When Eric Gavell took a job at a collection agency to make money for college, he had no idea how fortuitous that seemingly mundane choice would be.
One day, while chatting with a coworker, he mentioned studying computer technology at MassBay Community College. The next day, his coworker returned with the company’s IT director, who recognized Gavell’s potential and took him under her wing. He was taken off the phone banks and reassigned to tech support.
At first, Gavell maintained the print shop machines. Then his superiors gave him a challenge. He says, “They put some computer parts down on a table and said, ‘If you can build your own computer, we’ll give you a job as a technician.’”
He succeeded. Within a short time, Gavell became the lead tech, supporting more than 450 employees. He was just 18. Since then he has provided IT support for a variety of Boston-area organizations, including the YMCA and two Fortune 500 construction companies. Gavell joined EDC in 2000.
Did you grow up tinkering with computers?
I didn’t start out as someone who liked to tinker with computers. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Disney imagineer. I liked to sketch things—costumed characters, people, places, houses. In high school, I put together a portfolio in hopes of attending Massachusetts College of Art and Design. But then my mother suffered two strokes, and private college wasn’t an option. That’s when I went to work full time for the collection agency. Fortunately, I met a mentor there who set me on my career trajectory.
What’s involved in providing tech support for a global organization such as EDC?
We support 1,500 individuals who work for EDC around the world. We ensure that when they use technology, they have everything they need to make it work for them. That’s our purpose: To protect the data they work on, to provide the technology tools they need to do their work, and to ensure that those things are scalable and continuously working. What makes us good is our customer service and problem-solving abilities, and our willingness to do what it takes to keep everyone happy and productive.
When I interviewed for my job at EDC, I thought, “Great, it’s near my house. I can go home for lunch.” The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Africa. I’ve traveled to Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, New Guinea, and Haiti, as well as up and down the Ivory Coast. EDC does great work in education, health, and international development. It’s gratifying to support an organization that is ethically doing good.
What does it take to be successful in an IT career?
One of the things that has contributed to me being successful is understanding what it’s like to be on the other side of the table. When someone’s computer breaks, or they can’t get their e-mail—I appreciate those frustrations. It’s an unplanned interruption, like when a car breaks down. It’s our job to pinpoint the problem and get them back up and running as soon as possible.
For people interested in an IT career, know that it’s not a 9-to-5 job—anywhere. Technology operates 24/7. You have to be ready to learn new technologies all the time. Your mind must be able to adjust and evolve and grow constantly. You have to be able to judge whether a new technology will work for a certain work environment. We take certification courses all the time. Technology supports the project work at EDC. IT is just one facet of a successful organization.
What do you tell people who feel they need to purchase the latest technological innovation?
I say “wait,” because every three months, there’s something new. People hear about “bleeding-edge” technology that’s the latest and greatest thing. The manufacturer sells 10 million units, and then they discover there’s a problem. So when dealing with technology, never rush out to get it, whether it’s a camera or a flat-screen TV, a software upgrade, or a Kindle or an Android or an iPad. Wait until the bugs are worked out and the price comes down.
What’s the number-one question people ask you at parties?
If it plugs into the wall, I get asked about it: “My computer’s making this funny noise. Can you fix it?” “My telephone doesn’t work.” “My condo door pass code doesn’t work.” “If I were to start an IT company, what would I need to do?” Once people realize I work in IT, I get a lot of questions.