This interview is with Mark MacLaren, who is studying Information Technology and Automation Controls Engineering Technology at Indiana State University. We recently spoke the prospective 2018 graduate about his experience within his program and what he's planning to do with his professional future.
What influenced you to pursue a degree in Information Technology and Automation Controls Engineering Technology?
I always view fixing something as a game. It was fun for me to figure out what the problem was with somebody's computer or why a robot is not behaving in the desired manner. The challenge was what was the easiest and most permanent solution to this problem. By majoring in IT and Automation Controls Engineering Technology, I am able to play that problem solving game on a daily basis.
What has your experience in the program been like at Indiana State University?
My experience with the two programs has been fantastic so far. Most of the courses have plenty of hands-on activities and present real-world situations to apply what we have learned in class. I feel Indiana State has the right balance when dealing with theory vs application.
Were there other schools you were considering?
I used to go to Rose-Hulman as a software engineer. However, there was too much theory in the courses and not enough hands-on activities to reinforce the concepts we learned in lecture. It was not a good fit for me and so I left Rose and went to Vincennes University. After spending a semester at Vincennes to find another area of study I wanted pursue, I left to go to Indiana State. The reason I went to Indiana State was because the courses' hand-ons on approach. The technology building had plenty of labs to simulate a manufacturing environment and good hardware and software for the IT field.
What is your favorite class so far?
My favorite class so far is Information Technology System Analysis class because it teaches you how to handle information. The course teaches how to structure data, how to gather information, and how to plan a digital system based on certain business models and practices. At the end of the semester, we will analyze an existing system and write a report on how it runs and how it is structured.
What is unique about the nature of your major’s classes?
As I previously stated many times, the unique nature of the major courses, is the vast amount of time we get spend working with equipment whether it be an automated robot, or virtual server on a computer. It really reinforces the theory with real world application.
What has been the most challenging aspect of this area of study, and was this something you had originally anticipated?
As I anticipated, the greatest challenge of this area of study is troubleshooting hardware and software. Sometimes it is as simple as turning it off and turning it on again, and sometimes we have to dig deep in the code and make many alterations until we get the desired results.
Is there anything you wish you had known about this major ahead of time before choosing this career path?
Developing your troubleshooting skills early will make things a lot easier. However, those skills don't grow over night, it takes years to have good debugging skills. You have to have patience and be willing to expand your horizons.
What are the best ways to network with your peers within your major?
The best way to network with peers in your major is through leadership groups. Learning and working with your peers is the best way to get to know them and create networking opportunities.
Have you participated in any internships?
I did one internship through the university where we worked on various projects and researched certain fields of technology like exploring virtual reality. I gained a lot of experience out it and the school's resources for internships were plentiful.
What are your future career plans and aspirations?
I want to start working at companies such as Eli Lilly, Cornerstone controls, and be involved with their automated systems and their IT networks.
What is the best piece of advice related to your field of study that you have received?
The best advice I have been given was to become a human Swiss army knife. The more you learn on your own, the more valuable of an asset you will become. This is especially important for the information technology field. However, as you are expanding your horizons, don't lose sight of what you're good at and what field you are the most passionate about.
What advice would you give someone else trying to break into this field?
The best advice I can give for someone in my field, is start with the area of IT you are the most interested in. Once you have a mastery of your desired field, try step out of your comfort zone and look at other aspects of information technology that you may not have any experience in. Just try not to learn a bunch things at once because at that point, it becomes counterproductive.
How are you financing your education, and what are your most helpful online resources or tools?
My parents are paying for my education thus, we don't have a need for any online resources to help finance it.
What resources or information would you like to help you think about your career that you’re not currently getting?
I would like to have more seminars where companies come in, explain what they do and what do they look for in an employee. It would give me a better idea of what classes I should be taking.