American National University

Former Locksmith Learns the Key to Securing a Computer Network

Imagine an immense building with hundreds of doors, each with a lock and key. Imagine that the owner of the building wants some people to have access to every door, some people to access only their own office spaces, and still other sets of people to access all the doors on the second floor which have the letter “A” in their office designation. Now imagine being tasked to design the locks and the keys to control all this access!

Having been a locksmith since 1969, designing locks and key systems was Michael Kirkpatrick’s job before he enrolled as a student at American National University’s Roanoke Valley Campus. As it turns out, years as a locksmith happened to be great preparation for learning to manage a computer network where data on hard drives is accessed by some, but not all, and where the security of the information is supremely important.

Michael’s trajectory from the military to the private sector and back to school is not all that unusual except, perhaps, for the length of time he successfully operated his own business—more than 30 years. In fact, his introduction to locksmithing came in the form of a correspondence course he took while enlisted in the U. S. Air Force; he was stationed on a radar picket near an extinct volcano in the Artic and had some time on his hands. After making good use of his correspondence training with his locksmithing business, Michael returned to the Roanoke area in 2007 and began to notice the increasing interaction between physical locks and information technology. Could cracking a network’s security be as easy as cracking a safe?

“I felt that all he needed was an opportunity to demonstrate his capability in a real work environment.”

The appeal of securing a network grew on him, so he enrolled at the Roanoke Valley Campus to earn an associate’s degree in the information technology field. Along the way to his degree, Michael was awarded a needs-based scholarship by the Roanoke-based Kitas and Lutsko Family Foundation. Foundation principle Ed Kitas was so impressed with Michael that he helped develop an internship program especially tailored for him.

“It was clear to me that Michael had substantial skills, a wealth of experience, and a strong work ethic, and I felt that all he needed was an opportunity to demonstrate his capability in a real work environment,” explained Mr. Kitas. “A structured, low risk internship seemed to be an ideal solution for Michael’s situation, and fortunately, a local business that was willing to participate in the internship program was identified. It was no surprise to anyone involved that Michael exceeded all expectations while participating in the internship program.”

Not too long after that internship ended, Michael landed a job as a contractor for Advance Auto, where he remains employed. With his associate’s degree in hand, Michael immediately reenrolled at ANU to earn his bachelor’s degree. Knowing that any physical lock can be defeated, Michael’s approach to managing a computer network is especially tenacious. With the expert training from ANU in his tool belt, he will be well-positioned to allow access to those who need it, while keeping others at bay.

Michael Kirkpatrick transitioned 30 years of experience as a locksmith into a new career securing computer networks.

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