Apprenticeship Spotlight: April 2020

A headshot of a bald man with a thick brown beer wearing a gray sweater.


Age: 34

Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio

Apprenticeship: GlaxoSmithKline


I spent my childhood in northeast Ohio, in a suburb of Youngstown, an old rust belt town between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. As far back as I can remember, I loved computers. My dad was an early adopter—he had the original Apple and Apple 2, and that was our family’s computer growing up. Then when I was about 9, he bought a PC and told me to learn it, because he wanted to understand it but didn’t have time to figure it out.

Like most kids I liked to play computer games. But I also liked to take computers apart, to diagnose them. I was very into the hardware side of things. I loved building and configuring computers. I also loved to read—that was another hobby. But my mom made me take what she called “weather breaks,” to go outside and get some fresh air.

When I was 17, we moved to Pensacola, Florida, because my dad bought a franchise handyman business there. Pensacola was great, having the beach right there. But a year later I went off to college.


At Florida State University in Tallahassee, I had a triple major, which they had to break into two degrees. So I got a BS in Finance, and a BA in Mandarin Chinese and International Business. This is the result of my taking some really terrible advice. I don’t even remember who gave me this advice, but they told me not to turn my hobby—computers—into my profession, because I would lose the joy of it.

So I didn’t go into computer science partly for that reason—but also partly because I thought international business, especially with China at the time, would be a good career. Then I graduated from FSU in 2008, right when the economy tanked.


It was hard to find an entry level job in any multinational financial firm, which is what I was aiming at. They basically had a brain freeze. I ended up teaching English in Taiwan for a year, waiting for that to blow over—and also to keep my Mandarin skills up, because at that point I still hoped to get into international business.

But while I was teaching in Taiwan, I spent a lot of time reading philosophy, which had been a side interest since my mid- to late teens. Never before had I considered trying to become a philosophy professor, but now, for some reason, I decided to make a run at it. I was still single, with no debt. I could roll the dice and see what happens.


I enrolled in a Master’s program in philosophy at Biola University, just outside Los Angeles. Also, I got married while I was in this grad program, and that’s when real-life concerns started to put pressure on me. Ultimately, I decided not to pursue the philosophy degree at that time. I needed to get on a solid financial footing.


Through happenstance, I found a job opening at the John Templeton Foundation in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, where I began as a Program Associate in June 2011.

John Templeton was a mutual fund investor who made a fortune being one of the first to offer international mutual funds in postwar Japan. After retiring, he poured a lot of his wealth into several foundations. He was very interested in studying the relationship between religion and science.

Most of the time we funded university professors to take on research projects—physical theories about the origin of the universe or the nature of space and time. We had a genetics portfolio: Is there a genetic basis for genius? What are the genetic bases of religion?

I worked in the philosophy and theology department, and this was a really fruitful time intellectually for me. My horizons expanded beyond the bounds of academic philosophy, and I started to see interdisciplinary work as a more interesting focus. I stayed at Templeton for three years. Then, probably foolishly, I decided I wanted to be on the other side of the grant-making application.


That’s how I happened to be at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, working toward my MA in Philosophy. My wife and I were on much better financial footing by then—I started the program in September 2014. We didn’t have any kids yet, and so we thought, Hey, if we want to try to make this work, let’s give it one more shot. I received my MA in May of 2016.

I’d been planning to go for my Ph.D., but again life circumstances—we had our first child in 2015—kept that from happening. I wanted to move out of academia but didn’t want to go back to the nonprofit world. I wanted a new challenge, and a lot of my friends in philosophy had turned to computer science.

At first that may sound odd, but the way philosophy is taught in North America and the UK, there’s a huge emphasis on logic, so you learn a lot of formal logical systems. Logic is just syntax and semantics like in natural languages, and it’s the same thing with programming languages. So there’s actually a very natural bridge for that kind of skill set.


When AT&T bought DirecTV, they reevaluated all their suppliers, and PerfectVision Manufacturing in Little Rock was one of the biggest suppliers of DirectTV’s equipment.

One of AT&T’s new requirements was that all its suppliers needed to have a quality-management system certified to ISO 9001, and this job fell to one of my friends who worked there. He was overwhelmed, so he asked if he could hire another person to help him with it, and that’s how I came on board, starting in August 2016.

I don’t know the details but I guess AT&T later regretted the acquisition of DirecTV, and there was eventually some contraction in their business—it was large enough that costs needed to be cut downstream, at the supplier level. So in September 2019 PerfectVision laid off about 10 percent of their workforce, including me.


I got severance and also got on unemployment, and I looked at that time as another opportunity to try to get back into IT. “What’s the quickest way I can pivot?” I asked my friends in the IT world. A lot of them said cybersecurity.

Great, I thought—I’ll try that out. I already had my A+, so I went and got the Security+ to make sure people knew I was serious about the transition and that I could do it. Ironically or serendipitously, I had already started learning Python on my own while I was at PerfectVision.

Then I started looking at websites and I found the ACDS posting about apprenticeships. This is it, I thought, because it talked about how you don’t necessarily have to have any prior experience. So I applied, and after that I started going to networking events that ACDS had at the Flying Saucer downtown. I talked to everybody who would talk to me, and I kept pressing for updates about the start of the cybersecurity apprenticeship, because it kept getting pushed back—I learned later pretty much because GSK was so busy.

I got a couple of other job offers during all this, but by then I’d had a phone interview with GSK, which was definitely the prize. They were standing up a new tech security and risk center in Bentonville and were just hiring people hand over fist. After my initial screening call with a recruiter, I’d had a legitimate interview with two people who were in the department that I would end up working in—one of these guys had only been with the company for two weeks, and the other guy only a few months. I was still waiting for a yes or no.

I was starting to lose hope. On a Friday in late January or early February, I had phoned the staffing agency that was going to place me in a different kind of entry-level risk management and tech role working with IT: “Okay,” I’d said, “go ahead and tell them I’ll take it.” Then not 30 minutes later I got the call from GSK saying they wanted me, so I had to call back and say I’m really sorry to do this, but I’m going take this other job.


How’s my cybersecurity apprenticeship going? I have two answers, one pre-quarantine and one during-quarantine. Some people in the cohort were planning to take the course online and then move up to Bentonville. I went up for the two days of onboarding in mid-February, and my plan had been to move there as fast as possible—to get an Airbnb or some other temporary housing situation, and my wife and son would come up later, once the house sold.

It was only after I’d gone to class a couple of weeks that they told everybody to stay home. So up until then, it was great. But since we’ve moved online, I’ve still got to say it’s still been really good. I’m impressed with how they’ve handled the transition—probably because they’d already made accommodations for other people to do it online anyway. They’ve done a great job and I think it’s been going really well.


Operational Technology is the department that I’m in at GSK, and one of my first projects was to be replacing a bunch of routers and firewalls—physically. I can’t really do that now! If somebody had installed them and put them in place, I could remote into them from my home computer. But for the moment, that’s on hold and I don’t have another official project yet. I’ve just been working on learning the types of software packages GSK uses, their organizational structure, who’s in charge of what—that kind of stuff. I just love the opportunity to learn new things and work with people who are interested in doing the same.

I remember being excited at first, but thinking that the honeymoon period would wear off and then it would be back to usual. Well, the honeymoon period has worn off—but I’m still very excited!