Keith Downs has always been tinkering with computers.

“When I was 8 or 9 years old, my parents bought me a Commodore VIC-20 computer, and I learned basic programming at a very young age to make my own games. I was like Matthew Broderick in War Games,” jokes Downs, now the IT manager for Global Security at LLNL.

But the middle and high schools Downs attended had only a handful of computers each—limited to library use and word processing—and no programming classes to offer. This lack of resources stifled Downs’s ability to enhance his technical prowess and drowned his passion.

“I didn’t really mess around with computers or learn anything new anymore, because the education system didn’t support that,” he recalls.

Everything changed in his mid-20s, when a supervisor at the mortgage company Downs worked for let him take home old computers to play around with, reigniting his childhood spark. Seeing how much he seemed to love them, a group of friends that worked at LLNL asked Downs if he had ever considered computers as a way to make a living, and he finally changed careers.

Within a year, Downs landed an IT position at the Lab. In the two decades since, he’s progressed from working in desktop support to becoming a group leader for Information Technology Operations, and recently, IT manager for Global Security—a major milestone for Downs.

“This is where I wanted to go with my career. It’s taken me many years to get here, but I’m extremely happy and honored that I’ve made it to this point, that I’m where I want to be,” he says. “Now, it’s just about perfecting it and being the best IT manager that I can.”

Though he’s achieved his career goals, Downs says he’s still growing, and his focus at work tends to alternate between a technical path and a managerial path. In addition to continuously working to improve his effectiveness as a leader and a communicator, another favorite aspect of his job is the ongoing challenge of teaching himself new skills to stay up-to-date in his field.

“There’s always something to learn; you’re never going to be an expert in all of IT,” he explains. “You can get pretty broad, but there’s so much to know and so many different aspects to IT that you can spend a lifetime trying to learn everything.”

Downs’s interest in computers doesn’t stop at the Lab. He’s a big gamer—an activity he shares with his four sons—and builds a fresh gaming PC every few years. He says his wife thinks he has “too many hobbies,” as so many of his other childhood pastimes have also carried over into adulthood, shaping who he is today. Beyond the computer screen, he enjoys fishing, hiking, and kicking the ball with LLESA’s Soccer Networking Group.

—Anashe Bandari