Brian Hickey, a junior major in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department with a Management minor, has created the prototype for a true and sure-footed career path during his first three years at UMass Amherst. He’s had a hand in two startup companies, including one he founded on his own as an eighth grader, and he spent a summer internship as a sort of jack of all trades at Verizon Wireline in Boston. In the process, Hickey has set himself up for a future job with his “superb communication skills and solid technological background,” as he so aptly sums up his qualifications in his resume.

How many aspiring engineers can boast that they began their work life at the age of 13? That’s when a symbolic light bulb lit over Hickey’s head and he realized he could make money at his avocation. The result was Cape Cod Computer Experts.

“I was always being called out of class to go help the school with computer problems,” Hickey remembers about his hometown of Cummaquid on Cape Cod. “And then I thought why not do this for fun and profit? It’s a small town, and word quickly spread that I was pretty decent at it. I didn’t even have to advertise. And I made house calls on my bicycle. Eventually I had clients in Falmouth, Harwich, and across the Cape. Now the business still helps me work my way through college. Just yesterday, I got three calls.”

So Hickey was already a savvy veteran of startup companies by the time he arrived at UMass Amherst as a first-year student. When a couple of friends from the Isenberg School of Management approached him to provide tech support for a new startup called Transparent Profiles, Hickey was gung-ho.

“Transparent Profiles is based on the idea that personal information on social media can sometimes drag people down by giving potential employers bad or misleading feedback,” says Hickey. “This is especially true on Facebook and Twitter, where a lot of people have content online that they wouldn’t necessarily want to be part of the message they’d like employers to see. The purpose of Transparent Profiles was to work as a kind of career consultant to help students improve their social media content in order to attract future employers. To clean up their social media persona.”

Transparent Profiles also offered general career services such as resume writing, but the major thrust was to approach people’s Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-in accounts from a business-oriented perspective and make sure their images were squeaky clean.

“We helped out a lot of our friends and started a website,” says Hickey, “but to tell you the truth it was really more of an educational project.” Yes, it was an educational project that will certainly polish up Hickey’s own resume when potential employers are looking for hands-on experience, technical competence, positive motivation, and entrepreneurial spirit.

All these factors must have looked good to the Verizon representatives who attended a career fair last year and met Hickey, his fine communications skills, and his glossy resume. Verizon soon signed up Hickey for a summer internship in Boston, where his supervisor quickly recognized his all-around ability, his engineering knowhow, and his management education before assigning him to a variety of tasks.

“It gave me a sort of bird’s-eye-view of the company,” exclaims Hickey. “I had daily tasks to do, but they sent me out on a lot of varied assignments. I went down in CEVs, which are underground, climate-controlled boxes that house electronics. We diagnosed engineering problems having to do with underground copper cables that have been there for decades and are susceptible to humidity and climate changes. I also dealt directly with some of Verizon’s fiber-optic lines. I learned how to splice and test fiber cables. It was a lot of hands-on electrical engineering. Then one week I even worked in the Verizon legal and human resources department.”

It was a perfect situation for both Hickey and Verizon. He found out a lot about what he liked to do and was good at it as an electrical engineer. On the other hand, it gave Verizon a good handle on Hickey’s skills and how he might be utilized as a potential permanent employee.

“I enjoyed working for the company this summer and had a great experience, and the people there were obviously invested in me,” says Hickey. “So my choice right now is between working in a well-established, hierarchical company like Verizon, where I would have security and make a good living, but it might take me a while to reach my goals, or working in a startup company, where I would have a lot of growth potential and I might reach my career goals quickly, but my situation would be a lot riskier.”

Whatever choice he finally makes, Hickey has not only been following his star at an early age but navigating toward a bright future. In so doing, he has firmly established the direction of his career at an age when many people are still staggering around in circles. (October 2013)