Sussex Technical High School senior Matt McLaughlin of Harbeson recently placed seventh in a nationwide computer networking competition from the Business Professionals of America.
McLaughlin said his studies in Sussex Tech’s Cisco Networking Academy and his job experience working part time in Sussex Tech’s career capstone work-based learning program both gave him a leg up. “I was drawn to it because it’s not an easy field,” McLaughlin said. “It’s something you have to learn and do.”
McLaughlin said he came to Sussex Tech interested in computers and found the computer networking program to be a natural fit. He plans to attend the University of Delaware and become a computer engineer.
McLaughlin recently graduated with multiple professional-level computer networking certifications, including in computer networking, Windows and Cisco software. “If I wanted to, I could get a job right out of high school because of those certifications,” he said.
He said the work-based learning program, which places interested Sussex Tech students into part-time jobs during their senior year, was especially important. He worked in Sussex Tech’s information technology office, installing and moving computers, and setting up network systems. He is winding down the year with more than 500 hours of on-the-job experience.
Last year was McLaughlin’s first time competing in BPA, which is a career-technical student organization for students pursuing careers in business, finance, office administration, and information technology. He placed in the top 20 last year and advanced to the top 10 this year.
At the BPA championship, he had to take a written test of 50 questions in 60 minutes. The top 10 students advanced to a hands-on computer networking test to determine the final rankings.
For other students interested in competing at the national level, McLaughlin advises them to practice, practice, practice. “You can’t just read a book,” he said. “Take practice tests. Do the work. You won’t learn this just from reading.”