Thomas Sparks embraces the chaos of life as a full-time IT professional and part-time MSIT student in pursuit of his dream job.
Evenings for Thomas Sparks can be a bit chaotic.
As a student in Northwestern Engineering’s Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) part-time program, he can easily spend two to three hours on homework, and on more than one occasion in the past year-and-a-half, his mind has been torn from his course work by a support call from work with someone seeking his expertise.
And that comes after an 8-to-5 day – flanked on each side by an hour-long commute – as IT senior endpoint administrator for Invenergy LLC, where he is a subject matter expert on cloud computing, SSO, and corporate architecture. For Sparks, the juggling has been more than worth it.
“There never seems to be enough hours in the day,” he said. “That being said, it’s been an extremely rewarding opportunity because I’ve been able to better understand what’s going on around me outside of IT and speak the business language to express the needs of my department.”
That’s precisely the aim of the MSIT program – to grow professionals who bridge the gap between fundamental technologies and business strategies. Sparks discovered that when he sat in on two classes as a prospective student in 2019.
“I felt compelled to raise my hand, to ask questions, even though I wasn’t a student yet,” he said. “That was the first time I felt that way, and I knew at that moment this was the program for me.”
Sparks enrolled in August 2020 and is on pace to graduate in June. He knew the time management of working and going to school would be a challenge, so he found ways to make sure the combination didn’t overwhelm him.
“I try to set simple goals for myself at work and school so that I have little accomplishments throughout the week and I don’t procrastinate,” he said.
His diligence is already paying off on the job. After taking Professor Edward Malthouse’s Data Science for Business Intelligence course, Sparks saw an opportunity to apply his new knowledge at Invenergy. He created a system that predicts what software Invenergy’s new hires will need before they start so it’s available on Day 1 instead of after onboarding.
His hope is this accomplishment is just one of many in the pursuit of his dream of becoming a chief information officer.
“I’ve learned the skills and understanding not just to be a good technologist, but how to elevate an organization with technology,” he said, “to read into the business needs and execute them with technology.”
With his time in MSIT nearing an end, Sparks said he couldn’t be happier with his experience.
“To say it’s been awesome is an understatement,” he said. “I’ve been able to meet so many people and talk through technology and business with some outstanding professors who want to engage. It’s been a great time.”
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