Nick Steen

Old-School Skills + College Diploma = New Beginning

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In the world of modern computing a person's technical skills become obsolete quickly. But sometimes an old skill turns out to be a useful commodity. That's what Nick Steen discovered when the California Department of Motor Vehicles invited him to Sacramento and offered a $100,000 contract for his particular set of skills.

Nick is one of very few people still proficient in a 1970s-era binary computer code called EDL. The California DMV built its current data system on EDL, and Nick is part of a team that's updating the decades-old system.

"It feels strange that something I did so long ago I'm doing againand liking it," he says.

In a way, the contract work in California represents a homecoming for Nick. He grew up in the Bay Area, studied at Berkley and Stanford Universities, and did an eight-year stint in the Air Force. He migrated to Minnesota in the 1990s, settled in Bloomington, and continued what had up to then been a successful career in information technology.

Throughout his 30-year career he had mostly been able to manage a recurring depression. But in 2006 he developed other health problemsanxiety, ADD, diabetes, and heart problems. He became chronically fatigued.

A panic attack at work led to hospitalization and, ultimately, the loss of his job. He applied for Social Security disability benefits, reluctantly, and tried unsuccessfully to find other employment. He met regularly with a therapist and a psychiatrist and attended a dialectical behavior therapy (or DBT) program that he says was "the psychiatric turning point" in his mental health recovery.

Eventually he found his way to Vocational Rehabilitation Services in Bloomington and began to work with Terry Kintop, a counselor who has since retired. Together they determined that, despite his considerable experience in technology-related fields, Nick was at a competitive disadvantage because he had never completed a four-year degree at any of the prestigious institutions he'd attended.

With VRS support, Nick enrolled at Concordia College in St. Paul and, in May 2011, finally got his bachelor's degree in Business Organizational Leadership and Information Technology Management.

Connie Novitzski, a job developer with the Hennepin County Vocational Services Program, assisted him in a job search. Within a couple of months, he had landed a $70,000 a year job as a systems integrator at Ameriprise Financial. And soon after that, the California DMV found him through a nationwide search and recruited him to Sacramento. He still has a home in Bloomington, and will likely move back when his contract in California ends.

Meanwhile, he continues to receive follow up services from Connie Novitski and Liz Morrison, a counselor who took over when Terry Kintop retired. "Nick's been vigilant, responsible and persistent about returning to a career that he loves," Liz says. "He did not let his limitations keep him from his career goals or force him into early retirement."

Nick Steen received services from the Hennepin South Bloomington office.