Laura Hunter has a list of IT certifications the length of her forearm.
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During her five years in the IT field, she has earned the CNA/CNE, MCP/MCSE/MCDBA/MCT, A+/Net+/iNet+, and most recently the Cisco CCNA certificates. She has worked in diverse fields: medical equipment, charitable organizations and higher education.
Today Hunter, 28, is a senior IT specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, but she continues to improve her education and credentials. In spring 2003, she is scheduled to complete her undergraduate degree in American history. In fall 2004, she'll enter a master's degree program to study telecommunications and networking.
Hunter's IT resume is stout today, but starting out was tough. For several years Hunter worked various retail jobs because she couldn't afford to complete her college degree. When she could, she attended finance and marketing classes in the evening.
Then a letter arrived in the mail that would jumpstart her career in IT.
"I received a mailer from a local Novell Authorized Education Center, advertising their CNE semester program," Hunter recalled. "Thus began what I'm sure will be a life-long journey on the Certification Treadmill."
TROUBLE IN IT: A USER
It wasn't long before she encountered her first major IT problem – a meddlesome user.
"Several years ago, when I was managing a Windows NT LAN with many remote offices, I faced a LAN Manager's worst nightmare -- a real-life renegade," Hunter said. "This employee enjoyed pulling end-runs around the IT department simply because he considered himself PC-savvy."
The user, a member of the company's accounting staff, upgraded software without proper licensing and without consideration for application compatibility. He added and removed nodes from the network at whim.
The company's workstations were running the insecure Windows 9x operating system, and Hunter couldn't financially justify an entire OS upgrade to contain one troublesome user. But she found a relatively secure solution when funding for upgrades wasn't available.
"Enter Windows System Policy Editor," she said. "This little utility quickly became my best friend in the world. Run line? What Run line? Command Prompt? Gone. Control panel? History, out of there."
Hunter's computer wizardry became family legend early on, starting when she received her first computer, an ADAM, when she was nine years old.
"Anyone remember the ADAM?" Hunter joked. "It was essentially a video game system with a BASIC compiler thrown in for good measure."
Following the computer's instructions, Laura's parents tried for an hour to access the ADAM compiler. They couldn't do it, but Hunter accomplished the task in less than a minute.
Hunter later graduated to a C-64. When she was 12, she moved on to a PC-clone, an HP 386 with a whopping 12MB of RAM and a 9600-baud modem.
One holiday season, Hunter's grandfather was at a corner saloon in Philadelphia.
"He was sitting with his friends, trying to figure out what to buy his nine-year old granddaughter -- me -- for Christmas," Hunter said. "The typical gender-biased suggestions rang out, from Barbie Dolls to a pink bicycle."
"Naaah, you don't understand, she's a really smart kid," her grandfather told his friends. "I've gotta get her something good!"
He went to a large toy store and bought her an ADAM.