Employee Spotlight: Mark Peterson, Sr. Mgr. of Enterprise Network Services in IT
From plane crashes to network crashes, Mark Peterson has gotten TPA through it all. His advice to others: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
He’s the senior manager of IT in charge of the airport’s entire computer and phone network, overseeing a team of seven engineers. He’s the man in charge of helping orchestrate the transition of hundreds of employees and millions of dollars in technology over to SkyCenter One, the Airport's new office building.
But few would ever guess that Mark Peterson actually got his start at TPA draining human waste out of the lavatories of commuter airplanes.
To be fair, that was only one of his many jobs. As an employee for Naples Airlines in the 1970’s he did everything, from loading baggage onto World War II era DC-3’s and Martin 404’s, to running the ticket counter and even handling airline emergencies.
It was just the first of several ill-fated airlines that would leave Mark without a paycheck, but with a lifelong love for aviation. And more importantly, a love of TPA.
“The experience was just amazing to be under that airplane and do all these things to it,” recalled Mark. “The benefits were great. The pay was not.”
He eventually was promoted to station manager for Naples Airlines (which eventually became P.B.A.) where he was the man on duty during two of the airline's Tampa-bound fatal crashes including one that killed everyone on board. The pilot who died was a longtime colleague and close friend. The airline’s ticket sales dropped by 75 percent after the crash and the airline eventually filed for bankruptcy.
He was briefly transferred to work for a summer at the airline’s operation in Cape Cod, but returned to Florida to take similar roles with People’s Express, Bar Harbor Airlines, Braniff, Eastern and even Kiwi International Air Lines.
“Those guys were all former Eastern and Pan Am pilots,” recalled Mark. “They were great at flying airplanes, but had no business running an airline.”
One by one, each company went out of business and left Mark unemployed.
“My wife told me, ‘That’s it for the airline business. You gotta find something else.’”
Without a job and having very little experience outside the airline industry, Mark found himself at the unemployment office looking for a new career. It just so happened, the state of Florida had a special program that would train workers for new careers, covering the cost of books and tuition at a local trade school. The state would even help supplement the student’s first six months of pay to incentivize employers to provide valuable on the job training.
For Mark, the only thing left to do was pick a career.
There were all kinds of options to choose from.
“It was like culinary chef, dental assistant, operating room technician, clerk typist.”
Mark and a friend who was also unemployed from Kiwi looked down the list and spotted a job that sounded interesting: network engineer.
“I was like, let’s try that.”
The year was 1996 and the internet was still in its infancy.
“I had a crappy IBM PC with two 5.25-inch floppy drives in it, but no networking experience,” said Mark.
The program required a series of network certification courses—seven in all—and once completed, he would officially be a certified network engineer.
“Of the seven exams, I failed two of them and had to go back and retest,” said Mark of his limited knowledge of computers when first starting out. “To try to learn how all these ones and zeros travel through all of this gear, it was challenging.”
He eventually passed all the tests and after becoming certified was temporarily hired on with a local payroll company before heading to MacDill Air Force Base. That's where he and his friend from Kiwi both worked as IT contractors for several years.
“I loved it there. The military guys were great,” said Mark.
But in 1999 he got a call that would change the course of his career. It was an old friend from the airport who wanted to let him know that a civil service job in IT was about to be posted. Without hesitation, Mark was among the first to apply.
On April 19, 1999 Mark began his final stint at the Airport as a help desk technician. In his new role, he’d be responsible for running around the airport to fix computers, monitors and printers.
“I was over the top,” said Mark. “I was so excited I hit a curb and blew a tire out on my way here.”
Within nine years, he was promoted to supervisor and today he manages the airport’s entire network and telecom group. He says its a job that’s been both rewarding and challenging.
“I went back and thanked the guy at the unemployment office. I said, ‘I don’t know what your success rate is on people going through this, but I love what I do, I love how I got into this thing and the program works.’”
Including his time working for the airlines, Mark estimates he’s now spent a total of 41 years at Tampa International Airport. He says the past 22 years working in IT have been the most rewarding.
“It’s a great place to be," Mark said. "Our newest guy has been here for three years. I’ve had this same team with nobody in, nobody out, for quite a while. We all just gel."
But perhaps his biggest challenges are still to come. Over the next few months Mark will help oversee the transition to SkyCenter One and the new Police, Lost & Found and Maintenance offices.
“The next three or four months are going to be really hectic for getting everyone hooked up over there. It’s a pretty aggressive schedule and there will be a lot of quirks,” said Mark. “We’ve got equipment that I ordered back in March and April— we still don’t have it yet because of supply chain issues. But we’re going to make it work. We have stuff we can substitute.”
He said the toughest job will be to make sure everyone is happy from a technology standpoint.
“We’re trying to make it as easy as possible to come in and with one or two plugs into their laptop, everything comes up.”
When asked about retirement, Mark says he hopes to stick around long enough to oversee the completion of the future Airside D, which will be at least a few years into the future. “Its going to be a really nice, really big, and a really complicated project with a lot of IT involvement in it.”
Mark still misses the free flight perks he got working directly for the airlines, but says travel is still a big part of his life. In his free time, he loves boating, camping and visiting America’s national parks with his wife of 29 years and his grandkids. He’s hit 16 national parks so far and says by far his favorite has been Yellowstone.
“You’re standing and looking around and know at some point in the next 10,000 to 15,000 years this place is going to erase the continent.”
In March, he plans a second trip back to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and in June he wants to make his first trip to visit Olympic National Park in Washington. (Thank goodness for those Alaska Airlines nonstops to Seattle.)
He's also a huge fan of sports car racing. He's traveled across the country and even internationally to catch races but says his all-time favorite is still the “12 Hours of Sebring” held every March, not far away in Highlands County.
Back at the airport he's also known for leading the ITS department's United Way team which is undefeated over 6 years for best departmental participation. He'll be co-chairing the Airport's United Way Fundraiser in 2022.
From plane crashes to network crashes Marks says he’s learned a lot of important lessons along the way.
“In the long run it’s the age-old adage: Don’t sweat the small stuff. We look at all these big hurdles we’re coming at, and we’re good at it. That’s what I always tell my staff—‘guys we’re good.’”
And even after all these years, Mark says the airport is still where he loves to be.
“I love it out here. Every once in a while, I get a good whiff of the jet fuel and that brings back a lot of memories. I still love watching the planes and watching the people. I just can’t image being anywhere else.”