In the Red Zone

Paul Nelson, football information systems manager for the Minnesota Vikings, knows his way around the IT gridiron

The weather at Winter Park, the head office complex of the Minnesota Vikings, was sunny, breezy and nearly 80 degrees at noon Friday, Aug. 26, 2011, which also happened to be birthday number 44 for Paul Nelson, manager of football information systems for the Vikes. Nelson was at his desk framed by a picture window showcasing the NFL team’s practice fields. He spoke about his IT training at Dakota County Technical College, training that gave him the knowledge he needed to score the job of his dreams.

“I was working in the hospitality industry and part of my job involved computers, converting old systems into new,” said Nelson, a U.S. Army veteran whose MOS was 11 Bravo, or infantryman. In the late 1980s, he was stationed overseas at U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza in the Veneto Region of Italy. “I liked working with computers and my fiancée, Barb, told me I needed to do something different along those lines. Information technology was the perfect choice.”

“People think of IT as just sitting there not talking to anybody, but it’s really not. I spend a lot of my time talking to people, asking them what they’re doing, what they want to do, how come they’re doing things a certain way. You find a lot more problem-solving in IT than I ever imagined.” — Paul Nelson

Nelson’s fiancée is now his wife and the couple have one daughter, Samantha, 8, who loves going to Vikings games and has met many of the players. Nelson and his family live in Apple Valley, Minn., and he soon discovered that DCTC was not only nearby, but also offered the exact courses he needed.

“I liked the fact that the Information Systems programs at DCTC are more hands-on versus theory,” said Nelson, who studied JavaScript (he still has the textbook in his office), C programming, SQL, or Structured Query Language, databases and more. “The instructors have practical work experience and they focus on training that applies directly to the workplace.”

Paul Nelson | Manager of Football Information Systems | Minnesota Vikings

In 2002, Nelson answered an ad in the Star Tribune, interviewed once, interviewed twice and walked away with an amazing job with the Minnesota Vikings, a legendary NFL franchise with four Super Bowl appearances, 24 playoff appearances and the fifth best winning percentage in league history.

As manager of football information systems, Nelson oversees all football applications, including player/personnel and scouting. He also manages the servers at Winter Park as well as the development and implementation of databases.

“When I first started with the Vikings, everything was done on paper,” he said. “We’ve come a long way and we now do everything electronically. We have ten college and four pro scouts and they all use laptops to access information and transmit their reports. That really makes a difference in terms of the big picture.”

“I liked the fact that the Information Systems programs at DCTC are more hands-on versus theory. The instructors have practical work experience and they focus on training that applies directly to the workplace.” — Paul Nelson

Nelson pointed out that superb communication skills are indispensable on the job. First-rate IT managers need the ability to translate what their customers tell them into working programs. As often as not, a customer, in-house or external, will have a great idea in mind, but will lack the least notion on how to get there.

“People think of IT as just sitting there not talking to anybody,” he pointed out, “but it’s really not. I spend a lot of my time talking to people, asking them what they’re doing, what they want to do, how come they’re doing things a certain way. You find a lot more problem-solving in IT than I ever imagined.”

Nelson is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology in Management as part of an online cohort at Concordia University, St. Paul. He looks back on his time at DCTC as essential to making a successful career change. In other words, that hands-on education put him in the red zone, or inside twenty yards of his occupational goal line.

“I really appreciate the training I received at DCTC,” he said. “Because that training is so practical, it gave me the tools and knowledge I needed to start my career in IT. The instructors know how things function in the workplace—and a lot of times what happens on the job is different from what you learn in a book.”

For more information about Information Systems programs at DCTC, contact:

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