Going with the Dataflow

From keypunch to virtual servers

Bev String

Information technology got a big boost in 1977 with the arrival of the first complete personal computer, the Commodore PET, which rolled out in January—just six months before the first Apple II PCs. That same year, Larry Ellison, now the planet’s sixth richest human according Forbes.com, founded Oracle, the database behemoth, which as of 2009 wielded nearly $50 billion in total assets.

For our purposes, 1977 was the year Bev String merged onto the information superhighway when she enrolled in a six-week Keypunch program at Dakota County Technical College. At age 58, String had just lost a well-paying job at the University of Minnesota and she knew she needed to retool to make headway in the employment marketplace.

“I finished class on a Friday and had a job at B. Dalton as a keypunch operator by Monday.”—Bev String

“A friend told me about the program,” said String, who at 91 is still going strong from her condo in Apple Valley, Minn. “The cost was $80 and we met five days a week from early morning to mid-afternoon. They had very nice IBM machines and at the end we received a certificate recognizing our keypunching skills.”

Then as now, the DCTC mission keyed on education for employment—and Bev String took off from the Keypunch program as a bona fide poster grad. “I finished class on a Friday,” she said, “and had a job at B. Dalton as a keypunch operator by Monday.”

Run from a keyboard, the keypunch machine coded information by punching holes in cards or paper tape in specific patterns. Trained keypunch operators, once in high demand, frequently worked in huge departments with hundreds of machines.

String scooted along in the busy keypunch lane until her retirement, leveraging her education to continually upgrade her position and salary. “I was never out of work for a single day,” she said. “If I saw a job at another company with more pay and better machines, I applied for it and always got hired.”

Keypunch tumbled by the wayside in the early 1980s, another casualty of an Information Age currently bursting with iPads, apps, smartphones, touchscreens, Bluetooth, Blu-ray, gaming laptops, Kindles, GPS handhelds, PDAs and 256GB flash drives. In fact, the Info Age itself might have already fallen prey to the Attention Age, which is powered by the thunderous onset of social media—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like—but that’s another story.

Todd Jagerson, the chief information officer at DCTC, oversees the upkeep and advancement of the computer-based information systems utilized by college staff, faculty and students. In a digital sphere where technology evolves at a stupefying rate, Jagerson must implement, support and manage the hardware and software that  handle massive amounts of data from conversion to storage to protection to processing to transmission to secure retrieval—all in the most efficient manner possible.

Todd Jagerson | DCTC Chief Information Officer

“A big part of our job in IT is striving to offer more with less,” said Jagerson, a DCTC Computer Careers alumnus presently pursuing a Master of Arts in Management at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. “As the CIO, I’m here to put out fires and build on the confidence we already have in our system. I need to continue making the kinds of choices that will keep DCTC on the technological leading edge far into the future.”

From creating virtual servers, which involves partitioning a single server to appear as multiple servers, to equipping his seasoned IT specialists with iPod Touches to streamline workflow, to deploying for student use more than 500 dual-boot iMacs that run both Windows and OS X, Jagerson understands how to administer a crack department. He also knows that a career in IT involves far more than strong technical skills or keeping ahead of the latest viruses, Trojans and crimeware.

“Today, you need the soft skills to excel,” he said. “You need to know how to communicate both as a listener and as a speaker. The best IT people are the ones who can translate complex technical jargon into information their clients can understand.”

“I need to continue making the kinds of choices that will keep DCTC on the technological leading edge far into the future.”—Todd Jagerson

Also an adjunct instructor in the college’s Information Systems department, he is happy to see new types of students taking his courses. “More and more, we find students enrolling in the college’s Information Systems Management, Networking Administration and Software Development programs that don’t fit the traditional techie mold,” he said. “They come from different backgrounds and view IT as a solid field with many opportunities. My advice to anyone attracted to IT as a career option is to dig in and find out for yourself.”

Bev String lived that wise advice more than 33 years ago. “I think that everyone needs to get an education,” she said. “I never would have got a job without mine. As a keypunch operator, I made a lot of money over the years—more than enough to do what I wanted with my life.”