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Programmed to succeed

Susan Baldwin, BSIT ’03 Deputy Director of Technology, Hampton Roads Transit Norfolk, Virginia

In the early 1980s, Susan Baldwin realized she was programmed for a career in the emerging field of information technology. Since then, she’s been making it happen.

In 1981, Susan Baldwin was a recent high school graduate working in a clerical position at a public transportation data center in Detroit when her boss assigned her an unusual task. Her department had just purchased a certain number of copiers. Their copier supplier was offering a promotion, which made Baldwin’s company eligible for a free computer. The computer soon arrived in its package, but no one knew what to do with it.

“I had the challenge of learning how to network the schedulers’ computers together so they could use the same application. There was a lot of trial and error, but I got the 11-computer
network up and running, daisychaining cable along the wall in the back of the room.”

“My assignment was to go open the box, figure out what was in it, put it together, learn how to use it and [determine] who in the department could best use the technology,” she explains.

Today, this sounds like a straightforward job. But in 1981, there was no around-the-clock help desk to call. There was no Google search engine to consult. There wasn’t even a color-coded instruction manual to reference as she sorted through the various cables and components that came in the box.

So she relied on her curious nature and patience for experimenting to get the job done. “I’ve always liked working with things and trying to figure them out,”
she notes. She got the computer up and running and found secretaries who were willing to use it for the countless letters they typed.

An IT career is born.

Baldwin’s instincts told her there was a career opportunity in these new machines. After successfully setting up the new computer in her department, she became the in-house IT expert overnight. Her boss soon turned to her for another special assignment: automating
public transportation scheduling.

“We would create all of the [schedules] with 17- by 22-inch paper and pencils,” she recalls. Hers became the first department to adopt the new automated scheduler, which meant she had to figure out how to use it. “I had the challenge of learning how to network [the schedulers’] computers together so they could use the same application,” she says.

Again, she successfully completed her assignment using her trademark grit and ingenuity. “There was a lot of trial and error, but I got the 11-computer network up and running, daisy-chaining cable along the wall in the back of the room,” she remembers.

Getting ahead.

Baldwin knew she wanted to pursue an IT career, but she also knew something was missing. A supervisor told her, “You have the skills you need to move up in the world, but if anyone wants to deny you a job, not having a degree is the one thing they can hold against you.”

She earned her associate degree in IT in 1988 while she was working at various jobs, but she knew she needed to continue her education. She had dabbled in additional computer classesat local colleges and trade schools, but she wasn’t interested in
the core courses that were required for her to earn a bachelor’s degree so she abandoned her efforts.

“In the meantime, I had a child, was a single parent and my mother was getting older and needed my help,” she says. She also had been working on and off as an IT consultant, a job that kept her on the road and on call a great deal of the time.

In 2000, she accepted a position in the City of Detroit legal department so she could be close to family. Around the same time, she discovered that she could work toward her degree at University of Phoenix while maintaining her professional and personal responsibilities. Baldwin earned her Bachelor of Science in Information Technology in 2003, later earning her Project Manager Professional certification in 2009.

With her degree in hand, she spent several years working as a project manager, network administrator and business analyst. In 2006, she was promoted to IT manager in IT Division at Detroit Department of Transportation. But after her mother passed away and her daughter graduated from college and became selfsufficient, Baldwin was ready for a change.

“My dream had always been to leave Michigan and find life somewhere else,” she admits.

A new opportunity.

As she was beginning to consider her future plans, “Somebody happened to call me about a position in Virginia and encouraged me to apply,” she says.

She had never thought about moving to that part of the country, but she decided to apply for the deputy director of technology job at Hampton Roads Transit, a public transportation agency. She had a phone interview on Monday, and Tuesday they called to invite her to fly to Norfolk to meet in person. “Before I left [the interview], they offered me the job,” she says.

In her new role, she helps support 350 computers, the network infrastructure, the telecommunications system and the desktop applications employees rely on to get their jobs done. She is working on cost-saving initiatives and standardizing applications across the organization, along with helping manage the IT staff.

“I’m using a lot of the skills I learned at University of Phoenix in my organizational behavior and human resources classes,” she says.

Baldwin is happy to have a fresh start in Virginia for the next chapter of her life. She just celebrated her first anniversary with Hampton Roads Transit, and as she reflects on the changes in her life over the past year, she feels a sense of possibility: “There’s nothing standing in my way of doing or going wherever life leads me.”


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