Air Force veteran’s
Computer Science career
TAKES OFF

Timiniskas-Nicholas-2012.jpg

Nicholas Timinskas

Nicholas Timinskas (CS, ’09) is a living testament to the power of determination—and the quality of a CSUN education. After a stint in the Air Force and a few years as a general contractor, he decided it was time for a career change. His exposure to advanced technology in the military inclined him toward a technical field, but there was just one catch: he didn’t consider himself especially computer-literate. He had resisted computers for a long time, considering them little more than a necessary evil.

As it happens, the very fact that he knew little about computers was what drew Timinskas to them. “I needed to know more about the tools I was using every day,” he says. “It’s the same thing that led me to construction and auto mechanics. I didn’t want to be at the mercy of a contractor or mechanic.”

Armed with the GI Bill, Timinskas, who already had earned several credits in civil engineering, arrived in California from Washington State in January 2007, and because he had visited the CSUN campus several years earlier with a friend and liked its location, it was one of the universities where he was considering enrolling. He met with computer science transfer advisor Jack Alanen, who outlined the course for his career. “And by the way,” Alanen told Timinskas, “Classes start tonight.”

Timinskas took the plunge, but initially found the going pretty tough. “It was a big challenge switching from physical science to computer science,” he says. “It was hard to transition from what you can see and feel to what is completely abstract.”

One of his first classes was an introduction to programming, and for the first few weeks, he visited the professor, John Noga, during every office hour and had him essentially reteach every class. “I couldn’t thank him enough for all the assistance he gave,” Timinskas says.

He describes his first year as nonstop work because he felt very much behind his classmates, who were younger and had grown up with computers. “I came from a different upbringing,” he explains. “I really had to dedicate myself to study above and beyond what my peers were doing just to catch up.”

He particularly appreciated the valuable interactions he had with many professors, who had been in industry as well as academia and gave firsthand accounts of what to expect on the job. “A lot of the projects they assigned were very relevant and useful—things I could immediately draw upon in my career to be successful,” he says.

His hard work really paid off his senior year, when he was selected for an internship at Amgen through the Honors Co-Op program. He worked at Amgen full time in the summer and part time during the year. He graduated summa cum laude, with a 3.9 GPA, and Amgen extended an employment offer to him as soon as he finished the co-op.

“That was great because it was an almost seamless transition from school to work,” he says.

As soon as he joined Amgen, Timinskas became part of its College Hire Network, which cast him as a recruiter for the company and brought him back to the CSUN campus, where he maintained connections with the dean and faculty and was directly responsible for helping five CSUN students find jobs at Amgen. He also got his own career off the ground, starting out in information security, where he did forensic analysis and malware detection for a couple of years.

“Amgen encourages you, especially in your first five years, to not get pigeonholed in one area but to branch out and see what else is going on in your career field,” he explains.

From information security, he switched to global commercial operations and became the portfolio manager for more than 150 projects, which he managed from budgeting, scheduling and resource allocation to reporting and working with project managers to make sure they had the tools and resources needed. When Amgen set up a project management office, Timinskas became part of it and now is helping to drive best practices in project management, managing big projects himself and training others to take on the role as well.

Something of a Renaissance man, in his spare time, he helps friends out with construction needs and works on the yard of a house he and his wife recently bought, in addition to writing a historical novel on the first World War. He also enjoys football, cooking and making short documentary movies.

“I’ve written my whole life, but mainly short stories and novellas,” he says. “I enjoy telling stories.”

Last May, Timinskas had a chance to try his hand at another kind of writing—as the keynote speaker at the CECS commencement in May. His address about knowledge vs. wisdom and finding one’s purpose in life was very well-received. And given his penchant for boldly embracing new opportunities, it just might signal yet another direction in a career already defined by meeting—and conquering—challenges wherever he finds them.