Network Engineering Technology students Bill and Taylor Knopp lived, studied and graduated together
Bill Knopp takes a frank but jovial view of the unique circumstances under which he attended NAIT as a mature student.
“It’s not very often that you hear of an old man and his son being in the same class at post-secondary,” he says, laughing. His son, Taylor, sitting beside him in an office in their Sherwood Park home, laughs along with him.
The reason for their simultaneous enrolment in and upcoming graduation from NAIT’s Network Engineering Technology (NET) program is career advancement. Bill had a background and education in IT but had shifted to electronics for the oil and gas industry. When the company he worked for relocated, he was left behind in more ways than one.
“Here I was in my 50s, ten years out of IT, looking for work,” says Bill. “I couldn't even get an interview.” He decided to go to NAIT to “get current.”
Taylor also had an education in computers (specifically, a Computer Network Administrator certificate). In retrospect, he feels he could have worked harder at school. Nevertheless, he’d learned all he needed to join a team developing an education app they hoped would go somewhere. It didn’t. So Taylor, too, turned to NAIT.
“I decided that I wanted to do a bit more,” he says. “I wanted to see what I could do if I applied myself.”
Rather than simply writing off this family foray into education as little more than coincidental timing, there was clearly – based on how the two interact – another motivator.
“We get along really well,” says Bill.
Together but separate
Throughout the pandemic, Bill and Taylor lived in the same house, and still do. Dad and mom have the upstairs while Taylor, now 26, has the basement. “Basically, I go down there on invitation,” says Bill.
Their shared love of computers, however, knows no boundaries. As Chris Redford, NET academic chair and one of the Knopps’ instructors, puts it: “They live and breathe the geek life.”
In that shared office, for example, they happily show off an ancient Commodore CBM 8032 that they’re refurbishing, and recall a couple of Apple IIs nicknamed “Darth Vader” models for having been painted black, but that date back to the late 1970s as collectors’ items. They also reminisce a little.
“When he could barely even walk, he would drag around a keyboard as a toy.”
“When he could barely even walk, he would drag around a keyboard as a toy,” father says of son. “So computers have always been part of his life, because they've always been a part of my life.”
They’ve always been a part of one another’s lives, too. Father and son once ran a wedding DJ business together. They also used to hit the Abbotsford International Airshow, an annual pilgrimage that started when Taylor was getting to an age when Bill (wrongly) thought he might soon lose interest in hanging with dad.
With school, however, they did strive to maintain separateness. They didn’t discuss or compare marks (Bill had to work harder, he’s willing to point out after the fact, to get grades only slightly better than Taylor’s), and they didn’t talk about schoolwork. It was important to them, like they knew it would be to their instructors, that their work was their own.
“Different sources for everything, different answers, different wording, different quality,” says Taylor.
Now and then, the subject of school unavoidably came up. “There were times where I would get on his case because he wasn't working as hard as me,” says Bill.
“And he would get on my case for working too hard.”
Deeper into “geek life”
Redford will miss having both Knopps in class. Bill held online study sessions that “pulled many students along with them and helped build a sense of community,” says the chair, while Taylor served as an administrator of an online space that helps maintain connections between staff and students across the department.
Overall, Redford adds, “They were very supportive of classmates but pushed each other hard.”
The Knopps’ experience taught them much about technology that will serve them in achieving their goals. While Bill started out expecting to get the credentials to get back into industry, he’s now thinking about one day teaching in the field.
Taylor will carry on at NAIT for a Bachelor of Applied Information Systems Technology. Eventually, he’d like to sign on with a service provider, helping clients solve complex issues.
The experience gave them new insight into the lives of each other.
But the experience did more than immerse them deeper into “geek life”; it also gave them new insight into the lives of each other. For Bill, that involved fully recognizing Taylor’s talent.
“I've always always known he was very intelligent,” he says, with obvious pride. “But I now see him as more of an equal in a lot of computer-related stuff. And I know he knows more than me about a lot of computer-related stuff.”
As for Taylor: “I've only ever heard of the Bill that was like me in high school, not really trying that hard, sort of lazing his way through…. It’s the complete opposite now. Everything is centered around school and a level of concentration on the education side that I didn't expect.”
You might think then, that going to school together changed their relationship – perhaps even brought them a little closer together.
“I don't know that that could really be possible,” says Bill.
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