Programming to the top

Story by Thom Fountain

Let’s just say junior information systems major Jeremiah Isaacson knows his way around computers. Since a young age, Isaacson enjoyed tinkering with electronics – taking them apart and putting them back together.

His love of tinkering led him into software development and eventually international business in a bit of an unusual way.

Isaacson was born at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire but grew up in Mondovi. His father owned a sawmill and Isaacson began helping fix machinery at an early age. While at home, he would find ways to entertain himself. He taught himself how to play piano and used excess materials from the sawmill to build things at home.

His interest continued in high school and on to college at the Chippewa Valley Technical College, where he earned an associates degree in computer science, and then went to UW-Stout for applied sciences. While he was attending Stout, Isaacson began working at Menards moving boxes, driving forklifts and eventually supervising.

Isaacson says a supervisor approached him after he had been working for a while and asked why he was moving pallets when he had a college degree. Isaacson soon applied for and accepted an internship in Menards’ Computer Hardware Support department.

“I took a pay cut and I was still putting boxes on pallets,” Isaacson said. “. But it was an internship.”

Isaacson was busy with work and classes, driving between Menomonie and Eau Claire each day, but still wanted to do more with his internship.

“When I was at work, it got to the point where I got everything done and I wanted to do more, but my boss was like ‘You can’t because you’re an intern’, but eventually we got a relationship going . and he offered me a full time position at (Computer Hardware Support),” Isaacson said.

As a full-time tech for Menards, Isaacson (the youngest at the position) would fly to stores nationally. One of his responsibilities was to fix the touch-screen kiosks in each store.

“After three years (the touch-screens) are out of warranty, and at the time Menards’ policy was to just throw them away,” Isaacson said. “They’re expensive . and I thought ‘I bet I could fix these.'”

Isaacson had a background in integrated circuits from building simple robots in high school. Not allowed to take the broken panels home, he took apart seven of the touch-screens at work and found a simple solution to fix them.

“I figured out that for 50 cents we could fix this expensive monitor,” Isaacson said, “which would save the company over $300,000 a year instantaneously.”

Isaacson soon moved up to an open position in the database department, wrapping up his career with Computer Hardware Support in six months – a position that many people keep their entire lives. In the database department, Isaacson worked with the top staff at Menards, including the CIO.

Isaacson soon found, though, he needed more challenges in his work.

“I had to put out fires and such, and it was an important position, but I needed more,” Isaacson said.

Not long after taking the database position, Isaacson was given the opportunity to challenge himself. The New Vista group, a software-consulting firm based out of Chicago, contacted Isaacson about working for them and he accepted the position.

“In two years, I went from putting boxes on pallets to working in the second largest skyscraper in downtown Chicago on the 44th floor,” Isaacson said.

Isaacson worked closely with the CIO of the Americas for the New Vista group and his direct superior flew from Barbados to Chicago to speak with him, which began his interest in international business.

When he began, Isaacson mainly worked with other consultants on a Windows software called CRM 3.0, which assisted corporations in tracking customer calling information. Within a few months of beginning with the New Vista group, the company asked Isaacson to move to the new CRM 4.0 software, making him the sole consultant for that software in the international firm.

“They chose me over all of these people who were older than me and more experienced,” Isaacson said. “It was sweet.”

With his promotion, Isaacson began working with European companies and met many new challenges he was looking for.

“If you’re working with Europe, your 10 a.m. is their 5 p.m.,” Isaacson said. “. But that translated into after 10 a.m., my workload was basically done.”

Isaacson said he worked mainly with the global real estate business Jones Lang Lasalle. According to their Web site, Jones Lang Lasalle has 750 locations in 60 countries and employs 30,000 people worldwide. The company mainly deals in large-scale commercial real estate, including skyscrapers.

Isaacson worked to develop new software for Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia. However, when the global economy took a downturn six months later, the New Vista group was forced to put the Isaacson’s project on hold indefinitely.

“I was like, ‘I’d like to do the whole college thing,'” Isaacson said. “After I lost my job, I thought ‘what am I going to do now?’ I only had two years of experience where others had 10 to 20 years and bachelors degrees, where I only had my associates.”

Back at school, Isaacson hasn’t slowed down. He is currently a vice president of the Eau Claire Chapter of AIESEC, a student-run organization active in 107 countries that promotes international business, according to their Web site. Beth Wright, the chapter’s president, said she first met Isaacson through AIESEC and is continually impressed with his contributions.

“Originally the role was to make of it what he wanted to and he went above and beyond,” Wright said. She said Isaacson has worked to include students from CVTC in the organization by contacting professors, and is working to include students from UW-Stout as well.

As vice president of IT, Isaacson works with a team of computer science majors, and spends weekly meetings teaching them things they may not learn in classes. He says these team meetings are scheduled to last an hour, but have been know to go on for up to five.

Alyssa Frey, who works on AIESEC’s executive board with Isaacson, mirrored Wright’s comments. Frey said he is always prompt, reliable and in a good mood.

“For me it’s really awesome that when I ask him to do something he does it very quickly and it exceeds my expectations,” Frey said, adding he’s also one of the funniest people she has met.

Frey said Isaacson will succeed in the future because of his hard working and good natured attitude.

Isaacson said people may think his future goals are lofty or even impossible, but he is committed. He hopes to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after graduation, and eventually work for NASA.

“You tell someone you want to be an astronaut when you’re little, and the guidance counselors are like ‘be realistic, you can build buildings or something,’ but the reality is you can do whatever you want,” Isaacson said.

Isaacson said although he works best independently, he can’t forget all the people who have helped him, including his parents and professors at each institution he has attended.

What’s up next for Isaacson? He currently has plans to head to Japan and possibly Germany to experience the cultures there first-hand, and continue his education, just as he has in the past, through hands on experience.