Network Specialist, Library of Congress
Q: How did you come to work in information technology?
A: I found myself in the field really. I had gone to UC Berkeley for a couple years and decided to move back East. I had extended family in Maryland and wanted a change of scenery. I was looking for a job while I finished my degree at Hopkins, and ended up at a regional brokerage firm in downtown Baltimore. I gravitated towards the data communications part of my work. There were still mainframes back then, and I was dealing with all the connections to those terminals. There was a lot of physical cabling work, setting up workstations on people’s desks. In the nineties, we were still wearing suits and ties to fit in with the corporate culture. We would be down in steam tunnels, finding equipment and cabling in our dress shoes and ties. It was kind of crazy, but it was fun.
Q: Information technology was new in the 90s. Tell us more about that.
A: It was a really new field at that time. There weren’t very many books about it. The era of computer communications had been around, but information technology wasn’t really in the public sphere. It’s not like you walked into Barnes and Noble and there was a whole section of computer networking books. You had to learn it by doing it. That was fun because I felt like I was part of something different and new. I mean I’ve always been involved in technology. I got my first Apple computer when I was 13, but I felt like I missed a little bit of that computer culture that was in the seventies around the Bay Area. This was the nineties version of it and I was getting more into the Internet and communications and going from things like dial-up online to now we have this thing called the Internet. I was at Johns Hopkins and that was the first place I worked that was connected to the Internet and downloaded this thing called Netscape. It’s funny now because it seems like ancient history, but it was all very cutting edge at the time.
Q: What does being a network architect entail and how did that work lead you to work with the US government?
A: It’s an interesting position because I would describe it as matching the business requirements to creating a network that can provide whatever functionality they need for that business. Fundamentally, computer networks are moving data from one place to another. Especially in a place like the library where you have just so much data, it’s about how much data you need to get to somewhere else in a certain amount of time. For example, we’re constantly ingesting new digital content. One of the big challenges at the Library of Congress is that there are so many physical objects that we’re trying to make as digitally accessible as possible. We have more and more data that more and more people need to access through the Internet. Managing the capacity of that, managing the speed at which that happens, that is what we are working on now.
Q: How did your job at the Library of Congress come about?
A: I was working for a consulting company at the time that I was doing work for the Library. I was at the Library as staff augmentation for a couple of years doing whatever came up. They approached me and asked if I’d be interested in a new position, and like all things in government, it took six months to go through the application process, but it worked out. I’ve been there for about 10 years as an employee. Some people really seek out a government job, but that wasn’t really what I was looking for. Like many other things, it found me, but the Library has a really neat mission. I’m very happy to be teleworking mostly these days. I think it hits me the most if I’m working late at the Library to have this feeling—there’s a lot of history in this building.
Q: Working at one of the nation’s older cultural institutions, what are some of the unique challenges that come up?
A: We have different departments—Library Services, the U.S. Copyright Office, and the Congressional Research Service and several others that each operate like self-contained entities. They live in their own lanes, so to speak, and have very specific needs. From a physical perspective, one of the challenges that we run into is the fact that the Library is in a historic building. So, you can’t just pop up wireless access points wherever you want. You have to work with the Architect of the Capital and they’ll hide those points so they’re not apparent, but everything is concrete and marble and hard to get through. Plus, radio waves don’t travel well.
Q: Is there something that people may not know is accessible digitally from the Library of Congress?
A: I didn’t know we have eight offices overseas in different areas, mostly in embassies. The Islamabad office was able to protect some of the cultural heritage from Afghanistan. You don’t hear that much about this necessarily, but that is really cool. A couple of years ago the Library did a veteran’s history project where they memorialized as many veterans stories as they could, which was great.
Q: You’ve described your job as being the plumber of the Internet. Can you explain this?
A: We say that we’re the ones behind the walls, so to speak—literally and figuratively. We’re the ones connecting copper or fiber optic cable, as well as the specialized equipment that processes all the information between to make sure the right things get to the right place. We also do a lot of the security work, so we keep out the bad people. We have a dedicated security staff that’s focused on policy security. Every once in a while, and fortunately not recently, we have a cyber-attack-type activity. There’s the regular government and then the Department of Defense level security. We definitely have more standards and more protections than an average company would.
Q: Do you come from a family of engineers? How did you get interested in engineering while at College Prep?
A: No, my father’s an artist actually, so we always joked that he had the right brain and I got the left brain because we are opposites. I had done a lot of programming in high school. I actually wrote a program for CPS that did class scheduling. It was just on a standalone PC. I think students would select their classes on a paper form. The office staff would enter that information in, but it detected conflicts. Then it would print out a paper schedule for the students. It was fun. I think I did that over one summer, between sophomore and junior year.
Q: Outside of math, what kind of subjects or classes did you enjoy?
A: I enjoyed chemistry. Mr. Crowley was the teacher at the time. He was a fun teacher. I also did the lighting for the drama group for three years. They needed somebody to run the light board so I got pulled into that. That became my big extracurricular activity and that was great.
Q: What aspect of your College Prep education has most impacted you since you graduated?
A: I guess the biggest thing, especially in a field that’s always changing, is that ability to be able to learn and be excited about new things. I’ve always just been curious. I like to figure out how things work. CPS was good for developing the skills I needed to take in a lot of information, get it organized, be able to make sense of it, and then start applying it. Being able to absorb information quickly, apply it, and explain it to other people has been very useful. Even though my work is all technical, it’s still a business and you have to be able to communicate. Writing and speaking were not my favorite subjects at CPS, but were definitely subjects that were important in the end. I’ve had to give presentations to large groups and I was not a natural debater or anything like that, but I was glad to have exposure to those kinds of things.