Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology
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December 2011/January 2012

Diversity/Careers December 2011/January 2012 Issue

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LGBT tech pros
Grace Hopper in OR

Asian American BEs
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DRS Technologies


Kirk Willis is a VP of R&D for security solutions at CA

"There need to be stringent security controls in place to protect the data and monitor all disclosure of the information," says Kirk Willis

Ninety percent of the world's data is maintained and managed on mainframes," notes Kirk Willis, VP of R&D for the mainframe security portfolio of products and solutions at CA Technologies (Islandia, NY). He works in a CA office in Lisle, IL.

Willis and his tech team of fifty people, headed by five direct reports, are responsible for all mainframe security products at CA Technologies: CA ACF2, CA Top Secret, CA Auditor, CA Compliance Manager and CACleanup for ACF2, Top Secret and RACF, along with subsystem security interfaces for DB2, IMS and CICS Transaction Server. The team's job is to make sure all features and functions of the CA security products portfolio are on task.

"There is a need to have stringent security controls in place to protect the users' data and monitor all disclosure of information," Willis says. "We have to be sure that we are bullet-proof." The company has a huge footprint in the federal government and large accounts in the banking, insurance and manufacturing sectors.

Willis explains that ACF stands for Access Control Facility. "Top Secret" is just what it says, for top secret security information. "These products' primary roles are to authenticate users who sign on to various applications, validate proper authorization to access resources, maintain audit trails of security events, and prohibit unauthorized accesses. The authentication mechanisms can be passwords, pass phrases, pass tickets, digital certificates or any hybrid of those."

Leading expansion
In addition to mainframe security, Willis leads CA's technical efforts to extend its mainframe security capabilities in the compliance arena. The aim is to provide assistance with and relief from the overwhelming challenges introduced by increasing regulatory requirements.

"Organizations from insurance to healthcare to banking face government mandates related to privacy issues," Willis says. "Today it is very difficult to separate security from compliance. The need is to enable businesses to write policy that provides visibility into exactly what types of events are occurring in their environments. So we offer a compliance management capability in which the owners of the data can write policies to monitor who is accessing their data and receive alerts in real time when out-of-policy accesses are detected. This allows swift remediation of the underlying security authorizations."

A management focus
Willis was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, IL. He went to Lindbloom Technical High School, "one of the few technical high schools on the south side," he remembers. "It required a high level of achievement and was a bit of an elite opportunity for me."

He earned his 1978 BS in management at Northern Illinois University (NIU, DeKalb, IL) and an MS there in 1983. "When you have the university right in your back yard you need to take advantage of that," he says with a smile.

"I had an appreciation for math and science early on," Willis says, "but it wasn't until college that I decided to diversify my background, analytical capabilities and management skills as well. I thought management would be a good platform to prepare me to take on additional responsibilities and later specialize in a particular area."

And that's how it worked out. "When I explored computer science I had no familiarity with programming languages at all, but once I did, I was hooked!"

Out of school he immediately applied his technical skills with computers and programming, and later started to leverage his management capabilities.

Starting out
In 1978 Willis joined DeKalb Iron & Metal Company (DIMCO, DeKalb, IL) as director of operations in a sheet-metal processing plant. But the economy soured as the 1980s approached, and it became apparent to Willis that with so many workers getting laid off there would be less need for managers. "That was part of my rationale for going back to college," he says.

Armed with his MS and not seeing any advancement opportunities at DIMCO, he got a job in tech support at Advanced Systems Applications (ASA, Bloomingdale, IL). "ASA was a software development opportunity, specializing in insurance claims processing using a proprietary system, and I provided tech support for that application." He stayed at ASA until 1990 when a networking referral suggested a move to CA Technologies. He started at CA as a mainframe developer for one of the company's security products.

Twenty-one years later
Today Willis has long-standing relationships with his staff. "Most of them have been with me over the long haul. Eighteen years is the shortest relationship I have with a direct report. You don't see that too often," he says with pride.

"I have high expectations," he admits. "I hope my reports would agree that I combine the knack of leadership with winning friends and generating loyalty."

Looking ahead, "There are always new horizons," Willis believes. "Even though I've been here twenty-one years, we're still cultivating new capabilities. We're still investing in getting it right and doing it better.

"One of the unique aspects of CA Technologies is its diverse product offerings, whether it's storage, security or workload automation. They present an endless opportunity to grow, so if you want to do something different you don't have to leave the company, it's all here."

Reaching out
Willis and CA Technologies are reaching out to the next generation of technical employees through the associate software engineering (ASE) program. "In partnership with universities we recruit recent grads and place them in internal programs to familiarize them with the company itself and the applications we use. Then, as ASEs, they are assigned to permanent positions in one of the areas where jobs are available.

"CA Technologies wants to be the best place to work," Willis says. "We know we need diversity of people and ideas. It's our policy to hire based on qualifications but we're focused on diversity as well.

"Still, we recognize that we do not have enough people of color and diversity for all the opportunities that exist. Programs like ASE are helping to improve the diversity of the workforce. We also have a services consultant program that is looking to recruit more people of color where possible."

CA Technologies, Willis concludes, "has spent a lot of time creating a culture of respect for people. We emphasize team spirit around our projects and our people, and inspiring customer loyalty.

"We have a contract amongst ourselves. We hold each other accountable to support and show respect for one another. Sharing the same value system gets us there faster!"


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