From the Air Force to Picking Tomatoes to Director of IT: One Graduate’s Journey

Published: Wednesday, May 24, 2017

At 10-years-old, Lance Bates took apart a computer for the first time. He sat on the living room floor and spread all of the pieces out. Then he tried to put it together again.

“I managed to get it back together, but it wouldn’t turn on,” he said. “That was my first real experience with computers, but it was always something I knew I wanted to do.”

Now, as the Director of IT Services at Thomas College, he has finally made it to his dream job.

But it wasn’t such a straight forward journey.

Growing up, Bates moved around a lot. His dad was in the Navy.

When Bates was in third grade, his family finally settled down in North Anson, Maine.

As early as his junior year of high school, Bates enlisted into the air force. After graduating, he headed straight into boot camp. While serving, he attended tech school in Mississippi to learn how to manage computer networks.

Bates said one of the reasons he chose the air force was because he would have the opportunity to work with computers.

His first base was in Guam. He spent 15 months there before being transferred to Aviano, Italy for two years. He spent a lot of this time learning more computer network management.

After four years overseas, Bates decided it was time to go back to his family and friends in central Maine. His first job was a computer support help desk position with the City of Waterville. He worked part-time and went to school full-time at KVCC to get his associate’s degree.

“I had all of the experience from working in the air force but no degree, which made applying for jobs a little bit more difficult.”

And then, there was a road block. In 2009, his position at the City was eliminated due to cutbacks. He had to drop out of school. He spent a year picking tomatoes at Backyard Farms. He would pick between two and four tons of tomatoes a day.

“You learn a little bit more about yourself when you’re in a job like that.”

Luckily, Bates was offered a director position in the IT department back at the City of Waterville. It was full-time, but he was still able to go to school and complete his Associate’s degree in computer science from KVCC.

After three years, he switched to a job as an IT support technician in a local school district. Bates had more responsibility in this role – he was starting to manage servers and take care of more critical servers, while still completing end user support.

Finally, in 2013 he found himself at Thomas College. He knew the current VP of IT Services, Chris Rhoda, through his school job. Rhoda and Thomas College agreed to hire him on the condition he completed his Bachelor’s degree while working.

His job was systems and network administrator.

“From the start, my plan was always to work as quickly as I could towards my Bachelor’s degree.”

He began taking classes in the Spring semester of 2014. Because the computer science program doesn’t have an evening division, he would take two day classes and one evening class. He would make up the time for work by staying late or coming in early.

“It’s been interesting trying to balance work and life,” said Bates.

He is married and has three young children.

Over time, Bates’s position has changed to assistant director of IT Services and most recently, he was promoted to Director of IT Services. He supervises three full-time staff and two to three work study students.

Bates graduated from Thomas College on May 13. He is excited for more free time and for the accomplishment.

“Thomas has always been very supportive of me,” he said. “The instructors like having me in class because in their day classes they have a lot of 18 to 20 year old students without a whole lot of experience where I’ve had a lot of experience but not a whole lot of college work. A lot of the instructors have used me as another resource in the classroom. It’s good that I can provide a different perspective for some of the students. Especially coming into it as a student who hasn’t been in the student world for a lot of time.”

Bates said he has a better relationship with students because he’s in classes with them.

“Students see me as a peer and that not only helps in the classes, it helps my job. I have a better working relationship with the students. I’m not the guy who sits in his office all day. I’m the guy who is in classes with them. That’s really helpful for me.”

Bates is glad he found himself at Thomas – both as a student and an employee.

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