"How I Went from" is an ongoing blog series that highlights our employees' different journeys to InterWorks. The results are pretty diverse, but each story is special in its own right.
It’s crazy how so many different people have come to work at InterWorks. We have those who come from very different backgrounds and those who were born with a love for IT. I fall into the latter category, but came to work for InterWorks in a pretty unorthodox way.
My story is part of our ongoing “How I Went from _____ to InterWorks Consultant” blog series. Head to the original “Life as InterWorks Consultant” post for a full and diverse list of stories from other InterWorks team members.
I was born and raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and hold the distinction of being the only Canadian at InterWorks. I don’t plan on converting anytime soon. My family lived in Canada until I completed third grade, when my dad took a job in Milton, Florida. We moved to nearby Pace just down the road. Moving to the US was a huge culture shock because schools in Florida were so different from what I knew in Canada. It didn’t take long to get used to my new environment, especially when I had games to keep me busy.
Above: A family photo of Niagara Falls.
It All Started with Gaming
My gaming experience was a little different than most kids’ growing up. We never had console gaming systems from Nintendo, Sega or PlayStation, but we did have a computer. I did most of my early gaming on our 486 Intel computer, though had started with a 386. My love for tech essentially stemmed from taking the family computer apart in order to get a game to work properly or run faster. I spent a lot of time optimizing memory (remember QEMM?) and even reading technical MS DOS books. At the age of ten or so, I found this work to be fairly difficult. Thankfully, my parents would let me mostly do what I wanted with technology. I eventually became interested in the different components that made everything work. Back then, you bought components from local shops – so I would frequent local stores in search of new components. This changed as ecommerce picked up, especially with the emergence of early companies like NewEgg.
I stuck to local gaming for some time, but it wasn’t long before I started online gaming. I fell in love with first-person shooters. I went to high school with former InterWorks employee, Josh Davis. He got me into many game titles, but especially Quake. I really enjoyed playing online modifications like Team Fortress or Paintball. Speaking of high school, I was always messing around with school computers. Once, I got in trouble for doing too much with their computers. They suspended me for abusing their technology – something I didn’t do. As a punishment, they made me write an essay. I wrote my essay on little they knew about their computers, but I don’t think they ever read it.
Jobs and College
One summer during high school, I took an internship at a local, rural ISP. It was my first opportunity to apply my love of computers in a real-world environment, and I loved it. During my senior year of high school, I opted for concurrent enrollment. I took two classes at the high school while taking classes for college credit at community college. Even then, I found myself with a lot of free time. I applied for a job of out of convenience at a local pizza place around the corner from my house and was hired on the spot. Within two weeks I became a shift manager, which was an odd amount of responsibility for an 18 year-old. I got to make my own schedule, hop on a free meal plan and enjoyed all the advantages of being in management. I still maintain a passion for good pizza, cooking and food service.
Above: My then girlfriend and now wife, Diana, and I at the pizza place I managed late in high school and in college.
After high school, I started taking college courses at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. They had a program in which you could get a joint dual degree in computer and electrical engineering from the University of Florida. I applied and was accepted. I came to find out that none of my community college credits would transfer, an amount almost equivalent to an associate degree. So, I decided just to take the quick route and swap to a computer science major locally at UWF in order to finish as quickly as possible.
Becoming a Counter-Strike Admin
Throughout college, I was still really big into gaming. When Counter-Strike came out, a modification of the game Half-Life, I was immediately hooked. Counter-Strike was yet another game that I played with Josh. Since there was no major central server hosting setup, you could pick and choose which servers across the US you wanted to play on. The best servers were always from the Dallas area, so those were the ones I played on most often.
One day, I found an interesting server. It was effectively one hop away in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and was called Chickasaw Counter-Strike. I eventually got to know a lot of people on the server and would chat with them via IRC and instant messaging platforms. I got so involved on the Chickasaw Server that I began helping out the server admin with his duties. This experience led into me becoming a server admin myself. I took over most of the duties as the Linux admin on Chickasaw Counter-Strike.
Above: Me gaming back in the day, fresh out of work, likely with a pizza box sitting next to me. That chair ... thrift store!
I was so into online gaming and networking that I even built a custom home router. At the time, routers were more expensive than I could afford, so I gathered all the parts except for the box in which they would go. I found something that would make due for a box and put the router under my parents’ computer, giving me internet access upstairs on my own computer - another one made out of spare parts.
During my time as a Counter-Strike Admin, I started chatting with a fellow player with the nickname “Biff” in IRC. He was sending me some private messages trying to dig up some more information on something. He was anonymous and very mysterious, but after doing some address lookups and other IT wizardry, I found out just who Biff was. It was Behfar Jahanshahi, who just so happened to own an IT company called InterWorks along with the Chickasaw Counter-Strike server.
I relayed this back to Behfar, and he was impressed with my resourcefulness. As a result, he brought me in to do some contract odd jobs surrounding Access database and ACT software development. He only had a few guys doing this stuff at the time, so a lot of it was outsourced to me. I kept doing Access work, Cold Fusion projects and even branched into a fairly big SQL project. The more I did, the more work I was fed. I eventually started doing so much contract work that I left my job at the pizza place. I was still doing admin work for Counter-Strike and attempted to juggle all of this, my personal life and the popular MMORPG, EverQuest. I chose to retire from EverQuest to save a relationship and have no regrets.
Making the Move
I finished college in two-and-a-half years. I flew out the day after graduation with my then fiancé, Diana, to meet with Behfar and Staci in Stillwater. We met at their kitchen table as the new office space was being arranged, and we met more of the current team. Everyone we met was awesome, and they showed me around the town. I accepted a permanent position and decided to make the move to Oklahoma. I started a full-time position on Jan. 1, 2004. There wasn’t an official office space when I originally flew out in Dec. That changed pretty quickly. By the time I came back, we had signed a lease on our first dedicated office on the corner of Country Club and W. 6th Ave in Stillwater. A few months later, Diana and I were married. My father-in-law had once told me I couldn’t move farther than two to three hours away, but I conveniently ignored that. The opportunity was just too good. Plus, I didn’t have to submit a single resume.
Above: Downtown Stillwater.
There were a lot of similarities between Stillwater and Pace, but there were definitely some differences. I was surprised by how well everyone one knew each other in Stillwater. I also thought it was the perfect location for a company like InterWorks. You get that tight-knit community feel, but you’re less than an hour away to bigger cities like Oklahoma City or Tulsa. If you want to get even bigger, a city like Dallas is only four hours away. Kansas City is just a little farther. Apart from family, the main thing we sometimes miss is the beach - but not that much.
Growing with InterWorks
I continued doing the same type of work in my full-time position as when I was contracting for InterWorks. Of course, my responsibilities continued to grow as time went on. In addition to building out client solutions, I also used to do quite a bit of software development and architecture for a lot of our internal systems. I began working on major projects for clients like Jib Jab. I spent a lot of time passing out from putting so much time and effort into these projects. It got to the point where my neighbors would ask my wife why I was never helping with things like yard work; it was because I was either hard at work or catching up on sleep. I loved working on projects like these and never took breaks, but I eventually got burned out on software development.
Fortunately, InterWorks is the type of place where you have the freedom to choose what you want to do. If you can back it up with sound reasoning, they’ll let you dive into whatever role you want. I began shifting my focus to driving best practices and developing our growing list of partnerships. Since then, I’ve been building upon that work.
Above: Me at InnoTech Oklahoma in 2013.
Now, as Director of Enterprise Solutions, I get to manage this type of stuff on an incredibly large scale. I help design solutions for customers that involve several different hardware components to meet their IT needs. The purpose of these solutions is to give their businesses firm foundations at a reasonable price point. It’s fast-paced and is the furthest thing from boring you can imagine. I’m still learning something new each day, which is important to me and keeps me on my toes. I think that jumping into technology blind from an early age has really attributed to my adaptability
What Makes InterWorks Different
When I was going through school, I didn’t know that IT consulting companies like InterWorks even existed. It was like nothing I had ever seen. Typically, the businesses I knew of just relied on their own in-house IT staff to meet their needs. InterWorks, on the other hand, was out there filling the needs of multiple businesses through cutting-edge IT solutions. There was also nothing they couldn’t do for a client. Nothing is too hard for them to figure out.
When I had settled on a computer science degree, I had this notion that it would be like the movie “Office Space.” It turns out that’s the furthest thing from the truth. InterWorks values culture more than anything else, and they place a huge emphasis on togetherness and family. The people I work with aren’t just my coworkers, they’re close friends that I actually want to spend time with outside of work. Everyone here works together to do their job as best as possible, all while having fun. InterWorks also has unlimited potential for those who work here.
Above: My wonderful family.
The most impressive thing I’ve found about InterWorks is that they legitimately care about their employees and their clients. We always want to do right by our customers – it’s on our minds all the time. If we make a mistake, we own up to it and do everything we can to make it right. We’ve found that this sense of doing the right thing is reciprocated and greatly appreciated by our clients. Taking care of them has opened more doors than we could have ever thought possible. Doing things the right way isn’t always the easiest way, but it’s guaranteed our success throughout all these years. It’s the foundation on which our company is built. I, for one, am proud to be part of it.