MEET TRELL WEAVER
Hometown: Malvern, AR
Apprenticeship: ASU Three Rivers
MY BACK STORY
I pretty much grew up in a small home in Perla with my mom. Perla is just outside of Malvern. As soon as we got Internet, I was always over at my grandma’s house playing on the computer. I actually taught myself how to start reading. I would ask my grandma, “What does this word mean?” Or, “What does this say?” She told me I couldn’t play any more video games unless I learned to read for myself, so I just started searching on how to pronounce words and how to read. I was in kindergarten. I ended up having a very selective vocabulary going through school. I used the word destroy a lot because I was always on the video games.
From an early age, I was planning on being an engineer of some sort. I was into blueprint and design, and I was actually into art. But I figured art wouldn’t make a lot of money, so I started thinking about being an engineer. In school, I did a whole bunch of projects geared around architecture.
I always went to school in Malvern, starting at Malvern Elementary. Around my sixth-grade year they started STEM learning, and that really interested me. I ended up eventually getting into the gifted and talented program.
When I was in seventh grade, we went to a workshop for the thing called AR codes, augmented reality. I got really into that. And that year, our junior high school was scheduled to be torn down, so a classmate and I made a virtual reality tour of the whole campus so the school could be remembered. That’s when I started realizing I wanted to do something computer related. I wasn’t sure what, but it had to be around computers and technology.
In high school, I was taking some pre-college courses, but not the standard reading and writing. It was more like a specialization. Originally it was called pre-engineering because that’s what I wanted to do, and then it turned into mechatronics. From wanting to study electrical engineering I then started pivoting towards mechanical engineering, because I was in the mechatronics program and was dealing with robotic arms and a little bit of electrical work.
But when it came time to go to college, I was like, Man, I don’t really want to go to school again. I’ve already been through 12 years of it. I don’t want to do school anymore. There was a lot going on at home and I was moving between houses. I ended up moving in with my grandma permanently for about six years. So, I was just going to figure it out on my own. Then I got a few scholarships that covered all my fees and stuff, so I thought I might as well try this college thing.
I went to what was originally called Votech, and then it became College of the Ouachitas. Now we’re labeled ASU Three Rivers. Like I said, I didn’t really enjoy being at home much, so I spent a lot of time at the college. I was probably there until as late as 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and sometimes on Fridays. My Psychology instructor Lisa Woods got me into student government my first semester, and I really liked that, so I ended up joining.
We would do this fall festival, which was kind of our way to give back to the community. We would buy a lot of candy, like $10,000 worth, and then when Halloween came, each club would hand out candy to all the people who came to the event. They’d walk through the campus and we would have little booths and stuff set up. That felt pretty good to me. I was like, I might not be in the greatest situation myself, but I enjoy helping others in any way possible.
I finished my mechatronics program early since I started it in high school, and then they added a new class—Cisco 1. My mechatronics instructor, Glen Franklin, took it with us, and by the end of it, he said to me, “Man, you have a knack for this thing. You should try looking into computers, because I think you’d be good at it.”
I wasn’t really ready to leave college and go start working, so I kept taking more courses. That’s how I ended up getting three associate degrees at the same time as I finished my Cisco Networking certification.
MY WORK LIFE (Part 1)
Even before graduation I had a job in ASU Three Rivers’ Trio department—Trio is a federal outreach program for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I did data entry for the students and we would just enter the data, check it, make sure we met with compliance, and I would also take calls.
I also got a chance to work for an IT place, Central Arkansas Networking in Benton. I worked there part time for about seven months total, but I was still in school and doing my Trio work. I also worked at a grocery store, so I was juggling three jobs in college. It felt kind of chaotic, but I was used to that type of living. I was like, Eventually I’ll get somewhere. At least I enjoyed all three jobs, so that was the benefit.
After I finished school, I stopped working at the college since it was a work-study program. Eventually I stopped working at the IT place too, because I was offered a manager position at the grocery store, and I was glad not to have to keep driving to Benton. It saved me time, gas, money, and I was getting a raise at the grocery store. So, I did managerial work at the grocery for about four or five years.
At some point, I heard about ACDS and got in touch with them, and they began helping me work up my resume and prepare for interviews. At about the same time, the head of IT at ASU Three Rivers, Jacob Bland, offered me another job at the college. “Hey, we’ll get you some certifications,” he said. “All you have to do is just study and take them.” It was a great setup, and I have Jacob to thank for it.
Meanwhile, I was talking with ACDS but I guess I wasn’t doing my part in communicating with them. For their work-based-learning program, they wanted to send me to certain workplaces in Little Rock that were outside of my driving range at the time. I wasn’t super comfortable with driving because I didn’t get my license until I was 21, so I didn’t want to go through Little Rock and all that traffic. I was used to just driving in a small town, so it was hard for me to want to accept jobs.
But I did accept one. It was a position at Rock Dental in Little Rock. There were hundreds of dentists that they supported in Arkansas, and the job was to help with these dentists’ computer records.
As it turned out, I worked there for one day. Then as I was driving back to Malvern to close the grocery store, I realized I couldn’t handle the traffic. Driving up there that morning, I’d thought I was okay with the traffic, but now I knew I wasn’t. In fact, I ended up having a really bad wreck going home that day, and it totaled my car.
I had to call Kristen at ACDS and explain to her why I couldn’t continue with the job she had worked so hard to get for me. I felt really bad because I had gone there, done the interview, liked the job and everything. Then on the way back, I wrecked my car and ended up having to get a new car and get on a payment plan. I hate car payment plans. I was happy when I bought my first car with cash, but I didn’t have full coverage. So that’s one of the life lessons I learned from this episode—always have full coverage on your car, especially if it’s paid for. This event put me in a weird spot, but it also helped me set a realistic goal: I realized then that I would have to get used to driving in different levels of traffic if I wanted to ultimately succeed.
MY TURNAROUND MOMENT
Not long after that, Jacob, my boss, called me into his office. I thought I was in trouble. But in fact, he had reached out to ACDS and set up a work-based learning program and an apprenticeship for me here at ASU Three Rivers.
He asked me if I wanted to do this Computer Technician program, working through ACDS, and I said that I had kind of dropped connections with them because I need to get my Security Plus certificate and start building myself up and stuff like that.
“Well,” Jacob said, “this is to help you with that. They’ll pay for it, and you’ll get on-the-job experience and everything.” So, he started mentoring me. For the first on-the-job training project, he had me get on the firewall and make some settings or some changes to our configurations.
Then ACDS contacted me about starting my Security Plus, CompTIA education training, and I began studying for that. I got that certification seven months ago. And just recently I also got my CompTIA CySA+ ce certification. I doubt that I would’ve passed any of these tests without the actual job experience that Jacob has provided for me. He’s allowed me to jump in here and there or watch when we would do security-related things.
MY WORK LIFE (Part 2)
I’m now nine months into my apprenticeship at ASU Three Rivers, and I’m just kind of going day by day. But I do now have a plan.
I’m hoping to go further in cybersecurity. Once I got into it, I was like, Oh, this is a lot more scary than I was expecting cybersecurity to be. Then I ended up actually passing my Sec Plus, and that gave me confidence. Honestly, I really don’t think I met the requirements, because for the CompTIA you should have two years of experience in it and a Network+ ce. I had almost none and no certs. So being able to pass that was really nice. I wanted to use this job to get actual hands-on experience, and Jacob has set up an environment where I can mess around with different projects. So, we built some servers and just got my hands in as much technology as possible. I’m hoping I can continue doing that. Even though I just got a Blue Team certification, I think I’ve decided I want to do Red Team, or offensive cybersecurity. Ethical hacker is what the job title would be.
We have a system in place here called Horizon AI. It’s super great on doing self-tests for any security penetration; usually you hire someone to come in and do it from the outside, but this allows us to do it on our own. So, I’ve been using that to understand how it works, how to do a penetration test, and what are the things you need to look at. Then I’ve been on the side where we’re defending the network. I enjoyed both of them, but I figure being on the offense would be more enjoyable—in my youth anyway.
But that’s just part of my plan. Originally, I was kind of a loner. I was used to working 60 hours a week, so I didn’t have a lot of social time. But I actually ended up getting a girlfriend a few months after starting to work here. We’ve been together about a year now. Brooke is in school, and I think after this semester she’ll start working on a doctorate. She wants to be a physical therapist. So, I’m going to just support her along the way as she has supported me. I felt like I needed to build experience since I was behind. I was in IT and now I’ve been out for a few years and I’m trying to come back. So, I’m using this opportunity to build experience here and learn as much as I can.
My plan was originally a five-year plan; now it’s I guess four, or maybe five still. The plan is, once she graduates, we’ll move somewhere in Arkansas, probably northwest Arkansas, and she and I will get jobs there. We’ll also get a house and start building a foundation there together.
“I TRY TO hire self-starters, go-getters, whatever you want to call them—people who are driven, who see a problem and start thinking of ways to solve that problem and come up with solutions. I don’t micromanage for sure, and I don’t want to be asked every single question that may come into somebody’s mind. I want somebody to do a little bit of research first, maybe try a couple of things in a test environment to see what works, what doesn’t. Trell Weaver has met that every step of the way. Next steps for him would be to keep on keeping on, continue taking on additional responsibilities as it relates to security and networking, continue his learning.”
Associate Vice Chancellor for IT,
ASU Three Rivers