Grasso Tech senior lands dream job right out of high school

Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School senior Alex Coombs in the school's Information Technology Services shop. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School senior Alex Coombs in the school's Information Technology Services shop. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Around the age of 5, Alex Coombs built his first computer.

"I made it out of junk I found at the dump," Coombs, now 18, recalled.

He went to the Montville Transfer Station to seek out electronics parts that he thought would work together, and with the help of his uncle Leo Coombs, who worked for Dell at the time, he built the computer. His uncle brought over an old tube-style monitor, which they hooked up to the computer.

"Once we got it to work, we played Tetris for like the longest time," Coombs said.

From that first computer, Coombs became more and more interested in the world of Information Technology. Over the years, he built more computers, figured out how to make them run faster and learned about the newest technology.

Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School in Groton seemed like an inevitable choice for Coombs, now a senior who will graduate on June 19, since it's the only high school in the area with an Information Technology program.

"That's the one thing I've known since I was like 5 years old," Coombs of Montville said of his career path.

Until starting at Grasso Tech, most of what he learned was self-taught. That prior knowledge enabled him to get ahead in school. Really far ahead.

"He was industrious right from the get-go," said Shawn Carpenter, department head of Information Systems Technology (IST), who noted that Coombs was always the first to volunteer, and that he's helped his classmates along with Grasso Tech teachers and administrators.

During his freshman year, Coombs, who is part of the IST shop at Grasso Tech, said he finished all of his work around April.

When asked what he did after that, Coombs said, "Oh, I asked to do my sophomore year work."

Carpenter said Coombs is "usually ahead of the curriculum."

"What I've tried to do is give him the opportunity to work on things he normally wouldn't be able to," he said, explaining that during Coombs' junior year, he tasked him with "transitioning us to a brand new server."

Coombs, who worked on the project by himself, figured it out through trial and error. It took him a year of working off and on to complete it.

"He doesn't give up, which is the greatest thing about him," Carpenter said. "He's a worker."

At this point, Coombs is doing work that's not even in the curriculum. He finished his senior project in the fall.

While he excels in the IT field, Coombs said that academics are "definitely a road block." His grade point average of 3.89 would suggest otherwise.

"It's getting by in my book," Coombs said of his GPA.

Outside of school, Coombs maintains a busy schedule working in IT for East Lyme Public Schools. He leaves school every day at 2 p.m. and will frequently work until 10:30 p.m., except on nights when he volunteers at the Chesterfield Fire Department in Oakdale.  

Initially he came to the fire department because they were looking for someone to fix their computers.

"Then they would just leave to go on calls and I was like 'Hey, I want to do that. I want to see what's going on,'" Coombs said. "I just got attracted to it."

At the scene of a fire, Coombs said he's "basically a hose puller," because he doesn't have the proper certification yet. He did go through EMT school, but just needs to take the test, which, he said, "isn't that hard but it's hard to find the time."  

At an EMT scene, Coombs said, he can "pretty much do anything as long as someone is watching because I practice under their license."

Coombs' packed schedule leaves little time for sleep. He usually goes to bed between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., and has to be out of the door for school by 6:30 a.m.

"It varies depending on how much I need to do," Coombs said of his sleep schedule. "I have a lot of responsibilities I need to do."

Coombs applied to just two colleges: Johnson and Whales in Providence, R.I., and New England School of Technology in Warwick, R.I. He was planning to go to New England Tech, but that was before he found out just a few weeks ago that he'd received a job offer to work in IT for the state Department of Education.

"He'll technically be a colleague in a couple of weeks," Carpenter said, laughing. "So that's pretty exciting."

He added that he's "extremely proud" of how Coombs has grown and "where he's going."

Coombs said his parents, Peter and Grace, would prefer he'd go to college. But he's not counting out college altogether; Coombs said he'll take night or online classes.

"I do want to pursue a degree," he added.

j.bergman@theday.com

Twitter: @JuliaSBergman

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