Michael Schiller is staff sergeant in the Fresno Air National Guard and is working on a computer science degree at Fresno City College. And—although he didn’t realize it when he got his TechRepublic passport a few weeks ago—he was the millionth person to join our Web site.

In the Guard, Michael works at the 144th Fighter Wing in the network control center. He is currently attending a computer networking technical school at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, MS.

“I joined the Guard to help me get through college, plus I figured this career field would help me with my degree,” he said. “I would get experience and would get to go to technical school.”

When he finishes his associate’s degree, Michael plans to transfer to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and work on a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering.

Before joining the Air National Guard, Michael was an electrician in the Navy for six years, where he first started working with computers.

“A Novell network was installed on the ship, back in ’94,” he said. “My shop was given a crummy little Zenith 486 with Windows for Workgroups. I ended up scavenging parts—memory, hard drives, etc.—to try to make it a better machine.”

We talked to Michael about his work in the IT field, his plans for the future, and what he likes about TechRepublic.

TechRepublic: What are you studying right now, and how did you get into this school?
Michael: It’s part of the career field I’m in. The school is for anyone who is in the communications career field and for people assigned to network control centers.
Everyone working on the base network goes to this school. It’s a 12-week program with six sections of 10-day blocks.
We study communications and electronic principals, operating systems, configuration and repair, network technologies, administration and management, and network control center operations.

TechRepublic: You said you worked on a help desk for a while with the 144th Fighter Wing doing general maintenance on Windows 95/98 and NT workstations on the base LAN. What was the biggest challenge about that work?
Michael: Most of it was troubleshooting; you never knew what was going to happen. I hadn’t been to tech school yet, so what I was doing was based on what I could figure out.
You have to have your security clearance in the works before you can go to this tech school. It took several months for that to be initiated, so I was at the Guard base quite a while before I went to tech school.

TechRepublic: How do you think your help desk experiences will help you in the future in another IT job?
Michael: The biggest thing I learned is the logical process of troubleshooting, trying to figure it out in my head, having to follow the process from start to finish.
There were problems where the answer wasn’t obvious. A problem with one small thing would cause many others, and it was hard to isolate.

TechRepublic: At this point in your education, what do you think the ideal IT job would be for you?
Michael: I eventually want to get into the hardware-designing side of computers. Computer science is mostly programming languages, and I’m not too keen on that. I can do it but I’m not too fond of it.
I’m more of a hardware-type person. I like networking.

TechRepublic: A lot of IT people have a military background. Why do you think that is, and how do you think it affects the field?
Michael: One of the benefits of being in the military is that you get a technical background, and you get good experience also. Since computers are such a big thing and there’s such a big need, the Air Force is funneling people into this area.
Most people these days are just going to be doing a first tour of duty, usually for six years. They can get paid a heck of a lot more on the civilian side. There’s such a pay gap between civilian world and the military.

TechRepublic: What do you like best about the field?
Michael: Since I’ve always been kind of a computer-type person, I like working on a large-scale network. The work is one thing, but a really good job depends on the people you’re working with.

TechRepublic: Any thoughts about the future of the industry or the industry in general?
Michael: We’re eventually going to have to replace the current backbone. With the push for faster and faster access, you’re going to be heading toward that. Fiber is probably going to be bigger because it’s faster. It’s more expensive but has a higher throughput than some of the other media types.
It’s also very hard to eavesdrop on fiber because it’s just light. It’s something the Air Force is interested in because it’s more secure.

TechRepublic: I know you haven’t been a member for very long, but what do you like best about the site?
Michael: People in the field getting together and sharing ideas—that’s the best part about it.