Apprenticeship Spotlight: July 2021
MEET KRIS HAIRE
Hometown: Hot Springs, Arkansas
MY BACK STORY
I grew up on the less fortunate side of Hot Springs, in a single-mother home in the housing projects. I have one brother and two sisters. I’m the middle child, so my mom was always worried about the oldest and the youngest and I was kind of on my own. But my advantage was that I was always pretty intellectual, pretty intelligent. I was always on the honor roll.
I had no idea what I wanted to do at all. I had no mentorships, no real guidance. I was really interested in music, but not in performing. I just wanted to create the instrumental backing tracks. Music now is all software based, and when I was maybe in sixth or seventh grade a music teacher introduced us to Echo Studio, a program for creating electronic music. It just fascinated me. And that turned into me spending more and more time on a computer.
My main goal was just to better my circumstances from what they were. I didn't have any idea how I was going to do that, but I knew that as long as I stayed in the books, something eventually would pop up.
MY EDUCATION (Part 1)
I was kicked out of high school in the 10th grade. I had disciplinary problems, so I was expelled and had to go to an alternative school. I did eventually get my diploma from Hot Springs High School, but I wasn't actually attending the actual high school.
Spending that time around other kids with real behavioral problems—and problems at home that far exceeded what I was going through—just kind of woke me up. “Hey, man,” I said to myself. “There's got to be a better way.”
MY WORK LIFE (Part 1)
Not too long after I finished high school, I decided I didn't want to go to college. I didn't know if that was for me. So I got a job at a local Auto Zone. I worked my way up to assistant store manager. That job also taught me a lot about technology—how technology can be integrated into so many different things. And how technology is always changing, and if you don't keep with it you can be left behind.
I was basically encountering two types of mechanics—the ones that were able to adapt, and the ones that were not. The mechanics that couldn’t adapt usually worked with a lot of the older vehicles that didn't have as many sensors and things of that nature. But the mechanics that were able to adapt were able to work on more vehicles, and were able to demand a higher salary.
So taking that into account, I just did everything I could to learn the technology behind vehicles. And about three or four years into that journey at Auto Zone, there was a position open for a shift manager. And I didn't get it. It was given to someone else.
That was motivation for me, because I was told that I didn't get that position because the other person, even though he’d never worked in the position, had a college degree. That spurred me to at least explore the idea of going to college. So I sat down and did an inventory on my life: What would I like to do? What are my interests? And I realized I was spending a whole lot of time on computers—trying to understand why my computer was slow, or why I was having certain issues. And through my experience at Auto Zone, I was able to mentally translate from a vehicle to a computer—you know, how a vehicle has an engine, a computer has a processor; a vehicle has a battery, a computer has a power supply unit. Just all the little correlations between the two, and that's what helped me decide to go for technology.
MY EDUCATION (Part 2)
I enrolled in National Park College, but even then I wasn’t completely sure if technology was something I would even be good at. After about the first semester, though, I realized I really, really, really liked technology. I like being exposed to concepts and to leading edge ideas. Just the newest technology excites me.
So I worked days at Auto Zone, from 7 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon. My classes usually started at 6, and the college was about a half-hour drive from my work, so I'd have about an hour to make it to class. There was zero time to waste. I would try to grab a burger or something and then get to class and be as prepared as I could. I had great instructors. They were able to give me the resources I needed in class, but also able to give the mentorship outside of class to help keep me focused.
During this time that I was going to school and working, I also did an eight-month internship at Hot Springs School District. I basically didn't sleep. I worked at Auto Zone 55 hours a week, because as managers we were required to work 55 hours-plus. Then I did 16 hours of internship and 16 hours of school. It's the hardest I'd ever worked up to that point, and it really got me prepared for the real world.
MY TURNAROUND MOMENT
As I was coming close to the end of my internship, which was a requirement for me to graduate from college, I befriended a gentleman by the name of Benjamin Wagner. He was a customer who used to come into Auto Zone, and we would talk about cars. So one night he came in and I was on the counter doing homework and it was five minutes before we closed. He picked up my Microsoft book and said, “So this what you're going to school for?” I was like, “Yes, sir.” And then he said, “If you ever need anything, just let me know.” I thanked him and asked what his title was again. “I’m director of IT at Oaklawn,” he said.
He came back about a month later and asked me if I was finished with school. “No, sir,” I said, “I'll be done in about a week.” “Good,” he said. “I have a position for you.” So I literally finished college one day and walked into a job the next.”
MY WORK LIFE (Part 2)
I was originally on the overnight helpdesk, which was just answering the phone, doing password resets, very basic stuff. But then another technician was having issues and was unable to fulfill the daytime duties, so I migrated to the daytime slot just to kind of help out. But they were pretty impressed with what I was able to do because I knew a lot about the Microsoft side of things, and how that integrates with everything in the domain. So they moved me permanently from my nighttime helpdesk position to a daytime technician position.
There are so many things we do that it’s hard to give us a title. We do firewall setups and fiber optics. We run cable to install TV's and set up servers to troubleshoot anything. As for the slot machines and other such things, we cannot legally work on them. We have slot technicians for that. Our team just makes sure the network is configured properly to where all they have to do is just plug in the network cable.
After about six years, I felt like I needed something a bit more challenging. Around that time, a man who was getting out of the military, where he had worked in cybersecurity, asked me about the cybersecurity situation at Oaklawn. I didn't have what I would consider a quality answer for him, so I started doing some research. And I saw that it was something I could really be interested in. So I started studying for the Security Plus certification.
I also talked with my supervisor. “Hey,” I said, “everyone is telling me I’m doing a great job, and I appreciate that. But I’m just not doing anything that makes me feel like I’m growing.” At the time, I thought I wanted to be a network engineer and do something like a Cisco bootcamp. And my supervisor said, “Would you be interested in cybersecurity?” So my supervisor did some research and found a program sponsored by ACDS and taught by Forge Institute. So it worked out perfectly.
My apprenticeship classes were virtual, and May 15th was our last day. My title now is Senior Network Technician, though I’m increasingly doing more security-related tasks. I've been able to sit in on meetings and conversations with vendors and I do executive-level support for most of the executives here. Nothing too heavy yet, just easing me into more responsibility.
I still think about one of the older mechanics at Auto Zone, a man who just couldn't adapt. He’d been in the same position for years, and I was able to surpass him in like three or four years. So I've seen people not growing and not trying to expand their knowledge base, and it just makes my skin crawl. I don't know if that's just from my upbringing, but I want to get better and better and better every year. And I want to stay on that trajectory.