Matthew Johnson

Although Matthew Johnson knew he wanted to be an engineer eventually, he felt compelled to accomplish another goal first — become a Marine.

“I was 12 when 9/11 happened and that had a big impact on me. I felt like I wanted to serve and make a difference,” said Johnson, a computer science student at Oregon State University. He chose the infantry in U.S. Marine Corps because he felt they were the best of the best.

Johnson served as a Marine for four years, including a deployment to Afghanistan, and then started on his goal of becoming an industrial engineer. But after one term at Oregon State, a job opening for a police officer in Sweet Home caught his attention. “I felt like I wasn’t done serving yet,” he said.

It turned out to be a job he really enjoyed because he could see the positive impact the police force had on the community, such as reducing the methamphetamine problem in the area. He considered making the police force a career, but after his son was born he decided a high-stress job was not the right fit for his role as a new father. So Johnson returned to Oregon State to complete his degree in industrial engineering but as he progressed through the program, he realized his favorite classes were the ones related to computer science.

“I had no computer science experience before my industrial engineering coursework, so that was my introduction to it. And my favorite part was the algorithms — being able to think through a logical set of steps to solve a problem,” he said.

Johnson switched his major to computer science, and after just two terms, he took a job with the Open Source Lab (OSL) as a software engineer. The OSL is part of the Center for Applied Systems and Software (CASS) and provides industry, government, and university clients with software development, testing and hosting solutions.

A key benefit for working at the OSL was having the opportunity to work on industry projects to experience the workflow. He also honed his software development skills and was exposed to many computer languages. In addition, working at the OSL has given Johnson a chance to connect with other computer science majors which is sometimes difficult for a non-traditional student who goes home to family (he now has two children) after a full day of school and work.

This year Johnson was awarded a scholarship from CBT Nuggets, which has allowed him to buy things needed for school like a new laptop. “Making that transition from a full-time job was really hard especially with a family. So, having that extra income every term makes a humongous difference,” he said.

Johnson is so convinced that switching to computer science was a good decision that he is encouraging his younger brother to come to Oregon State and major in computer science once he is out of the Marines. It would continue the Beaver tradition in his family — both his parents graduated from Oregon State, his mother in marketing and his father in industrial engineering.

Although there were a few twist and turns on his way to computer science, Johnson is looking forward to the possibilities the career holds for him.

“I definitely want to develop software in the future — whether it be a place like Intel, or a software specific place like Puppet Labs or CoreOS, I’m not sure yet. And someday, after I get a lot of experience, I’d like to start my own company,” he said.

Story by Rachel Robertson