve that,” Flory said. “I call networking people anti-nerds because they seldom play with stuff, they just connect. We’re evolving into wireless. You’ll still have computers in the next couple of years, but wires are going away.”

IT can be the perfect career for someone attuned to travel and troubleshooting.


Each year SMC meets with its advisory board of local employers.

“They tell us what they want graduates to have,” Kelly said. “Last year they didn’t tell us they want more qualifications. They told us they want people with better soft skills. In-between persons who can talk to programmers and network guys, figure out what the client needs and communicate it to folks who can do it are really valuable.”

Ferris student David Troxell, who operates SMC’s 3D printer, used his computer expertise as a casino surveillance technician.

“I started at New Buffalo, went to Hartford and helped a slight bit at Dowagiac,” Troxell said. “Networking leads right into casino surveillance because every camera is hardwired together, but maintaining a video array is a specialized field.”

Flory, a Navy veteran, lived in Europe for 17 years as a networker, including Spain, Iceland, Scotland, Portugal, France and Italy.

Kelly taps his smart watch to ascertain a network administrator makes $74,000, compared to someone in software engineering who can command $117,150.

“Not just watches, there’s wearable technology,” Kelly continued, “like Under Armour’s smart shirts, smart shorts and smart shoes. Wearables are blowing up.

“A guy last semester who was really into fitness talked to me about working with gyms because he didn’t know how to turn that into a career. I suggested he study IT and develop apps for fitness folks.”

Microsoft HoloLens is “not virtual reality like Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard. HoloLens is augmented reality, like Jordy from Star Trek.

Glasses superimpose holograms. You can play Minecraft with HoloLens. That product exists. Like Oculus Rift, it’s not on the market yet, but in IT you sometimes get cool gadgets ahead of time.”

Some students power what they do with a Raspberry Pi, a $35, credit card-sized computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV and employs a standard keyboard and mouse.

The device enables all ages to explore computing and to learn how to program in languages such as Scratch and Python.

It’s capable of everything you’d expect of a desktop computer, from surfing the Internet to playing high-definition video, making spreadsheets, word-processing and playing games.

“On Kickstarter, there’s a $9 computer that’s fully functional,” Kelly said. “This Christmas there will be a virtual reality unit, HTC Vive, that’s going to be in stores. You can move around in a 15×15 area with wireless controllers like a Wii.”

A consumer version of Oculus Rift is set for release in the first quarter of 2016.

Oculus released “development kits” in late 2012 and mid-2014 to let developers create content by Rift’s release.

Virtual reality enthusiasts purchased these for general usage.

“When you change the way you see the world, you can change the world you see,” Microsoft says of holographic computing’s “mixed reality.”

“This is what I do for a living,” Kelly said. “IT’s the coolest job ever.”

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