When Judy Johnson got her start in information technology 30 years ago, hardly anyone knew what the term meant. It was long before every organization had its own IT department.
In fact, that’s exactly how she got started. She was an administrative assistant in a county office that needed a local area computer network. No one in the office knew how to do that, so Johnson took the job on herself.
“We had three computers,” Johnson said. “I taught myself as I went along, and I found out I really loved information technology.”
She still didn’t envision a career in IT, but she knew more about computers than anyone else in the county offices where she worked so she became the go-to person for technology needs. She kept teaching herself more and more. Eventually she went to college and earned a degree in the field.
Now Johnson is winding down her 15-year career at TPA, where she’s the Director of Information Technology Services. From those days when she hooked three computers together, she has built her career to the point where she now has 31 people working under her, in a department that tends to everything from the computers at employees’ desks’ to courtesy phones and the displays that tell passengers the status of their flights.
“We support the police department, parking, financial, all of the departments that run the airport,” she said.
She’s planning to retire in December.
Johnson was born in Plant City and has lived there her entire life.
Her grandparents were Hungarian immigrants. Her grandfather, father and uncles were well known in the area because of their businesses, Arvai’s Produce, Arvai’s Brothers Trucking, and later, Arvai’s Garage.
“That’s the way I grew up,” Johnson said. “I worked in the family businesses. I worked on the farm, putting croaker sacks on the strawberries and the bell peppers.” (For those not versed in farming, croaker sacks (burlap bags) were the protective coverings that farmers use in cold weather.)
She started working for Hillsborough County, specifically for the board of county commissioners, in 1983. That’s where she strung together three computers and began her IT career.
She worked for the county tax collector’s office and the legislative delegation, before landing at TPA in 1999.
Her job had modest beginnings. She worked mostly on the hand-held computers that parking employees use to keep track of license numbers of cars in the parking facilities.
(Employees record the license number and parking area of each car in the parking garages, so passengers who forget where they parked can find their cars when they return from trip.)
As the airport continued to grow and technology continued to offer more challenges and opportunities, Johnson rose through the ranks to her current position. Most airport employees probably don’t realize the extent of what her departments handles.
“We have 100 to 150 projects going on at any one time,” she said. “There is a lot going on that we actually support that people don’t realize is here.”
Johnson said she’s looking forward to retirement. She and her husband Mike, a retired systems analyst for Public Works, recently bought an RV and they’re going to travel through North America, starting with a five-month trip to Nova Scotia in an RV caravan with friends. She’s literally counting the days she has left.
But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t loved her job at TPA.
“It really is a great place to work,” she said. “You kind of feel like you’re at Disney, with all the visitors from all over the world.”