“Technology changes at lightning speed,” Tammie Montgomery says.
Her career, which spans 30 years at SFCC, has seen the field of computer science undergo radical transformations every year. The Information Technology Services (ITS) department has too. After all, when Montgomery started taking classes at State Fair at 16 years of age, ITS didn’t even exist yet, neither did Google.
“Back then, we didn’t have such a thing. You had to get on the phone and call somebody or figure it out on your own,” Montgomery says.
When she wasn’t learning in the classroom, she was doing a lot of the latter. Since Montgomery was already spending so much time in SFCC’s then-tiny, one-room computer lab, she decided she might as well get paid for it. When the lab assistant position opened up, she applied and got the job.
“I must have been 19. I hadn’t even finished the degree,” Montgomery remembers.
Recently married and a new mother, few people would have added a job to an already packed school schedule, but Montgomery and her husband figured out a system and made it work.
“At the time, the lab assistant was pretty much there just to make sure people didn’t carry things off, but then it kind of grew into people asking me questions about how something would work, or helping with homework,” Montgomery explained.
By the time she graduated with her Associate of Science in 1986, she was regularly helping visitors with programming, making her the most overqualified computer guard in SFCC history. As Montgomery’s skillset grew so did the college, which received a Title III grant that year allocating funds for an Administrative Assistant in the all-new Administrative Computing department.
“It was basically just two people—me and Bret Appleton,” Montgomery says. “The whole project of Title III was to bring computerization inside the institution. We had to order a computer and then transfer all the data from one system to the other. So I wrote all the conversion programs from the computer service to the college.”
At the time, Montgomery worked from what she knew, writing all the conversion programs in COBOL, a coding language she had learned at SFCC. However, she knew that the computer knowledge she had received at State Fair would continue to grow through experience and learning about new systems and processes.
“Because technology is changing so rapidly, we have to continue to learn, or you might as well throw us out!” Montgomery explains. “What we’re teaching our students today is a good foundation. By the time they graduate, they may not have exactly what they need, but if you taught them to learn and how to find the answers, then you’ve done them justice.”
Years later, after being promoted to Programmer, then Senior Programmer Analyst, and now Director of Enterprise Applications, Montgomery is still pushing her mental bandwidth, having decided to pursue a bachelor’s in Computer Science at Central Methodist University after being temporarily waylaid by a battle with cancer.
“[A bachelor’s degree] will just add to my knowledge base. It’s a personal goal,” Montgomery says. “They do say that as far as [Computer Information Systems] degrees go, if it’s more than 10 years old, it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. So it will give me that; my timer starts over as far as being relevant. But because I’ve been working in the field, the 10-years-ago degree isn’t worth anything, but my experience is worth everything.”
All those years of completing projects have seriously come in handy now that Montgomery oversees a team that supports SFCC’s technology needs.
“I kind of have an advantage over some people who are just managers over people in that I’ve done the jobs,” she says. “I know what it takes to produce a good product. So that experience allows me to have better timing.”
Part of that advantage is understanding the strengths unique to each member of her department. The technology field isn’t just coding; it’s a wide range of positions that requires a wide range of talents.
“Typically the personality types that you find in IT don’t like change. They like things to be static, yet we’re in a field that changes constantly. It’s an internal struggle, but it’s fun,” Montgomery says. “Some people are like, ‘How have you worked there for so long?’ Well, it’s never the same job! Any day, it’s different. If it was boring, I would’ve been gone long ago. But I like the work; I like the people I work with. It’s a great team and a new day every day. Some days are frustrating, other days are a blast.”
Story by Jackson Ingram
Summer 2017 Communications Intern
Marketing and Communications