When Victor Contreras ‘20 was a high school freshman, a friend asked him if he wanted to buy his broken down iPhone 4 -- cracked on the front, cracked on the back, and a hole where the home button used to be.
Where others might have laughed at the suggestion, Contreras saw opportunity. He quickly forked over twenty bucks and set out to repair it.
With a little time, a little YouTube, and a $30 investment in parts, he learned how to fix it to assembly line-new, then turned around and sold it for a tidy profit. His affinity for all things hardware and entrepreneurial spirit led the Harrisburg native to start a freelance computer repair business in 2014.
Fast forward to 2018, the Lehigh sophomore and materials science and engineering (MSE) major is keeping his tech skills sharp and honing his soft skills through his work on three computing support teams in Library and Technology Services (LTS).
During his first semester at Lehigh, Contreras went on the hunt for IT-related positions and learned about STARS (Student Technology and Repairs Service), an LTS program that provides technical support, troubleshooting, and consulting services for Lehigh students and their personal computers and devices.
“I wanted a job where I could gain experience and have something more official than freelancing for my resume,” Contreras said.
Each year, STARS manager Bruce Eisenhard hires about 20 students to staff the walk-up service desk, drawing from an applicant pool where some students, like Contreras, don’t major in computer science or a related field.
“Victor is exactly the kind of student worker we always hope will apply for our tech jobs -- a motivated, self-starter who enjoys the work and wants to improve his skills,” Eisenhard said. “His personal drive, coupled with his hardware experience, made him the perfect candidate for a position on the team.”
As a technology repair consultant for STARS, Contreras says he works about six hours a week on laptops that come in for repair or service. “The work could be anything from swapping out hard drives or restoring user data to troubleshooting software problems,” he said.
Beyond the routine, Eisenhard adds that STARS students gain advanced troubleshooting experience working on the team. “Students are often exposed to computer problems with no ‘textbook’ solution,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunity to build their knowledge bases and learn how to be resourceful when faced with complex or obscure problems.”
As Victor was getting his feet wet with STARS, Eisenhard was already pegging him for work with Computer Repair Services (CRS), another team he manages in LTS. Contreras was assigned a special project along with another student consultant, preparing PCs decommissioned from Lehigh’s computer sites for resale to campus departments. Working out of the computer repair shop, he vacuums out the CPU case, cleans the exterior, runs hardware diagnostics, securely erases hard drives, and preps them for encryption.
Word gets around
By spring 2018, Contreras had become a familiar face in the EWFM Computing Center. Brad Price, manager of the LTS College of Engineering and Applied Science support team, was looking for an assistant to help with a special project -- encryption of the college's Windows PCs -- and on the recommendation of Eisenhard, hired Contreras as a computing consultant for Fall 2018.
After facilitating the encryption of over 100 PCs, Contreras transitioned to supporting faculty and staff computers in the college, and describes his work now as a little bit of everything. “I activate Microsoft Office software, take hard drive backups, and provide general tech support to clients throughout the college.”
Price is impressed with Contreras’ contribution to the team. “What I appreciate most about Victor is his professionalism working with clients, and his genuine interest in improving and refining whatever task or procedure he works on,” he said.
Breaks in the academic year are an opportunity for Contreras to do research in his field of study. This summer, he switched gears and found work with the MSE department, conducting research on peptide hydrogels for potential use in stem-cell delivery for medical applications. His post-graduation goal is to work in the field of biodegradable polymers.
Experience beyond tech
While Contreras considers himself more savvy with Mac computers, he’s gained a lot more Windows experience through his positions in LTS. “I love my jobs,“ he said. “I keep learning new skills. It makes me more well-rounded as a hardware technician.”
Hard skills aren’t the only things he’s refining. “One of the biggest benefits to working in LTS has been improving my communication skills in a professional work environment,” Contreras said. “I work independently with clients, schedule appointments with them directly, and organize my workload,” he said. “And all that will translate well to either a management or research position at an engineering firm, where I hope to work after graduation.”
Interested in a computing position in LTS? We currently have openings on the following teams for students eligible for work study: College of Business & Economics (Contact Dario Varga at firstname.lastname@example.org); College of Arts & Sciences (Contact Bill Bettermann at email@example.com).