BDPA rounds out its third decade
This important professional network is a strong support in uncertain
times and often the place where the action is, say its leaders
Atlanta, GA was the setting for the thirtieth annual
national technology conference of BDPA (Black Data Processing Associates). The event featured a variety of workshops, panel discussions and technical sessions, and brought together African American IT pros from all parts
of the country.
As always, networking was the underlying theme of every activity, from seminars and panel discussions to receptions and informal chats over breakfast. In a message to attendees, BDPA co-founder Earl Pace emphasized the
value of a strong professional network in uncertain economic times. “Tap into or expand your network,” he urged members. “Your professional organization may be more important than even your current job. If the job goes away, BDPA will still be there!”
Women in the spotlight
The Information Technology Senior Management Forum (ITSMF) presented several sessions at the conference, including a well-attended panel discussion on “career advancement and planning, inside and outside the corporate walls.” The panelists were accomplished women IT professionals: a former IBM IT pro who’s now CEO of her own company; a top Microsoft IT exec; the recently-retired CIO of Delta Air Lines; the managing director for IT at the American Cancer Society; and the VP of shared services for Procter and Gamble’s European, Middle East and Africa regions.
The frank and lively discussion touched on the career planning and decisions of these high-powered women, and their struggles to balance professional and personal concerns and responsibilities. Shirley Bridges, former CIO at Delta Air Lines, said that successful black women need to realize “It’s important to be impatient.” They must be willing to take risks, even if that means occasional failure.
Elaine Norman, IT director for the American Cancer Society, added, “Be good, be prepared, then ask and expect to be recognized.”
Linda Holmes, whose duties for P&G have taken her to many locations, talked about relocating her entrepreneur husband, two children and her seventy-eight-year-old mother to Geneva, Switzerland.
Recognizing the top companies
For several years BDPA has conducted an annual in-depth survey to determine the best U.S. companies for blacks in technology. The survey examines companies’ representation and development of African American IT pros at all levels, even asking questions about professionals currently in the pipeline for top jobs.
This year’s top companies were Allstate, Eli Lilly, HCSC, Merck, Monsanto, State Farm, Wal-Mart, WellPoint and Wells Fargo. The BDPA Epsilon award, recognizing the corporate “star of the highest magnitude,” went to HCSC, a health benefits company that operates Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in Illinois, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
ITSMF gets new support
As it has for a number of years, ITSMF held a quarterly meeting in conjunction with the BDPA conference. ITSMF is an independent organization that promotes intense structured mentoring to bring African American IT professionals into the top levels of their companies. Its members are SVPs, directors, CIOs and CTOs of their organizations, and nearly all are also members of BDPA.
At a members’ reception during the conference, ITSMF recognized financial services firm UBS, which stepped up its corporate support of ITSMF in 2008.
“We see the value in ITSMF’s mission to develop African American IT leaders from both a recruitment and an employee development perspective,” says Denise Hebner, UBS director and chief of staff for regional IT management.
David Olivencia, president of the Hispanic IT Executive Council (HITEC), an organization modeled on ITSMF and focused on Latinos in IT, was a guest at the reception.
Ever-popular HSCC and beyond
BDPA supports African Americans in IT “from the classroom to the boardroom.” On the “classroom” end of the scale, the High School Computer Competition has been a super-popular feature of the national conference for the past twenty-three years.
Teams of top students spend their Saturdays learning IT principles and practices under the guidance of BDPA volunteers. Regional winners compete at the national conference to solve an advanced technical problem. This session the teams were asked to create an online banking application from scratch, using Java, PHP and .Net technologies.
The winning team was sponsored and coached by the Southern Minnesota chapter of BDPA. Washington, DC came in second, Chicago was third, Northern Virginia fourth and Atlanta fifth.
In addition to the HSCC, top students from middle school through college presented poster projects at the IT Showcase, a newer addition to the conference. Participants demonstrated their work on the principles of motion, technology for the environment, virtual reality, teragrid computing, GIS and more.
Awards and speeches
At the closing gala, chapters were recognized for their contributions to BDPA over the past year. Philadelphia, PA was named chapter of the year for the second year in a row; the Richmond, VA, Cincinnati, OH and Chicago, IL chapters were also honored.
Focus of the evening was an address by Dr Randal Pinkett, perhaps best known as a winner of TV’s The Apprentice. Pinkett, a Rhodes Scholar, has a long string of additional honors and a resume that includes jobs with startups and major companies. He’s currently CEO of his own consulting firm, BCT Partners.
In his address, Pinkett celebrated the accomplishments of modern African American technical gurus. “Is success the standard or is greatness the goal?” he asked. Judging by the closing applause, the audience felt that Dr Pinkett is achieving both.
The next BDPA national conference is in Raleigh, NC, August 5-8 2009.
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