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People from all different walks of life work in technology. While a narrative arc for a typical techie certainly exists, there’s no fixed point of entry to the industry. A career in the field may start where you’d expect, with code or a motherboard, or it may start mid-career – people move into tech from as far afield as the Olympics.
In that spirit, CompTIA CEO Todd Thibodeaux took the stage today at CompTIA ChannelCon 2018, happening this week at Marriott Wardham Park in Washington, D.C., to tell his tech story.
As a child, Thibodeaux got started with building blocks as basic as Lincoln Logs and cycled through toys including Lego, Erector Sets, Hot Wheels, model kits, slot cars, Cox Model cars, and model planes and rockets.
All of this, he specified, allowed him to be imaginative and gain experience building machines – though he admitted that at that age he tended to rush things, adding that his parents used to get notes on his report cards saying, “Todd finishes his work quickly and then bothers the other kids.” As for the freedom he enjoyed in engaging in all this, Thibodeaux joked, “In my time we had no adult supervision after the first grade,” while crediting his parents for being consistently early adopters. “We always had new technology in the house.”
A Nerd Is Born
The Tom Swift series of science fiction and adventure novels had inspired Thibodeaux to build his own worlds. He got interested in electronics, taking household items such as a microwave apart – much to the chagrin of his parents, who gave him a washer to disassemble and reassemble, promised $100 if he could do it. They eventually got him a kit to build a color TV, which “worked for two years and then it exploded.” He gained skills through Radio Shack electronic kits, which were advertised as allowing kids to do 100 things in one place.
From there he was, of course, on to video games; Thibodeaux loved Pong, one of the earliest video games, as well as handheld games that were forerunners of the Nintendo Game Boy. He later acquired the iconic Atari 2800. He also loved to listen to music on eight-track tapes; particularly country artist Johnny Cash’s 1969 hit “A Boy Named Sue.” The introduction of a VCR in the Thibodeaux household made his mother in a big fan of the ABC soap opera All My Children.
Computers soon arrived in his life; first with his father buying an Altair 8800, which, Thibodeaux said, he never connected to anything. “I don’t think it ever did anything except the lights blinked.” Things got more serious when Thibodeaux got his first computer – a Timex Sinclair ZX81. He set about programming; storing his work on cassette tapes. Then his father, through his company, got a Compaq, and Thibodeaux became fascinated with early versions of spreadsheets and word processors – working with Lotus and Electric Pencil, the later of which he happily cited as an obscure throwback when few in the ballroom packed with tech professionals knew what it was.
Every Career Starts Somewhere
At this point you might think you’re reading the story of a young man sailing into life as a tech exec. Not so; Thibodeaux’s initial forays into the workforce saw him working in lumber; as a janitor at a country club; in a golf pro shop; as a manager of a video arcade; at a clothing store. He even became a certified welder in high school and noted the poor health of older workers due to their lifelong exposure to an industrial environment. After high school he went through numerous colleges before graduating from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a bachelor of science in economics in 1988.
Thibodeaux considered pre-med, business and journalism before taking a course in economics, when an instructor told him he demonstrated a natural aptitude for it. He credited this person for changing his life. “Without that, I would not be standing here today,” he said.
Thibodeaux landed his first job at the EIA in D.C., then moved on to the Consumer Electronics Association, serving as a tech evangelist there, forecasting future developments in technology, eventually rising to a position as senior vice president. A key thrill of the job was attending the yearly International Consumer Electronics Show, seeing the debut of what would become widely adopted products such as DVD and Blu-ray players, HDTV, satellite radio, Xbox and more.
Around this time, he returned to an early love – programming. “I was probably spending 50 hours a week outside my job programming,” he said.
Thibodeaux has been CEO of CompTIA for the past decade. “It’s been a really fast ten years for me,” he said, adding that he’s inspired by how its members dedicate themselves to the association. “[They give] huge amounts of volunteer time,” he said, jokingly adding, “and no you can’t invoice for that.”
Unemployment in the tech space is almost zero, Thibodeaux said, and hundreds of thousands of tech jobs remain unfilled. He hopes that sharing his tech story, and getting others to do so, will inspire people to seek employment in tech.
Toward that end, Thibodeaux and CompTIA urge you to share your tech story. Record a video telling the world what makes you passionate about technology – in five minutes or less. Email your video to Kelly Stone at email@example.com or tweet @CompTIA using the hashtag #MyTechStory.