African American IT pros have business savvy
"Effective IT business partners are customer focused, can influence and manage relationships, and demonstrate an in-depth understanding of applications."
– Dirk Deceunick, Ingersoll Rand
"Embracing and respecting differences develops our associates and serves our customers and communities." – Ben Hasan, Walmart ISD
By Sonya Stinson
Although they are just a few years out of college, these African American IT pros already know the secret to putting a career in communications technology on the fast track. Tech skills alone won't cut it. New grads aiming to advance in this field must be able to peer beyond their workstations to see the big picture, understanding their employers' business goals and how to manage projects and people to support them.
"IT professionals need to be business savvy with strong technical skills in order to implement solutions that create business value," says Dirk Deceunick, director of human resources for IT and engineering at Ingersoll Rand (Davidson, NC). "Effective IT business partners are customer focused, have the ability to influence and manage relationships, and demonstrate an in-depth understanding of available technology applications. I recommend staying up to date on the latest technology trends, while developing strong project management capabilities and insights into how applications interact with each other."
The career strategies of the following young information specialists are right in line with Deceunick's advice, whether they have business degrees or plans to pursue them, aspire to become project managers or simply take pride in the impact of their work.
BCBSIL's Jon Locke is a production support analyst
When server administrators at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL, Chicago, IL) need storage to host their software apps, they call on a production support analyst like Jon Locke. Along with handling these requests on a weekly basis, Locke is responsible for removing data storage that has been decommissioned.
Locke joined the company in June 2011 after receiving his BS in telecommunications management from Illinois State University (Bloomington-Normal, IL). His aptitude for communications technology, he says, is a family trait.
"My mom worked several jobs in IT, and I kind of fell into it by watching her do a lot of things," Locke says. "She taught me how to install programs and even how to build my first computer."
Locke intended to major in computer science in college, but changed his mind after hearing a description of the field, with its heavy emphasis on programming, during freshman orientation. "I'm not much of a programmer," he says.
When he heard about the telecommunications management option, it seemed like a better fit. The curriculum included business courses as well as those strictly focused on IT. He now sees that business background as an asset in the work world, with employers looking for good interpersonal and communication skills as well as technical know-how.
His college lessons in teambuilding, for example, proved to be good preparation. "When I came in, I had no problem connecting with my team and reaching out to them if I had questions," Locke says. "One of the biggest things I took away from college was, 'Don't be afraid to ask questions.'"
Locke takes pride in being part of a work group that's "kind of the backbone of the company. If our storage devices go down, that's a huge problem, because a lot of insurance applications rely on the server, and that server relies on us," he notes.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of IL is a division of Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC, Chicago, IL). Carolyn Clift, senior VP and chief diversity officer at HCSC, says the division, like the company, recognizes the bottom-line benefits of diversity in the workplace.
"At HCSC, fostering and sustaining a diverse, inclusive workplace provides opportunities for all employees to impact business outcomes and better serve our customers," she says. "We value and support our team members' unique perspectives that reflect their best thinking. We know having a diverse, inclusive workforce is critical for success in the marketplace."
Marion Rumph: a good start in Ingersoll Rand's development program
Marion Rumph is an enterprise resource planning (ERP) analyst at Ingersoll Rand (Davidson, NC). His team is charged with improving the global industrial company's efficiency and customer satisfaction.
"Right now we're going through the design phase and the implementation of Oracle R-12," he says. "I'm part of that deployment team. The next phase will be integration. We are basically transforming the way our ERP systems work."
Rumph is supervising the development of the customer master, a computer form for collecting customer information that will soon be implemented for all Ingersoll Rand business segments.
Rumph, like many IT pros, has been fascinated with technology since he was young. "I always wanted to have the newest and the latest," he says.
Rumph received a BSCS with a minor in math from Western Kentucky University (Bowling Green, KY) in 2008. He started in Ingersoll Rand's Accelerated Development Program (ADP) right out of college.
"ADP is a fast-track rotational program," he notes. "They put us in leadership roles to help us develop quickly." Adjusting to the corporate world while taking on a leadership role has been challenging; he's grateful for the supportive environment.
As part of the company's performance management process, each employee creates an annual list of goals. Rumph says he has advanced his own career by continually looking for ways to help the company.
"I like to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves," he says. "Even in performance management meetings, I'm asking, 'Where is the gap? Where does the company or our team need help?'"
Ingersoll Rand sees workforce diversity as key to its global competitiveness, says Neddy Perez, VP for diversity and inclusion.
"Ingersoll Rand will remain a strong competitor in the global marketplace by growing our workforce. As the global marketplace changes, our diverse workforce enables us to best respond to the needs of our customers around the world with innovative products and services by leveraging the differences in our employees' talents, skills and ingenuity," she says. "Ingersoll Rand strives to be an employer of choice that fosters a workplace that is welcoming, open to new thinking and respectful of individual differences."
Juanika Dildy: intern to employee at Altria Group
Juanika Dildy is a technology analyst at Altria Group (Richmond, VA). She's in charge of strategic planning for the company's information systems division. Her unofficial duties include planning the division's employee picnics and ice cream socials, she says with a smile.
Dildy completed two internships at Altria before joining full time in 2008. She started in data warehousing. Altria is the parent company for Philip Morris USA, John Middleton, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, St. Michele Wine Estate and Philip Morris Capital Corp.
On a recent project, when Altria was looking into upgrading its payroll systems, Dildy studied what other companies were doing.
"I got a chance to dive a little bit deeper into developments in IS that I had no idea were going on," she says. "I was very familiar with our processes, but because I did that research and provided executive summaries for the leaders of our IS organization, I learned more about the whole picture."
Dildy earned her BS in computer information systems from Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA) in 2008 and her MBA from Liberty University (Lynchburg, VA) in 2011, through its distance learning program. She says she got the business degree because she wanted to branch out from her tech-heavy academic and work experience. "I just felt very siloed in a technical space, and I wanted to see something outside that environment," she says.
When she first started at Altria, she had to get a handle on the company's business processes. "It's not just understanding that if I put this piece of coding there the program will work, but also understanding exactly why all the pieces fit together the way they do," she notes.
Dildy has set her sights on being a "people manager" and eventually advancing to a director's position at Altria. She's looking forward to encouraging others, like the students she supervises in the IS internship program, in their career development.
She recalls that her first manager gave her many valuable tips for success. "I want to be in a position where I can pass it forward."
Antonio Hood manages security incidents at DIA
Antonio Hood is an information assurance security specialist at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA, Washington, DC). He will never forget the first time he dealt with a real-world information assurance/security incident.
"Although I was initially very nervous, which caused me to over-think the situation, I calmed down and took time to analyze the problem," he says. He went over his standard list of questions, reviewed the information the user had provided and eventually came up with a way to fix the problem. "That experience taught me to trust my instincts, listen carefully, and stay calm."
Hood started at DIA in January 2011 as a software technical manager for the software and licensing department, working with the team that manages the agency's software contracts. In October 2011, he switched career paths and joined the information assurance team. He's responsible for monitoring the certification and accreditation of the agency's information systems and ensuring user compliance with the agency's personal electronic devices policy.
Hood got his BS in business information systems from Bowie State University (Bowie, MD) in the fall of 2007. He's on track to finish his MS in technology management from the University of Maryland University College (Largo, MD) in 2013.
An internship on the IT helpdesk for the Federal Drug Administration developed Hood's customer service and leadership skills. "I became very independent and learned to solve problems on my own," he says. "I also learned that teamwork can be valuable to decision making."
Hood is looking forward to getting certified in security and risk management in a few years and eventually becoming a certified IT project manager. His career game plan is as thorough as his approach to solving an IT security threat.
"I have several career mentors inside and outside of DIA, and I've conducted research on the skills that will be most useful to my career development. I've received guidance from successful individuals in my field to ensure that I stay focused on my career path," he notes.
Neil Greene: IS analyst at TekSystems
Neil Greene is an information systems analyst in the Springfield, VA office of TekSystems Inc (Hanover, MD). TekSystems is an IT staffing company and a subsidiary of the Allegis Group (Hanover, MD).
He helps develop testing programs for U.S. military weapons systems like the Trident, a submarine-launched ballistic missile.
"I work alongside the senior programmer and database administrator, helping to create and modify programs for the Navy's Trident calibration system," he says.
Greene received his BS in computer information systems from Florida A&M University (Tallahassee, FL) in 2011. He started his career as a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton (McLean, VA) and joined TekSystems nine months later.
Greene's passion for studying and working in IT was fueled by his perception of its impact on every industry, from healthcare to defense.
"I basically saw that the whole world is run by computers, so I knew that was the field I wanted to work in," he says. "I just saw how it integrates into all aspects of life."
Greene enjoys the challenge of keeping his technical knowledge current in a constantly changing field. He enjoys his role as IT troubleshooter, and believes that patience and knowing when to ask for help are essential to the job.
"If you don't know the answer yourself, you have to be able to talk to other people and collaborate to solve the problem," he says. "You can't always do everything by yourself."
Dealing with unexpected project glitches close to deadline is one of the toughest parts of the job. "It's happened to me a couple of times, but I've always managed to find a solution in time, sometimes with help from my senior programmer," Greene says.
Shaquanna Starks: software QA tester at HP
Shaquanna Starks finds that working under deadline and dealing with technical glitches is exciting: "It's kind of an adrenaline rush." Those are also her biggest job pressures.
Starks is a software quality assurance tester at the Austin, TX location of Hewlett-Packard Company (HP, Palo Alto, CA). Her secret to staying on schedule is good communication, which can take a variety of forms.
Communication among Starks and her co-workers is frequently global, via international conference calls and video conferences with HP teams in Ireland and China.
"We don't always have to rely on email," she notes. "Some of us have each other's cell phone numbers, or we'll reach each other by instant messaging.
"It's crazy because we have to work around everyone's schedule, but I really enjoy it because I get to see how people in other places look at our company," she says.
Starks got her BS in information technology in 2009 from the school of business at Old Dominion University (Norfolk, VA). For one course she interned at Harris Connect, an Internet-directory service company in Chesapeake, VA. After graduation, she went to work at the Virginia Department of Taxation (Richmond, VA).
While browsing the HP website she came across a job opening in Austin. She thought she had little chance of landing the job, but applied anyway. She started there in June 2010.
Starks hopes to advance into a project management role within the next five years or so. Her long-term goal is to become a program manager overseeing a group of projects, and then a portfolio manager, which means she would plan all the projects in a business unit for the entire fiscal year.
Cecil Kruel: senior systems administrator at Walmart
Being a college athlete helped Cecil Kruel prepare for the demands of his career as a senior systems administrator at Walmart Information Systems Division (Bentonville, AR).
Kruel earned his BS in computer information systems at Grambling State University (Grambling, LA) in 2010. "One of my greatest experiences outside the classroom was playing basketball for Grambling," says Kruel. "No matter how tired or sick I was, I still had to make it to practice and give it all I could every day. The energy, time, discipline and dedication it took to be part of a Division 1 basketball team has helped me tremendously in the workplace."
A summer internship at Walmart as an undergrad led to a job offer. He started as a systems programmer with the workstation engineering team, and brought the stamina and energy from his sports experience to his work. "For me, working eight hours a day wasn't hard," he says. "I remember asking my manager if I could work more hours because I was learning so much and I had the energy and drive to learn more."
Now assigned to the infrastructure team, Kruel ensures that all new hardware for the IT department, including desktops, laptops, printers and scanners, is in working order. In a recent project, he worked on automating the process of refreshing Walmart workstations for application development.
In a few years, Kruel hopes to advance to the position of technical expert or senior systems engineer. "I'm also looking at project management, even if it's just taking courses and job shadowing," he says. "Mainly, I want to have versatility five years from now. To me, that means having expertise in areas like server management, application virtualization, PowerShell scripting, project management, quality assurance and Microsoft certifications in several different platforms."
Walmart has made valuing diversity part of its brand, according to Ben Hasan, SVP of Walmart Information Systems Division.
"At Walmart, we believe that business wins when everyone matters. Embracing and respecting differences develops our associates, serves our customers and partners with our communities," he says. "Diversity and inclusion are enduring values embedded in our culture. With 2.3 million associates worldwide, diversity in our technology approach and our team is fundamental to our mission of saving people money so they can live better."
Derek Powe: operating systems programmer at Fidelity Investments
Derek Powe says that even the non-technical jobs he held during his college years taught him skills that will help him succeed as an IT pro.
He has what he calls a "strong passion" for business. "I've had many different jobs that gave me experience in how to work with others and how to present myself well," says Powe.
One of those jobs was as a waiter. "While there are many differences between that job and my current one, working in a fast-paced environment with high customer demand prepared me for the fast-paced environment in which I now find myself."
Powe joined Fidelity Investments (Research Triangle Park, NC) as an operating systems programmer in August 2010. He's responsible for installing and managing software and operating systems for the company's mainframe computers. He also provides daily infrastructure support and development and on-call support for both internal and external customers.
Powe received his BSCS with a minor in business from the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore (Princess Anne, MD) in 2010. An IBM partnership with his school to promote the graduation of systems programmers helped steer him toward the study of mainframes. "My graduating class was among the first wave of students in the field," he says.
Powe is working with a mentor on his career development plan. His goal is to be in a job that involves overseeing a company's technical development. For now, one of the things he likes best about being a programmer is that a lot of effort on the front end makes many people's jobs more efficient in the long run.
"A colleague and I are working closely on programming a new Java application that helps us manage our workload," he says. "While we've spent a lot of time on it, once it's finished it will make our work easier. The nice thing about coding is that once you code something and it works, it keeps working."
Rachida Parks: PhD Project grad
In the fall of 2012, Rachida Parks began a new job on the faculty of the management information systems department at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She teaches courses on topics like SQL programming and business intelligence, and she does research in information systems.
Parks is developing an elective course related to the subject of her dissertation, "A study of organizational responses to information privacy threats in the healthcare context."
She received her PhD in information systems from Pennsylvania State University (State College, PA) in August 2012 with support from the PhD Project (www.phdproject.org). The PhD Project works to increase the diversity of grad school faculty in IT and other areas.
Her research led to a strong conviction about the best approach to solving the privacy problem. "I quickly realized that technology by itself cannot resolve all of the privacy and security threats," she says. "You have to look at it from other perspectives."
Parks concluded that an effective healthcare security policy must consider its impact on workplace practices. The reality, she says, is that some workers will not be as diligent about following a protocol that adds extra steps to an already hectic workload. "If you don't account for work flow or work practices, it's not going to be effective," she insists.
Parks earned her BS in business administration from the Institute Superieur de Tanger in Morocco and her MS in information systems from the University of Central Florida (Orlando, FL).
After she finished her masters, she held jobs as a contract database administrator and developer for the Department of Defense at Patrick Air Force Base (Brevard County, FL), an Oracle system analyst at Universal Studios (Orlando, FL) and an IT director for an Orlando business communications consulting firm.
Growing up in Morocco, Parks became fluent in five languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian and Spanish. She's now studying Chinese. She views the study of information technology as an extension of those multilingual skills.
"Communications and information systems allow you to communicate, share resources and manipulate data to provide a competitive edge when it comes to
decision making," she says.
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