Take a minute to remember yourself at 13. How willing would you have been to forfeit two upcoming birthday presents, plus a few Christmas surprises, in order to receive your dream gift?
Those were the ‘trade-offs’ young Thomas Cooney made to pursue his passion. “I begged my parents,” to front eleven-hundred bucks worth of parts needed to build his own gaming computer, he explained. Seeing this was his passion and that he had a knack for computers, his parents agree, and with the help of YouTube videos, Thomas invested in his first gaming pc.
Now an enterprising 17-year-old, Thomas is a senior at Green Mountain Technology & Career Center and a Co-op student working for Cabot Creamery Cooperative headquartered in Waitsfield, Vermont. Three days a week Thomas spends time working in the dairy cooperative’s IT department. He's learning a great deal in his professional role there and is already earning what amounts to nearly full-time pay for many workers in the region.
A cornerstone of being a student at GMTCC is participating in the school’s Cooperative Education Program. Students are tasked with finding a professional in their field to work with. These are both paid and unpaid positions that allow GMTCC students to gain real-world skills and experience, while still getting instruction in the classroom. They are unique learning opportunities and a win-win for students.
A Stowe High School student, Cooney has already acquired two industry certifications, CompTIA+ and GIAC foundational Cyber Security Technology (GFACT), and he’s working towards his third in CompTIA Linux + Certification.
For those of us who aren’t aspiring computer networking professionals, what do these certifications mean? “CompTIA is the foundational certification. It says, hey, I know what networking is. I can tell you the basics of what is there. I might not be able to put the concepts into practice as efficiently right now, but I’ve learned about them and can build on them.”
“This GIAC certification is a bit more advanced, more of a foundation certification for cybersecurity, which is a tier up. And Linux is more of an infrastructure certification. It builds off of A+ [an entry-level computer certification for PC computer service technicians] and what you learn there so that you can manage a Linux operating system,” explains Thomas.
Cooney is also one of only seven students in the state to receive a 3K CyberStart software scholarship. CyberStart America, a free national program for high school students to master cybersecurity as a gateway to the industry and to up their digital skills, annually offers players an online challenge, where Thomas scored as a finalist. The awards are sponsored by the National Cybersecurity Foundation and the SANS Institute.
His instructor at Green Mountain Tech, Michael Sibernaller, understands his student’s drive, “He’s got the skill set to make a good living for himself, and he's set his sights even higher. He’s not holding back.”
Ask Cooney what his future holds, and he’ll tell you there’s still plenty to learn and is balancing where he wants to go in his career, but things are taking shape “I see myself becoming a Linux security architect.”
Thomas explains security architects are tasked with keeping organizations safe from digital threats. They are often among the most highly-paid professionals in IT, and the need for these jobs is expected to grow by 35% in the next ten years.
So how did Thomas go about scoring that premium co-op placement at Cabot Creamery Co-operative? Last spring the entire student body of Green Mountain Technology & Career Center took a field trip to the Champlain Valley Job Fair.
Thomas quickly recognized the Cabot brand and simply walked up to their exhibit to ask, “You guys have any job openings in IT right now?” And that’s how it all started. His teacher, the Cooperative Education Coordinator, and the company’s IT director worked out the arrangement over a few months. Now he’s in his current role until the end of June 2023.
Thomas works three days a week for Cabot and attends Green Mountain Technology & Career Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays for academics. “Theoretically, I could leave after my humanities class, but I stay because there is still a lot more for me to learn here.”
He occasionally attends virtual work meetings from school where he helps out Mr. Sibernaller by setting up computer labs and working on odd jobs that pop up, fixing a friend’s PlayStation for example. “I’ve never fixed a PlayStation before, but I thought, let’s learn about it.”
He has advice for students considering spending a year or two at Green Mountain Tech. “There's a whole lot here you can do. I’ve known people from nursing, creative media, and business, there are a whole lot of people here setting themselves up for success. There is something here you will like. I can almost guarantee it.”
“If you're a visual learner or a hands-on learning, or if you just want to focus on learning one thing for the majority of the week and learn skills that you can use in your work and your life, then this is the place to grow.”
After he graduates, Cooney plans to attend Norwich University. “Just because you attend Green Mountain Tech doesn’t mean that you can’t go to college and can’t get a good paying job. I’m already making $30,000 a year part-time as a student.”
He understands the value that Green Mountain Technology & Career Center offers, in part, thanks to the partnerships it cultivates across the region. “Working at Cabot gets you a lot of experience and it helps you build connections. I already know people in the field, and in five years I’ll be able to go to them to advance my career.”
And who knows, in ten years it might be Thomas hiring a future GMTCC student for their Co-op to work for him at his own cybersecurity firm.
If you have a GMTCC story to share, contact Deb Lambert, Community Outreach Coordinator at email@example.com.