by Cutter Kilgore
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Three guys are sitting at a desk with several slow-running laptops in front of them, and one of them says — no wait. Hang on. A router, a switch and a firewall walk into a network, and uh…They’re offering free computer fixes, data recovery, and software installation to anyone who comes by?
Oh. Right. It’s not actually a joke.
The IT Pros Help Desk is situated in the lower Heiner hallway from 10 a.m. to 1 p. m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and it’s run by three volunteer members of Whatcom Community College’s Computer Information Systems Degree program.
One of them, Grant Matthews, spent 30 years as a boat builder before turning to Whatcom and its computer education program. He said economic hardships weakened his former business. “Not everyone needs a super yacht anymore,” he said. “Most people need computers.”
And most people need jobs. Jobs in internet technology have increased 30 percent within the last year, and people with a degree like the one Matthews is pursuing are in high demand.
For Guy Bates, volunteering at the help desk provides some practical work and life experience.
“The best advice that’s been given to me is ‘update your antivirus,’” Bates said. “And keep your operating system up-to-date.”
“There’s just so many things that can go wrong with software,” said Bob Rodgers, a help desk associate.
Viruses are a common problem. When computers are slowing down, “it’s usually very obvious what’s wrong with it,” said Bates, whose first instinct is always to dismantle the machine piece by piece.
“Two victims just dropped off their machines this morning,” Bates said with a laugh. There is a lot of free and excellent virus-protection software that most people don’t know about; the IT Pos Help Desk will install this recommended software, like Microsoft Security Essentials.
These students are becoming experts at “learning defensive strategies of how to protect your network from nefarious individuals,” said Matthews.
Members of the Computer Information Systems degree will represent Whatcom as schools around the region compete in the upcoming Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition at the University of Washington. Teams of skilled network defense specialists will compete against teams representing external hackers attempting to gain unauthorized access to those systems.
Not quite like a video game. “Call of Duty gets my pulse up, but networking doesn’t,” said Rodgers. But there will be more than pride at stake. Rodgers said that companies like Boeing send recruiters to the competition, and sometimes students get hired based on their performance.
When it comes to identifying and fixing computer problems, “we have a very high success rate,” said Rodgers, beaming. All three members of the help desk are looking to continue that success into the high-demand, high-stress world of networking professionals.
“It’s worth the extra effort it takes to haul that p.c. in,” Whatcom staff member Robin Bailey wrote about the help desk. “They ran diagnostics on mine, speeded it up and sent me home with some suggestions on how to make it go faster…All done with a smile!”