YOUR GUIDE TO ALL CAREERS TECH
A Partnership of Arkansas Times, Arkansas Center for Data Sciences, and East Initiative
ISSUE NO. 1 | 2021
Tech Talent Takes Root in The Natural State
WHAT? WHERE? HOW MUCH?
TECH FOR GOOD
THE FACES OF TECH
A Guide to the 12 Top Tech Jobs
In Arkansas Today
Better Living Through Technology
Whatâ€™s the Right Career Route for You?
ITARKANSAS.COM | 2021 1
Photo Courtesy of The Momentary, Bentonville, Arkansas.
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What inspires you? At Euronet Software Solutions, it’s our internationally diverse, creative, and entrepreneurial team members.
That’s how we grew from an Arkansas-based software solutions provider to an integral part of Euronet Worldwide. Four decades of experience and 65 global offices serving 170 countries have given us a unique perspective of different cultures, economies, consumer needs, and technologies. Whether you’re a recent grad or an experienced hire, we have a place for you here. You’ll collaborate with some of the world’s most experienced software developers and programmers – not only globally but right here in Little Rock. We’re committed to Arkansas and committed to building and retaining the best IT talent right here at home. Because we’re based here, we believe in our community. Through our Day of Giving program, we’ve supported groups like Arkansas Food Bank, Arkansas Special Olympics, and Habitat for Humanity. If you have a passion for improving lives locally and globally, we would love you to join us.
Arkansas is home. The world is our neighborhood. Arkansas based. Globally connected. Euronet Software Solutions
Visit our website to see our current openings!
A Division of Euronet Worldwide, Inc.
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Copyright © 2020. Euronet Worldwide, Inc. All rights reserved.
ISSUE NO. 1 | 2021
FRONT END 7 WHY A CAREER IN TECH By Bill Yoder
The Executive Director of ACDS tells why you should consider the Data Sciences as a career— and it’s not even all about the money
10 TASTE OF TECH:
Deciphering IT: A Glossary…Diversity In Tech… All Aboard for a Tech Career…Tech Buzzwords for 2021...Statistician Humor…The Hot Field
FEATURES 16 TECH FOR GOOD: Q&A with Jesús Pizarro
How Little Rock-based Heifer International uses emerging technology to help the world’s farmers make a sustainable living
20 THE FACES OF TECHNOLOGY IN ARKANSAS TODAY By Dwain Hebda, Photography by Brian Chilson
These 13 people have rewarding and challenging IT careers right here in The Natural State. What do they actually do—and how did they get there?
34 WHAT? WHERE? HOW MUCH?
A digital dozen of the most popular IT occupa-
tions, where you can find them, and average salaries for each
36 PATHWAYS: CHOOSING THE BEST CAREER ROUTE FOR YOU Pursuing the Data Science Degree By Karl D. Schubert, Ph.D.
The Two-Year Route
By Collin Callaway, Ed.D.
The Apprenticeship Advantage
By Lonnie Emard
42 LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION By Dwain Hebda
These three homegrown tech startups are changing the meaning of that old adage
58 GAME CHANGER By Dwain Hebda
The urgent push to expand rural broadband to all of Arkansas
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BACK END 60 TIPS & TECHNIQUES:
How to burnish your resumé...Preparing for your interview...The “soft” skills that can make or break a tech career
57 OFFSCREEN By Dwain Hebda
The necessity of having a life away from your devices—how three tech professionals unplug and recharge
62 LIFE LESSONS By Scott Spradley
Throw no one under the bus, and other career advice from the Arkansas native who left Hewlett-Packard to become CTO of Tyson Foods
subject of the illustration you want to submit. Make it in black and white so an adult or kid can color it. You can make it a single illustration, a cartoon panel, a scenic location, a local landmark, it’s up to you. You can relate it to the quarantine if you like. But in some way connect and represent your hometown or an Arkansas theme. The Arkansas Times staff will select the illustrations for the book, which will include 30 drawings. We will promote The Arkansas Coloring Book on arktimes.com (700,000 unique monthly visitors), in our publications (the Arkansas Times magazine, Savvy Kids magazine, Arkansas Wild and Bike Arkansas), on Facebook (50,000-plus followers) and Instagram. Lots of promotion, in other words. We will split revenue (minus hard expenses) 50-50 between the Arkansas Times and the artists. Several Arkansas-owned bookstores and gift shops have expressed an interest in the book and in those cases, we will split the wholesale price. We will publish in July and send you a check monthly for your share. We think we can sell the book as a fundraiser for about $30 but we are still working on the pricing. In these tough times, we’ve seen the many ways people have reached out to help those who are struggling economically. We believe that includes local, independent journalism and Arkansas artists helping to create this unique piece of Arkansiana.
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YOUR GUIDE TO TECH CAREERS AND MORE IN ARKANSAS.
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WHY A CAREER IN TECH IT careers cut across all industries, and Arkansas makes it easy to find your path to success BY BILL YODER
or too many years, Christina Eichelberger had been stuck in some form of “the call center.” Whether she was phoning customers of State Farm with their claim results, or calling potential car buyers to come in for a test drive, or contacting truck drivers all over the country to help them get the most out of the J.B. Hunt 360 mobile app, she was still at arm’s length from the kind of career she wanted. “When I hit 30,” says Christina, “I said, ‘Something’s gotta give. I need to pick up a skill.’” She vowed to get into tech by any means necessary. Her first step in that direction was to sign up for a certificate program in front-end development at the University of Arkansas Global Campus. Then, while she was in that course, one of her classmates came in one day talking about his new apprenticeship with Affirma, the business solutions company. “His apprenticeship came with a salary and benefits,” says Christina. “I didn’t know that was a possibility. I thought my options were just internships or entry level. Until then, I hadn’t heard the term apprenticeship in this capacity. When I thought of apprenticeships, I thought of plumbing.” Christina immediately got in touch with Affirma and went through the interview process with them. “That’s when I found out there was this really great program from the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences—ACDS—that was helping people get into tech here in Arkansas,” says Christina. Soon she, too, was an apprentice for Affirma, learning the SharePoint skill set. When her apprenticeship training is over, she’ll be calling on Affirma’s customers to help them make their businesses more successful. Christina is finally on her path.
THERE’S A LOT more to learn about Registered Apprenticeships, as they’re formally called, and I hope you’ll read ACDS Apprenticeship Director Lonnie Emard’s piece on that subject on page 40. Meanwhile, I want to tell you a little about tech careers in Arkansas and the various routes to get you there. First of all, you should know that ACDS was formed as a result of Governor Asa Hutchinson’s 2017 Blue Ribbon Commission on “advancing the economic competitiveness of data analytics and computing in Arkansas.” We’re a nonprofit, and our job is to work with our partners—government, education, and corporate Arkansas—to prepare our state’s workforce for well-paying 21st-century careers. Today, every company is a tech company to one degree or another. J.B. Hunt isn’t a trucking company, it’s a technology company with a focus on logistics. Tyson Foods feeds the world, thanks to their algorithm-driven supply chain on either side of the production line. Walmart is the original data-centric retailer. And orbit-
ing around the big boys is an increasingly wide range of smaller businesses that provide all kinds of tech services to these and other companies. Information Technology is not just the future, it’s the present—even in agriculture, one of our state’s key industries. Last year we profiled an Arkansas farmer in our ACDS newsletter. “You may think that tractor of mine is just a tractor,” he said. “But it’s not—it’s a computer on wheels.” All of the above is why we at ACDS are working with the folks at Arkansas Times and East Initiative to publish ITArkansas. And why we especially want to get it into the hands of young people who are, or soon will be, entering the working world. We want you to know that you don’t have to wait until you’re 30 to get into the tech world. No matter where you are or what your situation, there’s an IT career just waiting for you—right now. In Arkansas, we have 10,000 tech jobs to fill and only 700 tech grads a year. That means we have to get creative, and I’m proud to say that ACDS and our partners are thinking outside the proverbial box. In the past, when companies wanted to hire new people at a professional level, most HR departments insisted on a minimum of a four-year degree. If they couldn’t find the person they were looking for through the usual channels, they turned to an outside staffing firm to fill that unique need. It was slow, and predictable, and it solved one hiring problem at a time for a surprisingly long while. Then Information Technology knocked the business world off its axis, and suddenly the old model wouldn’t cut it anymore. The demand for IT talent is just too great. So where is all this needed tech talent going to come from? Our answer is, Look around you. Look in the mirror. It can, and will, come from anywhere.
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“We want all Arkansans to be able to enjoy the benefits of an IT career, no matter how they get there.”
But for that to happen, both potential employers and potential employees must recognize that we’re in a paradigm shift—one that requires us all to view the world with new eyes. Once we open our minds to it, we start to see lots of new channels of potential candidates. If you’re an employer reading this: Look within your own company. There may be people there with IT aptitude, not to mention deep domain knowledge of your company, who just need to be trained in the technical skills for an IT role. And if you’re a high school graduate wondering how to move forward in this strange new world—or a self-taught computer geek working a side job to support your passion, or a retired military person looking for a new start, or a rural kid confused about your options, or a minority worker feeling marginalized, or even a four-year college grad in a field like sociology or English literature who’s worried about your job prospects—we have good news for you. You don’t need to be a statistics major to have an IT career. You just need the right aptitude. At ACDS, it’s our mission to be a catalyst for success, and we’ve developed a licensed assessment tool that can be customized for data analytics, or cybersecurity, or software development, or any of the IT occupations. It’s essentially a pass-fail—do you have the potential to learn this stuff, or not? If you do, you can earn while you learn as a Registered Apprentice at one of the 150-and-counting Arkansas employers we work with. But even if you don’t pass the assessment test, all is not lost. As I write this, some 150,000 Arkansans have filed for unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic, and we at ACDS have been huddling with our state Commerce Department’s Office of Skills Development to figure out how to bring this potential supply of tech labor into the IT funnel. By the time you read this, we will have offered all 150,000 the opportunity to come in and take our assessment test, and our guess is that about 20 percent, or 30,000 people, will want to do that. Of those who take the test, we estimate that some 20 percent will score above the threshold. For those who score below that mark, we’re going to point them toward a free “pre-apprenticeship.” There’s a catalog of some 20 online courses, and this pre-apprenticeship training will give them the tools to come back and go into an IT apprenticeship. This is just an example of the many career pathways available to all Arkansans today. Besides the traditional ways into a career, there are now numerous IT boot camps out there to help Arkansans land their dream career, or change careers for a better, more fulfilling fit. For those who take the community college route, we’re working to make sure those 60 IT credits will be accepted when they graduate to a four-year program. We want all Arkansans to be able to enjoy the benefits of an IT career, no matter how they get there. In this inaugural issue of ITArkansas, you’ll meet and hear from people at the top of the IT game in our state. You’ll learn what they do and how they got where they are. You’ll find out where the jobs are and get a sense of how much they pay. You’ll meet entrepreneurs who opted not to go to Silicon Valley, but instead stayed home and built their own successful tech companies. You’ll read about people using technology to make the world a better place. You’ll learn how to burnish your resumé and how to interview effectively. You’ll get a course in “soft skills” and a life lesson on how to do and be and act once you’re in the working world. So welcome to ITArkansas. Welcome to your tech career. Bill Yoder is Executive Director of the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences.
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FRONT END ► TASTE OF TECH
WHAT WE MEAN WHEN WE SAY… A working glossary for the Digital Age
emember the Tower of Babel? Tech talk can be a little like that. So to make sure we’re all on the same page, here’s a glossary of terms as defined by the Governor’s Blue-Ribbon Commission on the Economic Competitiveness of Computing and Data Analytics:
TECHNICAL TERMS ALGORITHMS
A step-by-step procedure for performing calculations; generally associated with data processing and automated reasoning.
Everyday tools for exploring data sets, such as queries and text search through discovery of meaningful patterns in data using advanced techniques like machine learning, data visualization, and statistical analysis.
Data sets that are both massive and complex.
Computing resources that are delivered as a service via a network, typically the Internet. 10 ITARKANSAS | 2021
DATA LIFE CYCLE
Set of processes in an application that transforms raw data into actionable knowledge. It involves collection of raw data, preparation of information, analytics, visualization, and access.
Use of computational methods to find desired information in data sets.
The extraction of actionable knowledge directly from data through a process of discovery, or hypothesis formation and hypothesis testing. It is the fourth paradigm of science, following experiment, theory, and computational sciences. It refers to the conduct of data analysis as an empirical science, learning directly from data itself.
The use of automated algorithms to find and evaluate patterns in data, enabling predictions that are increasingly accurate. Often referred to as advanced analytics.
Familiar database technology in which data elements are characterized in a specific format.
Data that consists of a vast number of data points that often have multiple form and may or may not be inter-related.
Data analysis using visualization techniques, which enable researchers to look for novel patterns in data
SKILL REQUIREMENTS CODING
The process of utilizing computer technology to complete a task. Computing may involve computer hardware and/or software, but must involve some form of a computer system.
A rapidly growing multidisciplinary field that uses advanced computing capabilities to understand and solve complex problems, computational science fuses three distinct elements: algorithms (numerical and non-numerical) and modeling and simulation software developed to solve science (e.g., biological, physical, and social), engineering, and humanities problems; computer and information science that develops and optimizes the advanced system hardware, software, networking, and data management components needed to solve computationally demanding problems; and the computing infrastructure that supports both the science and engineering problem-solving and the developmental computer and information science.
Drawing from various information sources, analyze, visualize, and communicate insights regarding what has happened. Create models and software that predict what is going to happen or prescribe what should happen.
Frame industry problems as analytical problems and use statistical analysis to solve them. Create the data sets and analytical tools necessary to solve industry problems and/or innovate.
A number of approaches, largely based on advanced mathematics, that are used to collect, analyze, and extract information from data sets.
Manipulate and analyze data for use in functional or business units. Identify and develop methodologically sound and reproducible approaches for analyzing data sets that are often large and/or messy.
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FRONT END ► TASTE OF TECH
PROMOTING DIVERSITY IN TECH “Stomping the divide” and other worthy missions
he tech industry has worked to diversify its workforce in recent years, but change is slow in coming. As reported in the Diversity in High Tech report published by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, people of color—Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans—comprise about 32 percent of the tech industry. Not surprisingly, the gap is even larger in executive positions, with 83 percent of those roles being held by white workers. In the face of this disparity, several tech-related organizations have grown up in an effort to attract and support more people of color to the IT community. The following groups provide scholarships, training, and networking resources to help more minorities get their start in the growing tech field. American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES): A national nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the representation of American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, First Nations, and other indigenous peoples of North America in STEM studies and careers. (aises.org) Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA): An international organization that puts on technology conferences, local chapter events, continuing education and
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professional development events, academic scholarships, and mentoring and career opportunities for Black IT professionals. BPDA also organizes community outreach programs for students. (bdpa.org) Black & Brown Founders: Providing Black and Latinx entrepreneurs opportunities to network and learn about startup bootstrapping through online resources and events, Black & Brown Founders aims to “give entrepreneurs knowledge, tools, and cutting-edge tactics to launch startups without relying on venture capital.” (blackandbrownfounders.com) Black Girls Code: Inspiring young girls from underrepresented communities to code, Black Girls Code pursues its mission of helping to grow the number of women of color working in the tech industry. The organization focuses on bridging this gap by teaching young girls the early skills they need in order to have a head start in programming. (blackgirlscode.com) Blacks in Technology (BIT): A global networking platform dedicated to “stomping the divide” for Black people in the tech industry, Blacks in Technology outlines industry standards for creating a more diverse workplace. BIT also offers its members access to a network and community of other professionals with opportunities for men-
torship. (blacksintechnology.net) CODE2040: A nonprofit organization dedicated to activating, connecting, and mobilizing the largest racial equity community in tech, Code2040 stages events, provides training and early-career programs, and promotes knowledge- sharing to ensure that Black and Latinx technologists have the tools and network to enable racial equity throughout the tech industry. (code2040.org) DigitalUndivided (DID): Focuses on fostering more inclusivity in entrepreneurship by empowering Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs. It sponsors an eight-week virtual accelerator program, plus various other programs, initiatives, and research to uplift Black and Latinx female founders in tech. (digitalundivided.com) National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME): A professional organization for under-represented minorities working in engineering and STEM roles, NACME provides college scholarships, resources, and opportunities for individuals of color interested in pursuing a degree in STEM. (nacme.org) National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE): A student-governed organization with 500 chapters and nearly 16,000 active members, the nonprofit NSBE is comprised of collegiate and pre-collegiate students and technical professionals in engineering and technology who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community. (nsbe.org) Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE): Started in a garage in 1974 by a group of Hispanic engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers has grown into a nationwide professional association boasting more than 11,000 members and 375 college and university chapters. (shpe.org)
Governor Asa Hutchinson and ACDS staffers at the opening of the Newport Tech Depot.
NEWPORT TECH DEPOT All aboard for an IT career
f you think tech only happens in big cities, think again. Better yet, take a ride up to Newport, Arkansas, population 7695 as of 2018. Located on the White River 84 miles northeast of Little Rock, Newport, is an experiment in renewal, repurposing, reinventing—choose the “re-” you like best. They all fit. The center of this grand experiment is the historic Iron Mountain Train Depot in downtown Newport. For decades, this classic 19th century building hosted the comings and goings of travelers on the Iron Mountain Railroad, but today it’s the departure point for Arkansans journeying toward careers in Information Technology. Officially opened on September 16 to speeches from such state dignitaries as Governor Asa Hutchinson, Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston, and First Orion CEO and Arkansas Center for Data Sciences Chairman Charles Morgan, the newly named Tech Depot is the result of a joint partnership of ACDS, Arkansas State University-Newport, and the Newport Economic Development Commission. “Tech Depot will offer IT training for individuals who are employed as apprentices to Arkansas companies,” says Bill Yoder, ACDS executive director. “ACDS will manage the Tech Depot and will take the lead in matching companies to apprentices and selecting training providers for a variety of information technology skills. Courses will be offered in General IT Skills, Data Analysis, Cybersecurity, and Software Development. More subject areas will be added over the next two years to meet industry demand.” Arkansas State University-Newport (ASU-Newport) is the educational content provider for the initial IT Generalist class that started on September 28, 2020. “Going forward,” says Yoder, “ACDS will contract with educational service providers to offer industry-specific instructional content. We at ACDS are very excited about our partnership with ASU-Newport and the Newport Economic Development Commission. Each of the partners brings significant resources that will make this project a model for the future of IT training in Arkansas.”
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FRONT END ► TASTE OF TECH
TECH BUZZWORDS FOR 2021
Three strategic business/tech trends you’ll be hearing more about
s companies look to gain market share and grow revenue despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, global research and advisory firm Gartner has identified its top strategic trends in business tech, the technologies destined to dominate the business landscape. Leading the list:
1. Internet of Behaviors
A term coined in 2020, “Internet of Behaviors” (IoB) refers to the way organizations leverage technology to monitor and influence behavior. An example would be health insurance companies monitoring a policy holder’s fitness bands to track food intake and trips to the gym, and adjusting insurance premiums up or down, accordingly. Gartner predicts that by the end of 2025, more than half of the world’s population will be subject to at least one IoB program.
2. Cybersecurity Mesh
Cybersecurity mesh technology enables people to access any digital asset securely, no matter where the asset is, or where the person is located. It’s the boldest move yet to redefine a secure environment from within the structure of an organization to follow an individual anywhere they go outside the organization. With the growing number of Cloud and remote employees, cybersecurity mesh will become increasingly indispensable, Gartner predicts, supporting more than half of digital access control requests by 2025.
3. Total Experience (TX)
In any customer-company interaction, multiple experiences are taking place at the same time. But for many organizations, the efforts to provide a good employee experience, user experience, and customer experience happen independently of one another, so they don’t always come together smoothly. Total Experience (TX) integrates these experiences, resulting in improved overall delivery of services and increased satisfaction by all parties. Gartner expects organizations that provide a TX to outperform competitors across key satisfaction metrics over the next three years. Source: Gartner
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Who knew that statisticians were having all this fun?
wo statisticians were traveling in an airplane from LA to New York. About an hour into the flight, the pilot announced that they had lost an engine, but don’t worry, there are three left. However, instead of five hours it would take seven hours to get to New York. A little later, he announced that a second engine failed, and they still had two left, but it would take 10 hours to get to New York. Somewhat later, the pilot again came on the intercom and announced that a third engine had died. Never fear, he announced, because the plane could fly on a single engine. However, it would now take 18 hours to get to New York. At this point, one statistician turned to the other and said, “Gee, I hope we don’t lose that last engine, or we’ll be up here forever!” Patient: “Will I survive this risky operation?” Surgeon: “Yes, I’m absolutely sure you’ll survive the operation.” Patient: “How can you be so sure?” Surgeon: “Nine out of 10 patients die in this operation, and yesterday my ninth patient died.” Three statisticians went out hunting and came across a large deer. The first statistician fired, but missed by a meter to the left. The second statistician fired, but also missed, by a meter to the right. The third statistician didn’t fire, but shouted in triumph, “On the average we got it!” Question: What’s the difference between an introverted data analyst and an extroverted one? Answer: The extrovert stares at YOUR shoes. (With thanks to the cut-ups at https://www.analyticsvidhya. com/blog/2015/12/hilarious-jokes-videos-statistics-data-science/.)
THE HOT FIELD
All the conditions are right to make cybersecurity a growth industry
yber criminals are finding more targets than ever for their nefarious purposes, and they have the global pandemic to thank for it. According to Accenture’s 2020 Cyber Threatscape Report, waves of employees working from home have been easy pickings for hackers aiming to either infect businesses with ransomware or to steal company data. Worse, this activity is expected to continue long before it subsides. “Threat actor profits [are] likely to increase as a result of targets’ weakened security and remote working, enabling threat actors [to] innovate and invest in even more advanced ransomware [in 2021],” the report reads. The situation is having a direct impact on companies’ immediate cybersecurity strategies. Global research entity Gartner noted that 61 percent of nearly 2000 CIOs surveyed in October said they plan to spend more in cyber/IT security in the coming year. In fact, companies will spend more to defend themselves than they will to generate new revenue via business intelligence, data analytics, or Cloud services. Here are some specific threats that experts say to expect in 2021: More attacks on healthcare systems: With countries around the world hunting for a COVID vaccine, expect more nation-state attacks leveraging ransomware, as well as an increase in Cloudbased ransomware attacks exploiting more work-at-home people. Over-permissioned identities causing more attacks in the Cloud: Cloud infrastructure and applications will remain plum targets for criminals in 2021, as attackers leverage remote workers who’ve been granted more access than their specific job responsibilities call for. Growth of insider threats and accidents: Experts predict accidents and internal bad actors will inevitably increase due to companies’ playing fast and loose with access-level protocols, giving employees more reach into systems than they actually need. Rampant ransomware: If 2020 is any indication, ransomware will continue to be a profitable technique of choice for hackers. According to Accenture, the average ransom payment grew 60 percent between the first and second quarters of 2020; it’s now in excess of $178,000. Source: TechRepublic.com ITARKANSAS.COM | 2021 15
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ILLUSTRATION: JENNIFER PERREN
TECH FOR GOOD
How Heifer International uses technology to profit mankind
ittle Rock-based Heifer International began 76 years ago with a simple two-part idea: to distribute animals, along with agricultural and values-based training, to needy families around the world as a way of helping them reach self-sufficiency. Recipients agree to then pass on the gift by donating the first female offspring of their livestock to another impoverished family in their community, as well as to share their skills and knowledge of animal husbandry and agricultural training. Heifer International was launched in 1944 with a shipment of 17 heifers to Puerto Rico, and since that initial gift it has distributed livestock, along with training and other resources, to more than 35 million families in more than 125 countries. Such farflung projects are comprised of thousands of moving parts, and over the past decade that work has been helped along considerably by emerging technologies. ITArkansas sat down with JesĂşs Pizarro, one of four members of the experimental â€œHeifer Lab,â€? to hear how this international nonprofit uses cutting-edge technology to make the world a better place.
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Q: What’s the mission of Heifer International? At Heifer, we are an international NGO and our mission is to end hunger and poverty while taking care of the Earth. We are 76 years old, so we’re older than the U.N. By the way, the first project of Heifer was in my home country, Puerto Rico. Right now, we’re working in 21 countries, including the United States, and all of our work focuses on sustainable agricultural development. Q: Why agriculture? Food is central to life. But many people don’t know where their food actually comes from. Normally, when you go to the grocery store, you know, “Okay, I buy this from Kraft, or I buy this from Hershey.” And maybe you trust the store where you shop, but many companies don’t know where the food they sell actually comes from. The truth is, 70 percent of the food that we consume is produced by small-scale farmers. These small-scale farmers are vital to our food and farming system, but often remain invisible within it. Many are not paid fair prices for the products they produce, and, as a result, are forced to live in poverty. Our mission is to support small-scale farmers to build food and farming businesses that are both environmentally and economically sus-
For example, I’m working with blockchain technology, because blockchain has the potential to solve the problem of food traceability, so you as a consumer will know where your food comes from. Not only that, you will also know if your food comes from an ethical value chain. An ethical value chain is a supply chain that creates a positive impact on the environment, a positive impact on the economy, and a positive impact on society in a different place of the value chain or the supply chain. At Heifer, we say, “You don’t vote only every four years. You vote with your money every time you buy something.” What you buy, where you buy, everything is a political decision, and what we want is for the consumer, the decision-maker, to also be invested in this. We want every actor in the value chain to have the right information to make sure they’re supporting a value chain that is not taking advantage of people living in poverty. Q: Tell me about some other tech projects the Heifer Lab is working on. Some of my colleagues are working with renewable energy, with solar, with water purification systems, with applicational GIS. We have two projects that are using Watson for Agriculture. I don’t know if you remember when IBM developed Watson, and for the first time a ma-
“We need to make sure this digital future is not only about financial profit, but also about a positive impact on the environment, and on our communities.” tainable. Strong and successful communities are at the very center, which are built through developing social capital. Through our country teams, Heifer provides assets such as seeds, plants, and animals. We then work with the people in the community as they build and scale their businesses that enable them to reach a living income. So, we are looking to impact the economy, the environment, and the social capital of a community in a positive way. Q: So how does technology come into this? In the last 10 years, under our CEO, Pierre Ferrari, we have emphasized the use of technology. My focus is Heifer Lab, which was created to identify emerging technologies that we can use in our projects to accelerate our mission. In the Lab we identify technology, do quick tests, and then try to incorporate that into our programs.
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chine beat a man playing chess. This technology is now being used to support farmers to make informed decisions on their farms. Right now, we have a pilot project in Honduras using Watson for Agriculture, and we are using drones for multiple purposes. Drones enable us to take the geographic position of the farm and gather information about shade. Growing cacao, for chocolate, depends on how a farmer manages shade. In order to increase productivity of cacao, it’s important to have trees that provide shade to the cacao tree. The drones are used to take pictures of the farms, uploading the data so our technical experts can support farmers in the design of their farms. So right now, as we are speaking, the Shadow Motion Capture Systems and the IBM Watson are providing detailed information about soil, about the condition of the trees, about weather conditions.
For agriculture, Watson provides forecasting for the next seven months. So, we’re using predictive analytics, forecasting information, for the planning of the management of the farm or plantation. And this is one example of how technology is helping us achieve our mission. Thanks to technology, farmers have better design, better management, and they can reduce operational costs. If they’re planning to spread seeds or fertilizer and Watson says heavy rain or strong winds are coming, the farmers know this is not the moment to do it, as they will lose their investment. Q: What kinds of tech people do you look for at Heifer International? Well, as you know, we are a nonprofit and our resources are limited—there are just four of us in the Heifer Lab team at the moment. But for tech people who want to do good things, Heifer International offers a lot of opportunity, both in headquarters and out in the field. We in the Heifer Lab don’t oversee all the technology that we are using. For example, in some projects our teams are using digital marketing platforms for local markets. In Honduras they have local applications that provide technical assistance to farmers, so they are using different technology. Again, the purpose of the Heifer Lab is to identify technologies that we can scale—addressing, for example, the issue of water, the issue of solar, and I’ve already told you about blockchain technology in agricultural projects that go to the international market. That is what we are working on right now with coffee and cocoa, and we are about to start working with grains, because these are products that Malawi can export. Q: What does the Heifer Lab look like? We have aquaponics, botany, and solar testing at the Heifer Campus in Little Rock, but this is not the only place we do testing. We partner with universities, and in Honduras, for example, we have an office at the National Agricultural University of Honduras in Catacamas. Inside the University, we have an office, and we work with the University to train and also to test new technology and to identify the better type of seed for the local context. Also, we are working with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s IOST lab (Internet of Science Things) for sensors in aquaponics. As I say, the culture of the lab is to identify emerging technologies and to do a quick test of these emerging technologies, and this can be here in Arkansas but also in Honduras, in Malawi, and the other countries where we have projects.
inclusion, but we’re also working with digital currency as a way to facilitate e-commerce with finance. On our team we have different backgrounds. My colleague David Gill is a physicist and technologist who attended Georgia Tech and graduated from Hendrix; Elizabeth Magombo Kabaghe has a master’s in agricultural and applied economics from the University of Malawi; and Micah McLain is an MBA from Georgia Tech. Our colleagues in Honduras specialize in agronomics and computer science. At Heifer, it’s important to have what we call an inclusive stakeholder approach. If you go to Haiti, you’ll see that our employees are from Haiti, and if you go to Honduras, our employees are Honduran. Because we must take into consideration the local context, the local point of view. Q: In closing, what advice would you give to young people just starting on their career path? I would say, first, that I believe the future is going to be digital, and the pandemic is going to accelerate that. But we need to make sure that this digital future is not only about financial profit. It needs to also be about a positive impact on the environment, a positive impact on our communities. In every professional field, in every kind of work, that is going to be relevant. And I believe and I hope that every person, and every company, is moving in that direction. If we don’t do it, our grandchildren are not going to enjoy the planet as we know it. I was born in 1970. From 1972 to 2015, we have lost more than 56 percent of the animal species. We’ve lost more than half of our animal diversity over the last 50 years. So the situation is critical. And the new generation doesn’t have a choice but to solve this problem. Technology will help.
Jesús Pizarro, center, with his daughter, Mila, and a Heifer International volunteer in Puerto Rico in 2019 for the 75th anniversary of the first Heifer project.
Q: What is your own tech background? I am a CPA with a master’s in management information systems and digital currency. So, the area I focus on is blockchain and financial
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THE FACES OF TECHNOLOGY IN ARKANSAS TODAY Look familiar, don't they? BY DWAIN HEBDA PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRIAN CHILSON
n the past when people imagined careers in technology, they likely conjured up images of jobs requiring long hours at a computer screen held by introverts who started writing code in third grade—geeks who could construct a robot out of stray parts in their garage. Not only that, but to land such jobs required majoring in engineering or Information Technology in college and then packing up for either coast, leaving states like Arkansas behind. But as any of today’s tech professionals will tell you, those days are long gone, if they ever really existed. Over the past decade or so, the IT world has been radically transformed to include people of many backgrounds and skill sets. In fact, a good chunk of the growth in tech industry careers are jobs that aren’t even technology based. Sure, there will always be room—and a need—for people who can write code, engineer product infrastructure, or design a platform. But a technology background is just one part of the picture in tech jobs today. Not only have the required knowledge base and skill sets changed, but the workplace itself has been irreversibly altered, making one’s place of res-
idence all but irrelevant. In tech, the trend toward working remotely has grown steadily for years, but 2020’s coronavirus has shifted that trend into overdrive. Most industry watchers predict that the tech workplace will never completely return to pre-COVID-19 configuration. That means living outside a traditional technology hub is no longer the career impediment it once was. Not to mention—as local experts are quick to point out—that a growing number of tech companies are choosing to operate outside of Silicon Valley, New York, Austin, and other techheavy addresses due to a lower cost of doing business and a higher quality of life. This is creating thousands of tech careers in places people don’t expect, and Arkansas is a prime example. As the 13 professionals on the following pages demonstrate, there’s a lot of tech activity going on in The Natural State. These people come from different backgrounds, have various educational histories, and work in companies all across the state. What they all have in common are rewarding and challenging IT careers right here in Arkansas.
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CHANGING LANES Artie Keith | Software Engineer Teslar Software, Springdale AFTER THREE AND a half years in the banking industry, Artie Keith decided the time had come for a new challenge. Having dabbled in programming growing up, he saw tech as the answer. “In high school, I had taken Programming I and Programming II—at that time, that was primarily Visual Basic,” he says. “Through the years, I found myself always coming back to tutorials such as Udemy Online. When I finally decided that I was looking for something new, I was still pretty much at square one. Then I got hooked up with the University of Arkansas’ IT Readiness Program at the global campus in Rogers. That’s where I started getting serious.” The intensive seven-month program confirmed his decision to change careers. Today Keith is a software engineer with Teslar, a software company specializing in financial institutions. In his role, he maintains existing products, works trouble tickets, fixes bugs, and writes new features. “We get assigned projects where we’re given the end goal and some of the things that need to happen in between. The rest is up to us as a team to enact that,” he says. “That involves writing user interfaces and writing back-end code to handle all the interactions. It also involves making sure we have all of the database connections correct and getting all of the tables set. And then actually writing to and calling from those tables to use them for whatever our particular project might be. “Our projects range from fast, one-week timelines to some that take six months. They don’t necessarily get touched every single day. Every day is a little bit different, which is great and something I enjoy.” Keith says that while technical skills are obviously important in a tech career, they aren’t the only skill set that’s required, especially when one considers the tools that are available to people without a heavy tech background. “A lot of people bring up things like ones and zeros,” he says, “but in all honesty, while that stuff helps, in the software world you can write a lot of code with the help of different products. These tools handle all of the ones and zeros for you through a coding editor. So, as long as you have an idea of the big picture, you can do a lot of very productive stuff without having to do ‘nerd type.’” Keith says level-headedness and the ability to stay cool under pressure are other critical attributes for today’s tech worker, regardless of their technical training. “There are moments when you’re just rowing your little boat out in the calm ocean and you’re making progress as you move along,” he says. “And then a crazy panic storm hits and you have these tense moments where you’re trying to fix something as quickly as you possibly can without interrupting someone else’s day or making the problem even worse. That’s real. That exists. “I think other undersold skill sets are great communication and an eye for detail. It’s important to have the ability to remove yourself from the project temporarily and see the big picture, instead of having blinders on and seeing only this one little piece that you’re working on. Those kinds of people really excel, and they excel quickly.” 22 ITARKANSAS | 2021
"It's important to have the ability to remove yourself from the project temporarily and see the big picture, instead of having blinders on...."
SHE’S THE BOSS Marla Johnson | CEO/Co-founder LeapXL, Little Rock
“Technology just means ‘tool.’ You develop technology tools people need in order to solve their problems.”
FROM EARLY FORAYS into broadcast technology and video game design to co-founding Arkansas’s most successful ISP company, Aristotle, Marla Johnson has done a little bit of everything in the technology space. Her latest venture, LeapXL, seeks to change the game again. “We are bringing no-code technology to financial institutions,” she says. “Our technology allows you to connect easily to multiple data sources and then mesh it on a no-code application development platform into all kinds of dashboards, reports, workflow applications, and prototypes. It’s very powerful, very fast, really fun, and easy to do. It takes about two hours of training and then you can basically build applications and launch them. It’s super-cool.” LeapXL’s product leverages what Johnson says is a primary trend in the technology industry, the move toward no-code products that can be run by anyone, regardless of technical background. “There are a lot of studies out there indicating that by 2024, over 60 percent of all new application development will be done on a low-code or no-code application development platform,” she says. “We’re still small. We are a startup, but we are well on our way to being a multimillion-dollar company on this technology.” Johnson’s father sold mainframe computers, one of her brothers is a rocket scientist, and her mother was a teacher, so she grew up with an inquisitive mind and a comfort level about technology that few of her female peers had. Later, when she turned her career from broadcast journalism to tech, she was the only woman in the marketplace heading a technology company. Nevertheless, she found pockets of support and ready mentors, something she credits to being located in Arkansas versus elsewhere. “I found people who were immensely helpful and supportive,” she says. “In fact, I was just on the phone with somebody today who said, ‘I want to help you because you’re not a guy. I want to help you because you’re a female CEO.’ I found in Little Rock that there are a lot of women who want to help, and also men. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by people who are technical who don’t feel like they have to show that off.” As the new generation of technology continues to unfold, Johnson says people of all backgrounds wanting a tech career should consider Arkansas first. “If you want to be that worker bee with your head down while you’re developing and coding, and you want to do it for a giant company, you may want to go elsewhere,” she says. “But the world will never be the same now that we have COVID; there are a whole lot of tech people working from home, from any location, so your location is a lot less important than it’s ever been. “Technology just means ‘tool.’ You develop technology tools people need in order to solve their problems, and that’s incredibly broad. You may be shocked at the number of tech companies here in marketing technology, supply chain logistics, and any number of industries. You can find really great opportunities in Arkansas.” ITARKANSAS.COM | 2021 23
PAVING THE WAY Adam Holland Director of Security Infrastructure and Insider Trust GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Bentonville AT EACH STAGE of his professional life, Adam Holland has blazed a trail for the people that followed. But for all the new ground and unexpected turns his career has taken, his role as a protector has remained unchanged. “I actually got my start many years ago, when I was a police officer in Fort Smith,” he says. “It was when computers were beginning to become more readily accessible to the general public and we were starting to see crimes facilitated through computers, especially the targeting of children for child exploitation. "I started the department’s first Computer Forensics Unit. We built that out into a lab and we were certified and picked up by multiple federal agencies and task forces and started doing cases in the tri-state area.” After leaving law enforcement, Holland worked as a consultant and eventually found himself at Walmart. While there, he was able to finish his college degree and develop his computer forensics training into expertise in cybersecurity that he uses daily in his current role at GSK, the global healthcare company. “As an investigator, I saw how technology can become weaponized instead of used appropriately,” he says. “Now in the private sector and retail, I can look with a lot of different lenses at the problems we face, whether it’s architecture and deployments or protections, since I’ve spent most of my career in computer security and cybersecurity.” Holland says that where once it was unusual for someone to get into the field of cybersecurity from another field, such is not the case now. In fact, he says, many people find it easier to enter cybersecurity after earning work experience elsewhere. “There was a time where you were a ‘computer expert,’ because the field was very small,” he says. “Fast-forward to the present day and you’re building your expertise in certain technology disciplines or areas of interest. You’re no longer forced to fit into a very small, specific path. A technology career is more built around your interests and specialties.” Another trail that Holland blazed has been helping attract and create opportunities for people of color within the technology field. “There’s been a huge shift,” he says. “One, there’s a huge deficit in applicants for open roles in technology, period, and especially in the cybersecurity roles. So the industry is starved for talent. “But the industry is also in a constant state of scramble to deliver what consumers want in technology, and persons who have different ethnic and cultural backgrounds play a role in driving it. A company can’t figure that all out on its own; it needs people to come in and help ensure they’re seeing everything and taking in all different angles. That said, there’s still a huge need to attract other ethnicity, gender backgrounds, even age into the field. That’s definitely something that we still need to work on.” 24 ITARKANSAS | 2021
TOP GUN Chris Wright | Founder Sullivan Wright Technologies, Little Rock
TRUE NORTH Sarah Daigle | Technical Program Manager Cognizant Technologies, Bentonville TECHNOLOGY PROFESSIONALS DON'T work in a vacuum; they are most often part of teams collaborating on a project together. Keeping these teams on task and working smoothly is the job of Sarah Daigle, who in her role with Cognizant Technologies acts something like a movie director keeping all the parts spinning in unison. Cognizant applies cutting-edge technology to digitize business systems and processes. “My day really is spent leading 13 small tech teams, mostly engineers,” she says. “We’re trying to build enterprise off of big pieces of Cloud software. I’m planning which features need to go into this application to be meaningful, and I spend my day thinking about how we should build that feature, and if we should build that feature, and if we do, will it be popular? That’s the fun, conceptual part of the work. “The technical part is, which team is going to take pieces A, B, C, or D, and what decisions or integrations do we have to make with it? If we add these buttons, what does it connect to, who does it talk to, and who needs to know, from a communications perspective, that we’re going to add this thing?” Growing up in Canada, Daigle started life wanting to be a high school teacher, but a new tech course in college caught her eye instead. “It was nine months where you got a taste of everything—databas-
es, networking, programming,” she says. “Some U.S. for-profit schools were advisers to the program. They said, ‘We’ll hire your top students. Get a graduate degree with a B or greater and we’ll put them at one of our five schools in the U.S.’ So I enrolled in this program, and it was the perfect mix of my math and education desires. I fell in love with the job of program language.” Since coming to the U.S., Daigle has worked with a wide range of fellow professionals. She says it’s a field that’s broad enough for all skill sets, so it takes some time to distill these jobs down to find a perfect match. “You have to know thyself, as the saying goes,” she says. “What is it that drives you and what is your goal? If you are a very introverted, high-techminded person with these product visions and you don’t want to manage people or be on a boisterous team, there is a path for you. You could become an extraordinary engineer or architect. “I made a choice to lead people and product and create the vision. I was a mediocre software engineer, but I was excellent with people. Being a manager who has tech experience on a tech team does bring something. It’s not required, but it is helpful because I do understand a little bit more of their lingo and how troublesome it is to build something if you don’t have a road map.”
CHRIS WRIGHT STARTED his professional journey in the United States Air Force, where he had set his mind on becoming a military pilot. He excelled in the USAF program, eventually landing in the selective Navy flight school. Once there, he made a startling discovery. “There’s a lot of hype and coolness to flight school—that Top Gun aspect,” he says. “But I realized quickly that that wasn’t the path I wanted to go. I transferred back into the career field the Air Force called ‘communications’ at the time. It was basically the technical side of all that: IT, radios, navigational lights for aircraft, satellite communications.” Wright was also introduced to cybersecurity, and from the start, he knew he’d found his calling. He subsequently held cybersecurity positions during the remainder of his military service, and later in the USAF reserves and within the private sector. Eventually, he went out on his own to launch cybersecurity companies, including his current venture, Sullivan Wright Technologies. To be successful in the field of cybersecurity, says Wright, you must first develop an aptitude in other areas of IT and technology. “Whenever anybody asks me what kind of degree program or education program to go into for cybersecurity,” he says, “I always warn them against some of these that are called ‘cybersecurity’ but don’t have good computer science or computer engineering underpinnings to it. I like to look at the bigger sphere of technology. There are three bubbles in it: You’ve got the software development bubble, you’ve got the IT bubble, and you’ve got the cybersecurity bubble. Those cross in different areas and in different amounts, depending on how you look at certain circumstances. It does help you to be a better IT person and a better cybersecurity person if you can at least do some software development.” At the same time, what makes a successful cybersecurity professional isn’t just technical expertise. “Really, the big thing I’m looking for besides technical aptitude is curiosity,” says Wright. “You have to be able to go out and learn on your own. In the military, the joke was that if the Army wanted us to have that, they would have issued it to us. “But that doesn’t describe my military career at all. It was all about going out and learning on my own. There are so many ways to do that in cybersecurity. If you’ve got a computer, you can do most of the things that we do in cybersecurity in a controlled environment—your house—that’s not going to get you arrested. Going through training programs, watching YouTube videos, reading websites and books—you have to be willing to go and find it and toy with it.” ITARKANSAS.COM | 2021 25
VOICE OF EXPERIENCE Stacy James Lead Executive of Enterprise Data Management and Business Solutions Center Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Little Rock WITH A NEARLY 30-year career at the same company— and in the male-dominated technology field to boot—Stacy James is something of a unicorn. Graduating from the University of Arkansas at a time when only about 20 percent of tech students were women, she came directly to Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield as an entry-level programmer. Almost three decades later, she leads a department of around 120 tech workers and is responsible for the company’s enterprise data governance, enterprise architecture, third-party risk management, and IT asset management, among other important responsibilities. Not bad for someone who was originally planning to be an accountant. “As a student, I had an interest in everything,” says James, who grew up in Fort Smith. “But when I got into high school, I took an accounting class. I’m quite a detailed, linear, analytical person, and accounting seemed very black and white. I really liked it.” But when she got to college, one of her courses was in computers. And with the help of an invested professor, she discovered to her surprise that she had an aptitude for technology. “I took my first class and I was like, I really like this,” she says. “My detailed, analytical, linear traits were applicable to the field. That’s how I got involved with programming.” After an internship with nearby trucking giant J.B. Hunt, James joined Blue Cross and Blue Shield and never looked back. She says her advice to young people today is to keep their minds and options open when it comes to both education and career. “You don’t have to decide immediately when you go into school what you want to major in,” she says. “At least the first year, take classes you’re interested in. For me, I had accounting and an introductory computer class and that computer class changed my mind as to what direction my studies were going to head in. “I’d also mention to get involved in different activities around campus, whether it’s related to your major or not. I was president of what was then our data processing management association. Getting involved in different activities related to your area of study is really helpful; it helps resumé-building as well as gets you some different experiences.” James also says that an attitude of lifelong learning is vital to a long career, especially in technology. “In 2011, I had been in the same department for 14 years. I needed and wanted a change,” she says. “At that point I went into project management and got out of IT for four years. That was a very positive move for me. It got me out of the technical world and opened my eyes to every aspect of the health insurance business. With project management, you have to have very good communication skills, planning skills, and organizing skills, and that’s what I honed during that time. That prepared me for the role that I’m in today. I definitely think any type of leadership or communication skills that a tech person can develop just makes them more valuable.” 26 ITARKANSAS | 2021
“My analytical, linear traits were applicable to the field. That’s how I got involved with programming.”
THE LONG WAY HOME Hannah Baum | Programmer Hytrol, Jonesboro
“If I could go back and redo my college education, I would take a bunch of classes on logic.”
DURING COLLEGE, HANNAH Baum did seemingly everything but target a career in tech. Despite having a father who was a programmer, the Kansas City, Missouri, native started her post-secondary work with an eye on health care. After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology, she bounced around from one graduate health program to another, each time coming to the same conclusion. “I did a semester at medical school,” she says. “Then I took a year off because it wasn’t working so hot. I came back and after a week I quit. I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ I decided I’m going to go into psychology; I quit before it actually started. I did a year of a nursing program and I realized I hated it even more than medical school, so I quit.” Recalling her childhood interest in programming, honed at her father’s elbow, she decided to give tech a try. Living in Arkansas by then, she landed an internship with Hytrol, a Jonesboro manufacturer of conveyors and other inventory handling systems. “I was an intern for a summer and helped implement a new system that dealt in human capital management,” she says. “They went from an all-paper-based system to all-digital and I was the person who really helped move everything to the digital system and teach everyone how to use it. “Since that went well, my supervisor was like, ‘I’m going to hire you.’ That was a really great day for me because I don’t have a computer science degree, right? I think that’s one reason I really, really like this field. A lot of times you can’t get a job unless you have a degree. Here, it’s more about how competent and capable you are, rather than your credentials.” What Baum lacked in a diploma (she’s since started work on a computer science degree) she more than made up for in other areas. She says that one of the lesser-known facts about a tech career is the weight that communication and customer service skills carry in many positions. “Being able to communicate with other people, and enjoy it, really helps,” she says. “If you can actually sit down with people and explain things and be more of a collaborator instead of us-versus-them, their-department-versus-my-department, things run so much smoother.” Baum advises the next generation to think similarly outside the box when it comes to skills development for a career in the technology field. “If I could go back and redo my college education, I would take a bunch of classes on logic,” she says. “I think that’s so helpful because whether you’re coding or designing something, logic is very, very helpful. If you can understand this leads to this—or it doesn’t—you can solve a lot of problems.” ITARKANSAS.COM | 2021 27
Matt Olson | President Matmon Internet, Inc., Little Rock MATT OLSON LEARNED early on the value of marketing oneself, especially when it came to technical skills. While attending Lake Hamilton High School in Hot Springs, he joined a class called WolfNet, which dealt in all things IT. “This was in 1994 and I was learning about networking and installing RAM and software on computers,” says Olson. “If I was walking down the hallway during class, and I wasn’t supposed to be in the hall, a teacher wouldn’t stop me and say, ‘Go to class.’ They would say, ‘Hey, Matt, could you come help me with my computer?’” That, says Olson, was when the light went on in his head. “It was like, wow, they’re seeing that I have value other than just being in class. And it happened a lot, not just one or two teachers. All the teachers knew the WolfNet kids, because we were in there getting their Internet set up.” From these basics, Olson graduated to other functions, some of it learned in the classroom, a lot of it self-taught. “I was a computer science major at UA Little Rock, which got me involved in programming,” he says. “I also worked at the computer library helping students with software, helping them with Excel spreadsheets, printer issues—you know, I was a lab aide. While I was doing that, I learned about building my own websites. I was sitting there in the computer lab working, but I was also reading and learning how to make websites, buying domain names and all that. That’s really where it all came from.” Today, Olson is president of his own full-service marketing company helping businesses build their brand. The company leans heavily on digital media, so website building and programming are still central to the company’s services. “You have to be solution-oriented in this business. You need to find the solutions in how you approach things and through research,” he says. “The biggest variable with new employees is if they can dig in and get the answers. If they can keep bringing solutions and keep trying, then they’re the right fit. If they give it a quick one little chance and then expect you to tell them what to do, they don’t make it.” As for why he decided to stay in his home state, he says that customers can be found anywhere, but quality of life can’t. “You can get swallowed up in a big city and never feel like you’ve even scratched the surface,” he says. “You go to downtown New York and no one even looks at you. Here you have more opportunities, I think, to really establish yourself. Arkansas is a really special state.”
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"The biggest variable with new employees is if they can dig in and get the answers."
BY THE NUMBERS Malachi Nichols Director of Evaluations and Data Quality ForwARd Arkansas, Little Rock
"What will set you apart is being able to clearly articulate what you're doing...."
TEXAS NATIVE MALACHI Nichols has a passion for the state of education. During college at the University of Arkansas, he taught math, history, and robotics in a local private school. After completing his doctorate, he joined ForwARd Arkansas, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of the state’s schools. Working behind the scenes to support and improve what’s going on in Arkansas classrooms gives him a chance to make a difference in thousands of young lives. “Looking back, I truly did enjoy teaching students,” he says. “But I knew teaching wasn’t going to be my long-term fix. I saw that between my math and science skills and my ability to think abstractly, there was an avenue for me to use those skills to change schools. Not by being a teacher, but by being a researcher.” Nichols’ job responsibilities include working with community partners to help identify ways to improve schools throughout the state. He also compiles and organizes data that’s given to state legislators as they consider new state laws. His work also assesses the performance of ForwARd Arkansas itself, to make sure the nonprofit is operating efficiently and effectively. Arkansas offers a wealth of technology career opportunities, Nichols says. “In Northwest Arkansas, I see a strong push for tech people just to support the dominant businesses here, such as Walmart, Tyson, and J.B. Hunt,” he says. “But also, people who have those data systems and information systems management can really develop around the state. Especially post-COVID, you don’t have to pick up and move your family to Fayetteville or Little Rock or to a town with a university. Now, you just log in remotely and you’re able to stay in your community and connect to the job market.” Nichols has two recommendations for the next generation of tech workers—learn as much as you can about various tech careers and don’t limit your education just to math, science, and computers. “When I was coming up in high school, I never knew there were people who actually did research on education,” he says. “A lot of it is lack of exposure, whether it’s in the African American community, the Hispanic community, the white community, or whether that’s the rural community. It’s hard to become what you don’t see. “As for education, honestly, what’s important is your English and your writing skills. What will set you apart is being able to clearly articulate not only what you think, but what you’re doing in a fashion the layperson can understand. It’s taking complicated information and all of the techy things and being able to present it to somebody who’s never entered the field. That’s a very important skill and it’s something you can start building in high school.” ITARKANSAS.COM | 2021 29
GOAL-FOCUSED Aaron Green | Robotic Process Automation Developer Arvest Bank , Fayetteville EVER SINCE HE can remember, Aaron Green knew he wanted a tech career. “My dad has always been a technical guy,” Green says. “He’s done a lot of computer repairs, and I was always interested in that growing up. There were times when he’d be delivering a part to go to a customer’s house and fix it, and I’d be part of those jobs.” In addition to what he saw of his father’s work, Green also liked working puzzles and other brain-teasers, and today he says he applies that same analytical mindset daily. “Puzzles and software development are sort of the same thing, just a big problem-solving exercise,” he says. “You’ve got to understand the problem. You’ve got to know how to address certain difficulties. And you’ve got to know how to get information.” Green joined Arvest Bank fulltime in June 2019. Since then, he’s been working on software projects that reduce keystrokes and mouse clicks, thereby simplifying and streamlining functions for bank employees. Tech careers abound in the business world, he says, even for people who didn’t start programming early, as he did. “There is always demand for people with technical skills—it’s one of the most competitive fields out there,” he says. “You don’t need specific skills, you don’t need to have X number of years of experience. It’s more about your determination and your passion for it and how hard you’re willing to work for it and not be afraid to try anything new. “We have people on our team who didn’t go to school for technology, but they have lots of experience within the company. They know the company better than someone like me, who has the technical training. So, there’s definitely room for people who don’t have that background but have the interest and the capacity to learn. There’s always something you can bring that someone else can’t.” Given this fact, young people looking to prepare for a career in technology should pay attention to team building and communication skills as much as coding and programming. Green says that no matter how technically proficient a person is, the ability to work with other people is just as important—if not more so. “Being around people is going to help build those communication skills,” he says. “I took a robotics club in high school and that helped a lot, just being around people. A lot of us, when we’re studying or getting experience training, we’re locked up in our room. A big part of it is just getting out there. “Also, you may want a certain tech field, but you have to start somewhere, and it might not be where you really want. My advice is just be willing to learn new things and to take a job that you may not have expected. You can build your profile from there.” 30 ITARKANSAS | 2021
“Puzzles and software development are sort of the same thing, just a big problemsolving exercise.”
THE NATURAL Keenan Gillispie | Software Developer Apptegy, Little Rock
“I work with people who came up through music programs, have history degrees or writing degrees….”
KEENAN GILLISPIE GREW up in a tech-savvy household and followed a predictable path—heavy on STEM coursework and skills—to college and the working world. But as the tech workplace becomes more diverse, the Bauxite native says that careers following this traditional tech pathway aren’t nearly as numerous as they once were. “The stereotype is people who have followed my path, who have been interested in tech for as long as they can remember,” he says. “That seems to be diminishing; I don’t think we’re in the majority by any means. I work with people who came up through music programs, have history degrees or writing degrees, and are now in the same software development field.” At Apptegy, which provides software and products to help schools effectively market themselves, Gillispie provides support for other developers, trouble-shooting issues and making sure the production servers are operating properly. He says that as software products have become more complex, they require additional skill sets and perspectives to create and maintain. He thinks that’s one reason tech workers now demonstrate a broader range of backgrounds. “We’re not building, necessarily, physical things,” he says, “but we are building things. We’re building software functionality. It requires being able to understand very abstract concepts. For that reason, I think creativity is an absolutely vital component for working in this industry. “And I hope this is not too cliché, but the biggest skill set is really communication, whether you’re a more traditional software developer/code monkey or you’re a software architect. It’s going to require you to speak to other people with different skill sets, different backgrounds, and who do different things. As developers, we’ve got to be able to talk technically and not-so-technically with other groups within the company to convey information. It’s vital. If you can’t communicate with those different groups, you’re going to have trouble.” Gillispie, whose father is a software developer and whose mother is a technology coordinator in the local school district, says he didn’t feel the need to look outside Arkansas to find a fulfilling tech career. In fact, he offers a word of caution to anyone who automatically thinks the tech grass is greener in bigger cities. “For those looking to move to a bigger tech hub and work for one of these giant tech companies, I suggest you do your research,” he says. “Look into the stories of people who have done this and see if you like what they have to say. There are some highly renowned tech companies that are amazing to work for that have great cultures, great benefits, and great work environments. And there are some that have a big name but that are less than ideal to work for. “Don’t just dream about it. Try to seek people out who have tried it and understand their experience to see if it’s something you want to pursue. In my case, I haven’t wanted to uproot everything and move thousands of miles away and fight with everybody else to do the exact same thing. There are plenty of companies here locally where I can do this job and I can contribute.” ITARKANSAS.COM | 2021 31
A WORLD OF EXPERIENCE Jeff Brinsfield | Vice President of Information Systems QualChoice | Little Rock ARKANSAS NATIVE JEFF Brinsfield could’ve headed to a bigger city to pursue his lofty career goals, but he got all he wanted by looking right in his back yard. Before joining insurers Centene and QualChoice, where he’s now vice president of information systems, Brinsfield started his career with Arkansas Systems, later Euronet, which sent him around the world. “I joined them in 1998, and two months after I started, I was sent to Sri Lanka to install a banking system,” he says. “I was based out of Budapest, Hungary, for four years. I eventually went to 40 countries and saw the world. It was phenomenal seeing all of the different cultures.” Bringing his global experience back to the States, Brinsfield has continued his corporate career in IT. His work today—developing world-class versatile work teams—benefits from his inclusive perspective. “Information technology is so multifaceted and it touches all parts of an organization,” he says. “My team deals with hardware, software management, infrastructure, data analytics, project management, security, testing and design. A number of teams that report to me deal with each of those aspects.” In his daily work, Brinsfield provides high-level direction and strategic problem-solving across various work groups. Managing multiple teams, as well as interacting with other departments to build projects and work through problems, takes coordination and teamwork. The ability to synthesize skill sets is key to keeping things moving forward. “We’re fulfilling those other teams’ needs,” he says. “We’re a service part of the organization to other teams. Whether it’s the data analytics side or the project management side or the software management or development sides, having an exposure into those teams is what helps you do this job really well.” Given the wide variety of work for which his department is responsible, there’s no “typical employee,” Brinsfield says; instead, there’s room for all personality types and skill sets. “I’m looking for certain traits. How’s this person going to fit in with the team? Are they more of a loner style or are they more of a teambuilder who likes working in a group? There’s definitely room on both sides and there’s a demand for both sides.” More than technical expertise, Brinsfield said he values intangibles in choosing the right employee. “Attitude is a big piece of it,” he says. “A key aspect of being able to do IT project management or support service is someone who has that ability to connect to other departments and teams, interact with people, and, in some cases, help teach them about the equipment or software. Having a problem-solving attitude and mentality goes a long way with that.”
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"I'm looking for certain traits. Is this person more of a loner or a teambuilder?"
PASSION FOR LEARNING Virginia Hickman | Quality Assurance Engineer Movista, Bentonville
"I never had a mind for tech—I never thought I'd want to do it."
VIRGINIA HICKMAN IS a gatekeeper. In her role with Movista, a retail management software company, she’s one of a team of tech professionals who tests the company’s products to make sure they perform as advertised. It’s a critical role, one that heads off issues before they get to the customer. Hickman is a natural at her job, born of a helping spirit and a natural inquisitiveness—all the more remarkable considering that she’s never considered herself “techy.” “I had worked at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville for a really long time as an undergrad,” she says, “and anytime something happened to the computer, I would call the tech person. I never had a mind for tech—I never thought I’d want to do it.” Hickman’s education and job experience tended to reinforce that belief—she holds a degree in anthropology and previously worked as a yoga instructor. Then a friend insisted that she had the right “thought process” for a tech job. On his advice, she enrolled at the University of Arkansas Global Campus. “I just wanted to get my feet wet,” she says, “so I did an online prerequisite, which was an HTML course. I loved it. It was a very gentle way of getting into programming. And then, when we started our other classes, it was like drinking from a fire hose, but I loved that, too.” Hickman joined Movista 18 months ago as a QA analyst and soon moved into her current role. “Being a QA Engineer, you test the product and make sure it’s as bug-free as you can get it,” she says. “The bugs aren’t anything malicious. It’s usually something that’s preventing the user from doing what the user wants to do—you know, there’s a new version of the app and it doesn’t work like the last version did. It’s my job to catch all those bugs before it goes to production.” While Hickman spends her days surrounded by people who have followed the traditional tech path, she’s a firm believer that you don’t have to have a technology background to find a rewarding career in the field—all it takes is the right attitude and a willingness to learn outside of your comfort zone. “The most helpful thing to me was just doing it,” she says. And her advice to anyone considering a tech career? “I would say start with anything HTML,” she says. “It’s pretty easy to learn and you see immediate results. It’s fun and it’s a very good introduction to programming. Then take any free courses you can take. I sometimes watch YouTube videos and coding interviews, even though I’m not looking to get hired anywhere. They’re just interesting to see.”
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WHAT? WHERE? HOW MUCH? A digital dozen of the most popular occupations in IT, with average salaries COMPILED BY MARIE STACKS
here else are you going to get all the info you need in one spot? On these pages you’ll see the logos of Arkansas companies that are actively engaged in Apprenticeship or other programs with the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences, and that regularly post open positions via ACDS. The occupations listed are those that are generally considered the most prevalent jobs in IT. And the salaries come from management consulting giant Robert Half International’s 2021 Salary Guide for Technology and are based on entry-level (25th percentile) positions nationwide.
Creates the applications or systems that run on a computer or another device.
Writes and tests code that allows computer applications and software programs to function properly.
Average Salary: $97,250
CYBERSECURITY ANALYST Average Salary: $112,500
Plans and carries out security measures to protect an organization’s computer networks and systems.
IT GENERALIST/HELP DESK Average Salary: $32,250
Provides help and advice to computer users and organizations.
Average Salary: $78,500 Oversees the day-to-day operation of computer networks, such as installing software and hardware to network equipment.
Average Salary: $97,500
IT PROJECT MANAGER
Designs and builds data communication networks, including local area networks (LANS), wide area networks (WANS), and Intranets.
Project managers plan and designate project resources, prepare budgets, monitor progress, and keep stakeholders informed the entire way.
UI/UX WEB DESIGNER
Applies technical skills on website design and user interfaces through the design and development of websites.
Average Salary: $96,000
Average Salary: $79,750
Uses specialized software to store, organize, and secure data while ensuring that data remains consistent across the database.
Average Salary: $86,250 Accesses computer data and analyzes data for statistical, business, and behavioral decision-making.
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Average Salary: $65,000
Average Salary: $87,250
Average Salary: $80,250 Coordinates and manages the components of computer systems from remote data centers.
COMPUTER SYSTEMS ANALYST Average Salary: $81,250
Studies an organization’s current computer systems and finds a solution that is
Marie Stacks is Director of Operations for the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences.
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PATHWAYS: CHOOSING THE BEST CAREER ROUTE FOR YOU
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PURSUING THE DATA SCIENCE DEGREE The UA system retools to teach real-world innovation BY KARL D. SCHUBERT, PH.D.
his story begins about a decade ago, when I was invited to participate on the University of Arkansas’ College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council, whose members are engineering alumni and national industry leaders committed to the College’s pursuit of excellence in research activities, scholarship, and academic programs. The Advisory Council’s goal is to ensure personal and professional growth for future generations of engineering leaders. As it turned out, we on the Advisory Council discovered something disturbing: It appeared that the engineering students, over the years, had become less and less able to solve problems that they hadn’t already seen. Also, they weren’t very good at working on teams. I was asked to head a subcommittee to look harder at these issues, and what we basically concluded was that the Engineering College was training the creativity and innovation out of the students. How was the College doing that? Well, by giving these students a toolkit and saying this is the process you use to solve problems—and more or less sticking to that method without ever giving them open-ended problems or problems involving teams. As a consequence, these engineering students had become used to having everything handed to them, which is a perilous way to prepare for real life. The first thing we did was to discuss our findings with Arkansas companies that were potential employers of our engineering grads. “We need to fix that,” they all agreed. But we soon found that this was only the spear tip of the issue. One day Engineering Dean John English and College of Business Dean Matt Waller were talking, and Dean Waller said, “We’ve got the same problem in the business college.” So the two deans retained me to analyze the situation further and then to develop
a way to reintroduce innovation back into the program. In the bigger picture, the idea was to create an innovation concentration in which students from both the College of Engineering and the College of Business could take courses together that would include real-world problems and a team-based, student-led, open-ended way of approaching these problems, through innovation and creativity. This pilot program, which I developed five years ago with a courageous instructor, Mrs. Leslie Massey, was called the Honors Innovation Experience. I started with honors students because they can be more flexible— plus they’re often among our best students. I knew that if we told them the class was an experiment, they would respond to that—and they did, putting in extra hours to help make the experiment a success. At first it was just the engineering college—a two-semester class with 20 students. First semester we talked to the students about the innovation process and the innovation ecosystem. They ultimately formed teams and picked a project to work on. The students basically had to do the project themselves, to the point of doing a market analysis, a definition of the problem, customer interviews, minimal viable product, cost estimate, some scaling information, and building proof of concept (if it was possible to do so for that project). We had a successful first year. The second year we doubled the class to 40 students, and this time we made a major change in our process. In the first year we had found the mentors first, and the teams were then given a project by the mentors—all except for one team. That particular mentor said, “No. I’m not going to do it that way. What I want to do is say, ‘Here are the areas I work in. If you pick a project in my area, then I can mentor you.’” That mentor’s team did continued on page 50
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PATHWAYS: CHOOSING THE BEST CAREER ROUTE FOR YOU
THE TWO-YEAR ROUTE 5 reasons to start your IT career at a community college BY COLLIN CALLAWAY, ED.D.
f you're thinking about a career in Information Technology, the best pathway may be closer, more affordable, and faster than you think. Check out these top reasons to choose an IT career—and why you should launch your journey at an Arkansas community college.
1. IT skills are in demand by employers across all industries.
2. Community college is the best choice to launch an IT career.
Information Technology is among the fastest growing career fields in the country. Nationally, IT jobs are projected to grow 12 percent by 2028, and growth is even higher for certain occupations like information security and software development. A recent survey of 160 Arkansas businesses identified technology and computer proficiency as the top technical skill sought in job applicants. And it’s not just tech companies that seek employees with these skills—think healthcare, financial services, education, manufacturing, transportation, retail, and many more.
You don’t have to go to college for four or five years to start a career in IT. Across the state of Arkansas are 22 conveniently located community colleges offering remote learning options, flexible scheduling, small classes, tuition less than half of a four-year university, and scholarship opportunities. You can save money by living at home, or you can attend classes part time while you work. In two years or less, you can get the skills you need to stand out in the crowd and land your dream IT job.
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3. Community colleges offer IT training in many areas. Coding, cybersecurity, computer repair and maintenance, computer networking, Cloud computing, gaming, software development, web and mobile app development, information services, computer-aided drafting—they’re all available at Arkansas community colleges. You can also earn specific industry credentials such as Cisco Certified Networking, CompTiaA+ Networking and Security, and Amazon web services. These skills can lead to jobs with starting average salaries from $28,000 to $32,000 per year.
4. Personal skills are also essential to a successful IT career.
5. A career in IT requires ongoing training to stay up to date on skills.
In addition to technical skills, employers look for job applicants with a strong work ethic, plus skills in communication, teamwork, time management, and critical thinking. Employers know that professionals with effective personal skills make the best long-term employees and are better prepared to handle increasing levels of responsibility (think pay raises and promotions). Community colleges design IT training programs to embed these personal skills in assignments, hands-on projects, and work-based learning.
The world is changing faster than ever, and so is the field of Information Technology. Community colleges provide ongoing training to help you stay current on the latest developments. These classes can be as short as a single day, or longer depending on the depth of the training. Whether youâ€™re new to the field or a career veteran, upgrading skills to keep up with the changing IT world is essential to your continued success.
Dr. Collin Callaway is Senior Policy Director, Arkansas Community Colleges.
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PATHWAYS: CHOOSING THE BEST CAREER ROUTE FOR YOU
THE APPRENTICESHIP ADVANTAGE Capability meets opportunity much, much faster BY LONNIE EMARD
egistered Apprenticeships are a game changer for both employers and job candidates. In a world in which technology is reshaping businesses by the second, employers can “grow their own” specifically targeted tech talent. And for people preparing themselves for a tech career, the increasing need for tech expertise means that old barriers are being set aside in the interest of widening the available talent pool. Apprenticeships are an idea whose time has undeniably come. And yet it’s not a slam dunk: Many people—on both sides of the demand/supply equation—still have a hard time getting their heads around the idea of apprenticeships. They’ve been thinking about it in the old way for so long that they can’t break out of that mindset. I like to say that “at the intersection of capability and opportunity lies the road to success.” Traditionally, though, it took years to arrive at that intersection. Employers stuck rigidly to the stance that for most IT occupations, they wanted their job candidates to have a four-year computer science degree. “We think that will prepare you and give you the exposure to be ready to contribute,” employers said. So for young people who wanted to pursue a tech career, that was just How It Was. For both, then, this idea of the intersection of capability and opportunity was a single point that happened only upon the candidate’s graduation from a four-year university, then upon his/her scoring a job interview at a desirable company, and ultimately upon the company’s offer of a position. It was a long, narrow, and costly path to success. Not only that, it didn’t really work. It didn’t work because there wasn’t enough of a supply of tech talent graduating to meet the corporate tech talent demand. But quantity was only one of the problems. The other problem was about quality: A four-year college degree doesn’t necessarily equip someone for a tech job. It gets them some life learning and a bit of maturity—all of which is valuable. But just because someone goes
through four years of college doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be more productive in a particular IT job than somebody coming in as an apprentice—someone who’s been preparing himself or herself, taking certificate courses, learning on their own or on another job. The reason four-year degrees might not prepare a candidate in the way an old-thinking employer might wish for is that, traditionally, a four-year education is more theory-driven than industry-driven. At ACDS, we’re trying to address that problem by urging employers who find that that system isn’t working for them to engage with higher education to change the curriculum—to make it more practical, more geared to the needs of industry. Community colleges have made that shift a little bit, but many four-year universities are hesitant—resistant even. “We’re research, we’re preparation, we’re about learning, we’re not a training organization.” I’m pleased to say that the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville has worked with employers to revamp the curriculum, blending business and IT so that grads will have a more practical, hands-on training for what today’s employers will actually demand of them. But even so, there still aren’t enough four-year grads to supply industry’s tech demand. So to me, and to my colleagues at ACDS, the obvious answer is an apprenticeship system. But for that to reach its full potential, two major things have to change: One is a change of mindset on the part of business. The traditional way isn’t supplying enough tech talent for industry, so they have to shift their thinking to reach candidates sooner and earlier in the continuum of tech talent, rather than only after he or she graduates with a four-year degree. They need to think, “I’m reaching a student, I’m reaching a career-changer, I’m reaching somebody who has already determined they can’t afford college. It’s a much broader audience and I’m meeting them earlier in their career path. So what if they aren’t fully equipped when I meet them? I’m making the mental continued on page 52
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LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION Three Arkansas tech startups are changing the meaning of that old adage
ENTREPRENEURS LIKE MOVISTA co-founders April Seggebruch and Stan Zylowski are opening new doors for Arkansas's tech community.
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BY DWAIN HEBDA
ime was, if you were going to be taken seriously in the tech world, you headed to where the action was—geeky coastal hubs of talent, where tech-savvy investors were rumored to lurk around every corner and behind every bush. But look around in 2021 and you’ll discover that the most desirable addresses in tech these days are less likely to be found on the coasts. Instead, as reported in Inc. Magazine last February, tech entrepreneurs and industry giants alike are forgoing the traditional enclaves and heading to the desert (Phoenix, Reno), the South (Nashville), and the Gulf (New Orleans). And why? Economics, primarily. The costs of living and of doing business are substantially lower in these emerging cities (although Austin and Nashville show how fast those cost indexes can catch up). Another reason is, frankly, because they can. With the coronavirus pandemic forcing many people in tech to work from home, the importance of being located in any given place has been greatly diluted. And considering that tech is already hard up for qualified talent, employees are finding they have more leverage than ever to live where they love; they can just log in to do the rest. Arkansas has yet to reach the tech density of some other places, but it’s absolutely incorrect to think there aren’t innovative, cutting-edge companies starting up right here in The Natural State. The following are three such maverick firms that bucked the old location trend and won.
MOVISTA MOVISTA IS A company that would be right at home in any tech hotbed you could name—Silicon Valley, Chicago, New York, to name a few. But the developer of retail management tools, which two years ago landed $12 million in venture capital financing to accelerate its operations and development, resides instead in Bentonville, Arkansas. Company co-founder April Seggebruch says the company is a testament to The Natural State’s business-forward environment, especially as it pertains to startups. “The code you write in Arkansas is identical to the code you write in California. The altitude
or the air quality does not impact your coding,” she says. “If nothing else, COVID has demonstrated that hiring knows no geographical boundaries. You can work from anywhere.” It’s a fact, she says, that there aren’t as many tech companies in Arkansas as there are on the West Coast. “But that’s also a challenge to that next technologist with the next great idea to start their own tech company,” says Seggebruch. “I can assure you, from an investment and from a business front, there’s a lot of support and a lot of momentum here behind creating more of those companies. That level of community support is something the West Coast does not have.” Movista launched its first product 10 years ago and has since grown into a major player in bringing retail management operations into the digital age. Its signature project, Movista One, helps retail managers assign and track work assignments across multiple locations quickly and efficiently. Co-founder Stan Zylowski says the quality of the company’s people plays a huge role in Movista’s success, and, together, they’ve crafted a broad culture that approaches its mission differently from other tech companies. “There’s this whole idea that working in the tech industry, you need to be a developer of code,” says Zylowski. “That’s an absolute falsehood. As a matter of fact, we’re in a time where there is such an acceleration in the intelligence of the way code is developed that the image of people sitting and just pounding out lines of code is going to go away. As the technology gets smarter and smarter, the languages are so much more simplified that the value in a technology company is way more about the creativity of the product, the design element, the simplicity, the way that it’s marketed, et cetera.” In this new environment, says Zylowski, the most valuable employees will be those who can understand how to identify customers’ problems and envision products that meet those needs and make worklife easier. “To work in an environment where the actual product or value delivered is via software or via technology, yes, every company has to have technologists. But I’m the CEO of a tech company and I can’t read code. And there’s an entire cadre of people who work for us who do nothing but design
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the product and none of them can write code. “What they are expert at doing is listening and discerning what the problem is. That’s what we call the ‘what.’ They figure out the ‘what’ side of the equation and then someone else figures out the ‘how’ side.” The company harnesses this mentality to quickly and effectively pivot to meet customer needs. Case in point: During the pandemic, the Movista One platform was adapted to help companies track and monitor COVID-19 protocols among employees. This not only helps keep people safe, but provides statistical data that lets the company know if there’s a spike at a given location. “Technology is, by its nature, fluid and iterative,” Zylowski says. “So, for anyone who’s been around video games, you’d never have had Atari if you hadn’t had Pong. You’d never have had Nintendo if you hadn’t had Atari. It’s a building block-type thing.” “We need our technologists to be flexible and skate to where the puck’s going,” says Seggebruch. “That’s a fundamentally important thing to remember, to remain flexible. Always be out there looking at what’s the next thing.” As the company has prospered—employee headcount is more than 100 at present—the co-founders have taken active roles in promoting Arkansas’s tech community in an effort to attract and retain the best and brightest homegrown talent. And while they agree that strides have been made, there’s plenty of untapped potential yet to be mined. “The great equalizer is the computer. People of color, gender minorities, not only are they not marginalized in the technical sphere, they are coveted as resources in the technical sphere,” Zylowski says. “We cannot find and recruit enough minority talent. We just can’t find them and that’s a challenge. It clearly hampers the breadth of thought around the ‘what,’ right? I mean, you don’t have that key insight. “That’s a point I would want to make and would encourage people of all different backgrounds, race, sex, whatever, to consider a technological or technology job.”
IDESTINI LIKE MANY PEOPLE, Abby Sims found her professional road to be anything but a straight path. But what the founder of Idestini in Bryant has always had was an eye for opportunity. “I definitely think you need to cast a wide net and take the opportunities that come,” she says. “If you want to be a great video game programmer, that’s awesome, but you might have to do something else first. You might need that to be your side passion that you work on nights and weekends. Work is not always sexy and we all have to cut our teeth and learn. There are some really good things that we can learn from places that you wouldn’t even think that you’re attracted to.” Sims launched Idestini in 2014, delivering custom software solutions to clients as varied as national sports governing bodies to international corporations. She says the sum total of her previous work experiences laid the foundation for her company’s success. “When you’re starting out, you
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need to be wide open to opportunity because, first off, you can’t wait for that dream job. If you wait for that dream job, you’re going to be behind,” she says. “You’re better off doing something. It’s like training for a big game; you’re better off practicing than sitting on the bench.” For most of her career, Sims had no designs on launching her own business. But after working remotely for one of her employers, she started to get a taste for keeping her own hours and acting like her own boss. “I started thinking, ‘What if I got my own clients? What if I did this myself?’” she says. Idestini launched shortly thereafter. Sims grew up on the East Coast. A bright student who finished high school bound to be a journalist, she got a rude awakening in college. “I figured out I hated journalism school,” she says. “I dropped out of college and went back home trying to figure out what to do with myself. I ended up taking coursework at what then would be like an ITT Tech school in New Jersey.” Even with 300 hours in computer programming and web design, and gathering some work experience along the way, Sims saw her tech career get derailed before it even started thanks to the one-two punch of the dot.com bubble bursting and 9/11. “Here I am, in between Philadelphia and New York City, and I’m one of, like, 6,000 people applying for a job,” she says. “It was not a good time to be where I was, looking to start my career in tech.” Moving to Arkansas’s greener job pastures landed her in Arkadelphia, then Little Rock. A string of tech roles followed, from the Arkansas Crime Lab to Southwest Power Pool to state government. Each stop allowed her to sharpen her skills and exposed her to what was new in tech. “I had an opportunity to work for Rockfish Interactive in Little Rock,” she says. “That was a lot of fun because we worked on a lot of social media, digital web app stuff. We had two campaigns for White Cloud Toilet Paper; we used to make apps to put on Facebook for people to submit their photos, and then the community would vote on the best things that had been made out of used toilet paper rolls. “With Sam’s Club, we did a virtual cheese tour, where new cheeses would unlock every week. They were from all around the world and, obviously, Sam’s Club was trying to promote that they were carrying these products in their stores. We got to work on some highly interactive, fun, visual stuff.” Sims says a key takeaway from her journey from employee to entrepreneur is something she reiterates to the many interns who have come to work for her over the years. That is, working your way to your dream job often comes with paying one’s dues in other positions. She hands out similar facts of tech life to women and minorities considering the tech field. “I’ve always felt welcomed in the places that I’ve worked here in Arkansas,” she says, “but women are still going to have to be willing to be the only woman in the room for a while. That’s just part of our journey. There are going to be places where it’s going to be more diverse and there’s going to be places where you might be the only woman and we need to be okay with
FUTURE'S SO BRIGHT: Zylowski and Seggebruch strategize on a project at Movista company headquarters.
"I’VE ALWAYS FELT welcomed in the places I’ve worked here in Arkansas,” says founder Abby Sims, here with her Idestini team. “But women are still going to have to be willing to be the only woman in the room for a while. That’s just part of our journey.” ITARKANSAS.COM | 2021 45
SCHOOL'S IN SESSION: Jeston George (top right) founded Apptegy after seeing the many messages home from his nephew's teachers. Company employees fashion integrated digital tools through creativity and teamwork, says Tyler Vawser (bottom left).
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that, right? It’s worth it. It really is worth it. It’s such a good career field and there are so many amazing opportunities. “Plus, there really is an interest here in building a diverse workforce, whether you’re a woman or a minority. Companies today are eager to have diversity, they’re eager to bring more women into tech, and the only way to do that is to interview more women. So, I would just really encourage girls, even if they go to college and major in something else, to take a programming class and give it a shot. They may enjoy it more than they think.”
APPTEGY IN THE BUSINESS world, companies go to great lengths and considerable expense to develop their brand based on products or services. Schools have traditionally lagged in telling their stories effectively, even to their own students and parents. Little Rock-based Apptegy was created out of the need for better communication between schools and their existing families. “We offer a tech product that helps school leaders bring all of their information to one place, and it makes it really easy for them to communicate,” says Tyler Vawser, Apptegy’s vice president of people. “The goal is not just to send out a text message, but to create an experience and to highlight that school district’s strengths. “School choice has become such a big topic. Superintendents, especially public school superintendents, are wrestling with this idea of private schools, charter schools, even virtual schools, and, depending on their location, they’re all fighting for the same students. The question we ask them is, ‘How, as a school district, are you going to stand out—and how are you making sure that you’re communicating your strengths?’” The company got its start when founder Jeston George noticed his nephew’s kindergarten teacher spent a lot of time on phone calls and texts reminding parents of upcoming school events and deadlines. George wondered why this couldn’t be automated via an app or website. Turns out the problem wasn’t that such tools didn’t exist; it’s that they weren’t integrated, as company officials found out when they started interviewing superintendents. “One of the things we kept hearing was they don’t really need another app,” says Vawser. “They already have enough systems. They can’t keep up with the systems they do have. ‘Our website is over here, our alert system is over there. We don’t have an app yet, but we also have to keep up with Facebook and Twitter.’ “So even in the early days, we moved from just thinking about how to build apps for schools to, ‘How do we help schools think about their whole communication strategy and really empower them to run their schools better in a
way that doesn’t require more effort, more time, or more people?ʼ” Apptegy developed powerful tools that not only allow school districts to tell their story, but are easy to update via Thrillshare, a product that delivers updates, alerts, texts, and announcements to whatever device the audience chooses to receive it. Teachers can update school news from field trips or coaches right from the sidelines, quickly and easily. Building a better product was only part of the equation; building a new business required additional support and personnel. “When you’re trying to create something from nothing and scale it extremely rapidly, everything is an outsized challenge and you can’t fail at any of it, including development, sales, hiring, customer service, and funding,” says Jeston George. “I’ve been fortunate to benefit from a number of entrepreneurial support organizations and state agencies that were instrumental in helping us get going, such as Fund for Arkansas’ Future, the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, the Venture Center, and Innovate Arkansas.” Among these needs are personnel. Vawser says that part of the challenge is that many prospective employees don’t know about tech companies like Apptegy that are based in Arkansas, even if they’re a game changer with national reach. “We’re not just a local company,” says Vawser. “Our clients are across 49 states and we work with over 1,500 school districts at this point, mostly public school districts, but we have some charter and private schools as well. There’s a lot of businesses that don’t have the national reach we do. “However, one of the biggest issues is always going to be talent. You think about the biggest cities and what they have going for them, it’s that they have a lot more people to talk to and that means more experience, more variations of background. Little Rock doesn’t have as much of it, but what you do have are people more committed to being here long-term.” Vawser says that while technical skills are getting easier to come by, thanks to computer courses in Arkansas schools, they aren’t the only thing he, as a hiring manager, looks for in an applicant. “One of the most important things you see in a lot of engineers is that they’re self-driven,” he says. “Some of our engineers have computer science degrees and some don’t. But all of them are very curious and self-driven. It doesn’t matter where you are—the Internet is there. So, you have access to most of the same resources here in Little Rock or anywhere in Arkansas that someone has in New York City or San Francisco or Shanghai. The question is, ‘What are you going to make of that?’ If you can self-teach and you can make use of those resources, that’s a very interesting profile for us.”
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The urgent push to expand rural broadband BY DWAIN HEBDA
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hen it comes to the subject of broadband access, Elizabeth Bowles doesn’t pull any punches. The president and CEO of Aristotle Inc., an Internet service provider, digital product development lab, and digital marketing agency, Bowles considers such access critical on multiple fronts of education, healthcare, and commerce. “Purdue University did a study showing that for every dollar you put into rural broadband, you bring back four dollars in economic development,” she says. “That’s huge anywhere, but especially in Arkansas’s rural communities.” Bowles is so passionate about the benefits of bringing broadband to underserved rural areas that she’s become one of the nation’s leading voices on the subject. She’s testified before Congress and the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, as well as headed national trade groups pushing the issue before decision-makers. “Broadband is an area that’s universally good for everybody, especially where there’s competition among providers,” she says. “It’s good for consumers because they have a choice. It’s good for the providers because it drives up demand. It’s good for the economy because the providers compete to bring a good service that then improves the economic development and base within that community. That’s really the aim.” Bowles says the widespread lack of broadband access puts rural communities at a distinct disadvantage, starting with education efforts for children. “Children who grow up in urban and suburban areas have access to resources, educational and otherwise, that children in rural and underserved communities don’t have,” says Bowles. “This creates a divide that’s not just digital, it’s also academic. Because of COVID-19, schools are closing in counties that have no way to get Internet to their children. So these kids won’t be able to do their homework, meaning they’ll fall behind—simply because they don’t have access to the Internet. “And even when we’re not in a pandemic situation, there are so many resources and so much curriculum enrichment that are online-based. If people don’t have access to those things, they’re not being prepared for the gig economy, which is the future. In that case, we’re relegating certain segments of children to certain types of career paths. They’re starting from behind right out of the gate.” The issue also extends to Main Street economic development, says Bowles. Communities already starving for new businesses are at a competitive disadvantage without broadband, both for fostering startups and for attracting
new businesses, to say nothing about work-from-home opportunities. “From an economic development perspective, access to fixed broadband Internet is critical,” says Bowles. “I emphasize the word ‘fixed’ because a lot of rural areas have mobile broadband. But when a factory is looking at locating in a particular area, or a company is looking at opening a headquarters or a branch office, they’re assessing all of the resources available. They want to know that they can get broadband or fiber or whatever they need to their factory. “More than that, they want to know that their employees can get broadband at home. If they can’t, the company isn’t going to be able to attract the right employees, because the employees won’t move there if their kids can’t get an education. So the lack of broadband in a community is a barrier to economic development.” After years of banging the drum, Bowles and other rural broadband advocates have finally started to see some movement at the very highest levels of leadership in Arkansas. Last year, Governor Asa Hutchinson established the Arkansas Broadband Office within the state Department of Commerce and tasked it with implementing AR Rural Connect, which provides millions in grant money to communities to help them tackle the problem and attract service providers. The governor’s goal is for all Arkansas communities over 500 residents to have access to broadband by the end of 2022. Bowles is also putting her company’s money toward making rural Arkansas on par with the rest of the state— and ahead of other rural areas nationwide. “My company is committed to doing this as fast as we possibly can,” she says. “We’ve brought in 16 teams, crews of four employees each. The only thing preventing us from moving more quickly is the supply chain and the inability to get gear or fiber or this or that. “We’re also creating jobs; after we build these networks, we’ll hire staff, train people who can climb towers, people who can do installations, people who can do service calls and take phone calls and run an office. We’re looking at not only expanding the broadband network itself, but also educating and employing the people in these communities. Hopefully, that will encourage people to stay home rather than try to move to the city to find a job. “I do believe everyone understands the urgency,” says Bowles. “But I think the provider industry also needs to step up and realize, if it takes you a year to put in a network, that’s a year that our kids are falling behind. The time is now.”
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continued from page 37 an outstanding job, while the other ones were just kind of okay. So, in year two, we turned it around. The students came up with the project they wanted to do, and then we found mentors to match the projects. In the third year, we added business students to the mix. We had 30 engineers and 20 business students in the program, the idea being that we would form teams of three plus two and do the same kinds of ambitious projects. With that as background, in our discussions on innovation with local, regional, and state-based companies the topic of data science kept coming up. Many of our companies—current and potential future employers for our students—depend on data for their success and growth. As a result, the deans of three of the UA system’s colleges—J. William Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences, led by Dean Todd Shields; Sam M. Walton College of Business, led by Dean Matt Waller; and the College of Engineering, led by Dean John English—got together and decided to
curriculum to instill in their future tech employees. It really came down to six outcomes, of pretty much equal importance. First was “Use of technologies for solving real-life data problems.” In other words, you can’t just rest on your tech knowledge per se. In a regular computer science curriculum, you could be taught how to create a file system, how to create a database, how to create an operating system, how to create a compiler, how to write things from first principles. But in our program, you’re going to use those things to get to the data. What’s important is making sure that the data’s right, that it’s clean, that it’s valid, and that you can then do things with the data. The example I use is, in the past you learned how to build a car. Now what we’re going to do is teach you to drive. The second desired outcome was “Ability to develop models and draw conclusions.” It isn’t enough just to be able to analyze the data. Our students will be able to create abstractions at a systems level, de-
“It’s important for students to understand that data and their talents are a means to an end, as opposed to just an end in itself.” create an exploratory team to understand this need and, if appropriate, to develop a curriculum to meet it. I was asked to chair that committee, the goal being to offer an official B.S. Data Science major as a collaboration of the three colleges. Our target date for the first course offerings was Fall 2020. I COME FROM the business world—from Dell, IBM, Honeywell, midsized companies and start-ups. I have decades of experience working with data and systems, and I’ve been a senior executive at companies. I’ve worked on the technical side, and I’ve worked on the business side. I’ve been a general manager. I’ve managed $80-million divisions of companies. Data makes the world go round and, to me, without software and without data to do something with, a server is just a space heater or a doorstop. That’s why today I have a tagline that appears on all my business communications: “Innovating for a Better World by Connecting Data and Technology to Business Value.” I think it’s especially important for these students to understand that data and their talents are a means to an end, as opposed to just an end in itself. In fact, this whole years-long process began with intense discussions between members of our Data Sciences Curriculum Development Committee and senior business executives throughout Arkansas. The businesspeople were very specific in what they wanted a new Data Sciences
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velop models from that, and then use those to draw conclusions from them. Number three is “Critical thinking and problem-solving.” I use the example of an old-fashioned slide rule, an unfamiliar relic to most of today’s students. A slide rule helped a user with the digits, but not with the decimal point. So, once you ran through your engineering problem, you had to look at it and figure out the power of 10 in the answer. You had to figure out whether or not that made sense—and if it didn’t, then you might have something else wrong, too. In critical thinking, you’ve got to be able to look at things and say, “Is this reasonable? Is this rational? Does this make sense?” Number four is “Interpreting and implicating.” You can’t just report the data—you’ve got to be able to draw conclusions and even project from it and be able to give that to senior decision-makers. Otherwise, what’s the value of the data? Number five is “Communication skills.” Engineers and scientists have a reputation for lacking such skills, especially outside their own discipline. Our data science students will be able to communicate their knowledge of a project to someone who perhaps speaks a different “language”—a CEO, say, or a marketing director, or an engineer, or the public. That leads us to number six, “Teamwork and knowledge transfer.” When our students graduate, they’ll already be used to working in in-
terdisciplinary teams, so they’ll start out in the business world understanding that everyone brings something to the table. In the Honors Innovation Experience pilot program, for example, I learned that there was a certain practicality that came from having the business students in the class with the engineers—the business students tended to ask really good questions that caused the engineers to think about cost, and how everything fit together. And, the business students benefited from the practicality and do-ability brought by the engineering students. The important thing for me, personally, is that this ability to work with people from outside their field will give our students an edge career-wise over their peers from other schools. They’ll already find it normal to seek out people in other departments and disciplines to work together in solving problems. TO MAKE CERTAIN that all our Data Science students are steeped in this kind of thinking, we designed this new multicollege interdisciplinary curriculum as a “hub and spoke” system, in which there is a core set of classes that all the students take, and then a series of concentrations that are 20 to 21 hours of the degree that are specific to their chosen field. The B.S. Data Science Core includes 35 hours of general education in the areas of math, science, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. The Core also includes three key elements for Data Science: •
Computing and Programming Foundation: Data Science lingua franca (R, Python); object-oriented programming (JAVA); programming algorithms and paradigms; data structures and databases; data processing; and cloud computing.
Statistics and Probability Foundation: Probability and statistics; multivariable math, including linear algebra; statistical methods for Data Science; decision-making; machine learning; and optimization.
Multidisciplinary Environment: Technical composition; the role of data science in today’s world; micro- and macroeconomics; business foundations; data visualization and communications; social issues in Data Science; and a mandatory two-semester multicollege interdisciplinary practicum.
Beyond the Core are 10 concentrations: Accounting Analytics; Bioinformatics; Biomedical and Healthcare Informatics; Business Data Analytics; Computational Analytics; Data Science Analytics; Geospatial Data Analytics; Operations Analytics; Social Data Analytics; and Supply Chain Analytics. Finally, every student is part of an interdisciplinary team tackling a real-life capstone project. The plan is to get companies who would like to participate with us to give us real problems with real data for the students to work on. For example, I recently mentored an industrial engineering capstone project team whose problem, from the industry partner, was, “We need to improve our profitability by one percent. We don’t know how to do it, and we have millions of data records on our
sales, but we need your help to figure out how to do that.” It’s a very open-ended problem. It’s a high-level definition, and it requires the students to be able to talk to people outside their domain and to research, identify, and use approaches completely new to them. At first, they were scared to death. It was like, “Oh, my God!” I tried to help them learn how to think about it. “This is going to be the kind of problem you’re going to get when you go to work,” I said. At that time, they were eight or so months from graduating. “Then think secondly that it’s so broad that you actually can define what the solution is.” It’s also an open-ended problem, which brings its own challenges. The team set up weekly calls with their interface at the company and met regularly as a team, so they were in good communication. I met with them every week to give them advice and counsel and they sought out subject matter experts from faculty and graduate students in specific areas of need. In early April, after they had completed the project, I said, “Looking back at it now, how do you feel about it?” “It actually wasn’t that bad,” they said. “You were right.” Now when they go out to get their first real problem to work on a team and also to work on a less than perfectly defined problem, they’re not going to freak out because they know there are paths to dealing with it. They just have to find those paths. WE LAUNCHED THIS new curriculum this past fall, which was of course complicated by COVID-19. And yet we are 110 percent certain that we’ve developed a ground-breaking program that will position our Data Science students to be sought after by local, state, and regional companies. Only two other universities in the entire country—Ohio State and North Carolina State—have done anything remotely this ambitious, and we visited both schools and learned from their experience. None of this, I must say, could’ve happened had not the deans of the UA System’s three colleges worked so extraordinarily well together. This is unique—it sure wasn’t this way when I went through school here. But when we kicked off this process, the three deans came to the meeting and spoke eloquently, and from the heart, about how important this curriculum change will be to our employers in the state and the region; to the university and its continuing reputation for excellence; and certainly to our students, who will graduate ready to make major contributions to their new employers. This is the future, and it is here. Over the next five years, our goal is to expand this approach to data science education to colleges and universities throughout the state, in collaboration with the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. But that is a story for another time.
Dr. Karl D. Schubert, FIET, is Professor of Practice and Associate Director of the Data Science Program for the College of Engineering, the Sam M. Walton College of Business, and the J. William Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences.
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continued from page 40 judgment that there are other factors that are important, and the final pieces of the equipping I was already doing anyway.” Because nobody comes to a new job knowing all the specifics of the position. That’s the mindset change we need to see on the employer’s part. But there also needs to be a change on the part of the job candidates too. Like the employers, they have to believe in this new opportunity. They have to see it as real. That’s a hard leap for some, who’ve been told over and over by teachers, parents, and potential employers that a four-year degree is the only way to success. They have to change their thinking: This is a true opportunity, this is attainable, and I don’t have to have a four-year degree to pursue it. By companies’ moving to this apprenticeship model and saying we’re going to reach out sooner to non-traditional candidates, and by candidates’ realizing they don’t have to worry about that four-year degree, all of a sudden opportunity flourishes because the talent pool becomes huge. And that’s what we’re experiencing in Arkansas right now. BUT THAT’S NOT the end of it—it’s just the beginning. Capability has to rise up to meet opportunity, which means that the people who want to be part of that talent pool have to take initial responsibility for equipping themselves. The equipping comes in two phases: There is the training they have to do on their own to show that they have the desire and the drive to succeed, plus some familiarity with what it means to work in IT. We at ACDS call this period the “pre-apprenticeship.” There are lots of online courses they can take, at little to no cost, and from which they’ll receive certificates of completion. These courses are important because the potential candidates aren’t just learning about various facets of IT; they’re also learning about themselves, determining, usually through trial and error, which path they want to go down.
They also need to pay attention to what we call the “soft skills”— interviewing, resumé writing, the importance of being collaborative. Back in the dark ages of computer science, engineers could do a little bit of everything—they gathered requirements, wrote the code, tested the code, and implemented the code. Today those are all unique occupations that come together in teams. So being comfortable working with others is a key requirement in today’s tech world. The second phase of equipping comes through the apprenticeship program, which gets to our part of the bargain. But before I explain that, I need to step back and tell what ACDS has been doing while all those would-be apprentices are preparing themselves. The process begins with ACDS teams fanning out and calling on employers and potential apprentices concurrently. On the employer side, every company uses IT in different ways. A data analyst at Walmart has a completely different job than does a data analyst at Lost Forty Brewery. That means the success of our apprenticeship program requires us to know—and completely understand—the intricate requirements of the jobs the employers are trying to fill. In order to gain that understanding, our Client Development team maintains deep interaction with some 150 employers across the state. If one is looking for, say, a cybersecurity specialist, we have to know specifically what kinds of things that person will be asked to do in that job, for that particular employer, and therefore what skills they need to have. While this knowledge-gathering is happening on the demand side of the equation, our Talent Acquisition team is busy on the supply side. They are constantly in touch with universities and secondary schools, and in the future we intend to become a presence in K-12 education— such is our long-range plan for reinventing the Arkansas workforce for the 21st century. But beyond these “traditional” routes to careers, we keep close tabs
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“The success of our apprenticeship program requires us to know—and completely understand—the intricate requirements of the jobs the employers are trying to fill.” on various untraditional pipelines as well. All over Arkansas there are organizations that have responsibility for looking out for various groups of people. Local workforce boards—there are 10 of them throughout the state—represent displaced workers, re-entry program candidates, or non-college-goers who might find themselves unemployed or underemployed. And then there are organizations, such as Winrock International, that reach out to underserved populations—people from rural areas, veterans returning to civilian life, minorities, and women. All of these organizations are taking stock of these folks and trying to point them in the right job direction. The idea is to make sure as many as possible are gainfully employed. ACDS creates partnerships with these organizations, because we’re all about casting a broad net to catch potential tech talent. But if these individual organizations are already trying to assess these people’s capabilities, why do they need ACDS? Well, often they don’t know where the right employers are, or don’t know the particular IT skills a certain employer is seeking. That’s where we come in. ACDS was created to be the state’s “omni IT workforce organization,” the go-between, the facilitator. We’re the hub of the IT workforce supply-and-demand wheel. We
link all the spokes. The next step for the Talent Acquisition team is to screen potential candidates via a phone interview, during which we collect information on education, work history, and past examples of self-learning tech-related tools. We also make notes about personality, inquisitiveness, and “coachability.” Candidates deemed promising are then invited to take our assessment test, which is designed to measure three qualities that are very important to success in IT careers: logic reasoning, verbal ability, and quantitative aptitude. This test can be adjusted to include specific job-related questions—for example, coding questions for candidates interested in pursuing software development. That being said, this assessment is as much about candidates’ “stickto-itiveness” as it is about their analytical capability. Because it takes a while to get through it, and if they punt and say, “Well, this is too hard,” or, “This is taking too long,” then we know they don’t have what it takes to work in IT. Because throughout the tech world, the project mentality is just this way—you’ve got to stay with it, there is no perfect answer, you finally work through it and you get it. So being able to navigate ambiguity and uncertainty is a key aspect of being successful in an IT career.
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“What we’re putting in the middle is this skill building, the apprenticeship training component that’s going to be spot‑on.” NOW THE CLIENT Development and Talent Acquisition teams put their heads together—here are the jobs that need filling, and here are some well-vetted apprenticeship candidates. This is the moment that ACDS was created for—to match the right tech talent to the right tech job. It is an intricate process to really understand the difference between what skills and personality traits make for a great developer instead of a great data analyst. We can guide candidates to the best career path for them and their abilities, be it on the hardware side as a network technician, or as someone who works in cybersecurity. These are things that aren’t application-specific but are related more to the general cyber environment as a whole. We’re also ongoing champions of tech talent. If our assessment is that they’re not quite ready, we’ll help them do what they need to do to become ready. Then we’ll help them connect with employers, because this is a whole new paradigm. These potential apprentices aren’t at college waiting for a traditional career placement opportunity. They’re out there in this ecosystem somewhat on their own, but we’re saying, “No, we don’t want you to be on your own. We want you to understand our apprenticeship model, and apply. We’re going to coach you along. We’re going to help you get to that minimum level of capability and then put you in front of those employers.” For the employers, what we bring to their tables is assurance that they have a partner who understands the specificity of their IT demands, even those that aren’t taught in school, and that we can help lead them to the very tech candidates they need to find. It’s a new paradigm for the employers too. “We want you to come with us to meet these candidates earlier,” we say—”these minorities, these females, these veterans, these career changers.” And the employers have to experience that, a process that they’re not fully used to. “Yeah,” they say, “but is it going to work? Are they going to be able to take the next step?” And this is where we have to get both sides confident that what we’re putting in the middle is this skill building, the apprenticeship training component that’s going to be spot-on. It’s going to be customized exactly the way employers need it to be. They have control over the curriculum. We make sure it’s integrated so that the employees—the now-apprentices who are already hired and are earning while they’re learning—are going to get two things at once. They’re going to get very targeted, specific classroom learning about tech skills; and at the
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same time the company will be providing on-the-job training to give these new employees the corporate context they need. If they’re being taught a particular coding language or specific techniques about data analytics, it’s because that will be applicable to the company and the job they’ve already been hired for. The employers win because they get productivity faster, and the candidates win because they get paid training to prepare them for a successful tech career. WHENEVER I’M ASKED to describe the apprenticeship process, I inevitably summon up the image of a “three-legged stool.” The first two legs on that stool are employers and apprentices. And the third leg? It’s training. Without proper, proven training, the whole registered apprenticeship concept collapses. Training is the glue that holds this particular supply and demand together. Let’s say that several employers are looking for cybersecurity talent, as is increasingly the case today. It makes sense then for ACDS and its training partners to devise a cybersecurity apprenticeship program during which these apprentices will be trained not only in general aspects of cybersecurity, but also in the specifics of the employer/sponsor. But how can we be sure of this? We become the experts by going to the experts. For a recent cybersecurity apprenticeship program, ACDS approached the American Cyber Alliance (ACA) to become the training provider. ACA has access to some of the best minds in the cybersecurity field, people who aren’t just instructors but who have worked in the profession, whether for the Department of Defense or the military or in private business. That’s a great example of the kinds of experts we’re working with to provide skill training for apprenticeship programs in the state of Arkansas. But our job doesn’t stop at just bringing their expertise to bear on our training programs. We evaluate whether or not their material is current, especially if they’ve taught such courses over and over. We want to be the conduit to the most current requirements and to make sure they add cutting-edge training to their curriculum. We also want them to provide labs and the kind of an environment that simulates, as closely as possible, what a person is going to be doing on the job. With ACA, before we started the cybersecurity training, we brought in some employers to look at the curriculum built by these experts. The employers had a chance to tweak it—“a little less of this, a little more of
that.” This way, we ended up with an agreement by multiple businesses that our training aligned with their needs, meaning that our apprentices will be more likely to assimilate easily into their organizations and become productive as quickly as possible. We call groups like ACA our “training partners,” and we’re partnering in the same way with such organizations as the University of Arkansas Global Campus in NWA, which does continuing education, the Arkansas Coding Academy in Conway, and ASU-Newport in Northeast Arkansas. There are two good reasons this model works so effectively: One, it’s employer driven, and two, ACDS acts as the evaluator to ensure that our apprenticeship programs are teaching the right skills. This way the companies start with something that’s proven, something they can trust. More and more Arkansas employers are telling us that we’ve changed their thinking about opening their door to a broader population, but that their recruiting processes aren’t yet set up to reach those populations and those candidates effectively. So once again, we’re the hub. And in matching up that broader supply with the specific demand, we can help gauge if a candidate ought to go down this path or that one. For you students and soon-to-be-grads, all of this is very good news indeed. While everyone is for producing more traditional four-year college tech graduates, a big piece of my heart goes out to those “nontraditional” computer lovers throughout our state. I think about the high
school kid in, say, Dumas, Arkansas, who loves her computer and is intrigued by the capability that sits behind the screen of her smartphone. But she can’t afford to go to college and doesn’t really know what she’s going to do with her life. There are passionate kids like that all over our state, and I don’t want to see them fall between the cracks. As someone who’s been working on this apprenticeship issue throughout this country for decades, I know that if we leave kids like that to fend for themselves, we’re going to end up with more failures than successes. So what we in Arkansas have to do is continue to adjust our traditional ecosystem so that it makes a place for every one of those “nontraditional” computer lovers too. What some people still miss is how important a role these computer-savvy outliers can be to our state’s economic success. Collectively they have tech knowledge and tech drive, they’re young and eager, and they can contribute immediately. They are indeed a force to be reckoned with. If you’re one of those outliers and you want to talk with someone about an apprenticeship, I invite you to contact our Talent Acquisition team at email@example.com. Your opportunity is knocking. Lonnie Emard is Apprenticeship Director at the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences.
Does the idea of Cloud Banking put you on Cloud Nine? Join a team doing exciting and innovative things in the digital banking space. Simmons Bank is looking for new associates with a passion for service. For us, it’s not just about IT. It’s about helping customers bank the way they want now – and in the future. Apply today at simmonsbank.com/careers.
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BACK END ► TIPS & TECHNIQUES
RE-SKILL YOUR RESUMÉ
You know what they say about first impressions
hink of your resumé as the trailer to Your Career: The Movie. It gives an employer a glimpse of the kind of employee you’ll be, so you want it to accurately reflect the focus and determination you’ll bring to the job. A resumé is your initial sales tool to hook a company’s interest and make those potential employers want to learn more about you. Great Resumé Content Includes… • A summary or objective that serves as a snapshot of why you’re pursuing the job and what you bring to the table; • A list of core competencies and/or skills relevant to the job you’re pursuing; • Your work history, beginning with the most recent place of employment; • Your education history or recent coursework; • Side projects or volunteer experiences relevant to the job you’re pursuing; • Your LinkedIn and/or GitHub profile, personal website, or any link related to your field; • XYZ bullet approach, meaning, “I did X, using Y, which resulted in Z.” Common Resumé Mistakes Include… • Spelling and grammatical errors; • Inaccurate information (work history, dates, degrees, etc.); • Inconsistencies in format (font sizes, punctuation, caps, bold text, etc.); • Not tailoring your resumé to the job you’re seeking; • Photos—don’t include a photo of yourself (or anyone) on your resumé; • Too lengthy or too many bullet points—ideally, your resumé should be two pages or less; • Graphics, colors, and funky fonts—simple is still best in resumé formatting. Source: Michael Bunch/ACDS
NAME SURNAME Objective Skills Work E xperience
IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE CODING
In tech, soft skills can be the difference between success and failure
he tech industry is filled with processes, road maps, and wiring. It’s also full of people with the technical or “hard” skills that are important to getting the job done. But as industry insiders will tell you, technical knowledge is only half the picture. Soft skills are equally in demand, even if they’re underrated by many job seekers (to their detriment). Here are some of the most important of these skills in the IT workplace:
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1. COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION
Building tech with someone else or as part of a team makes for better applications and products. Effective communication is also crucial to explain how something works and to outline a solution, often to a non-tech client or audience. Effective communicators do not “dumb down” complex information, but are adept at making such concepts clear through common language, analogies, and adapting to their audience.
GETTING READY FOR YOUR INTERVIEW Check, check, check, check, check
f the resumé is the trailer to your career movie, the interview falls somewhere between your working script and your character backstory. In other words, you want to know exactly who it is you’re intending to project. This is no time for improv! Before you step into that interview room, think hard about the points you want to make about yourself, and also what you want to know about the company you’re interviewing with. Curiosity is good. Below are a couple of checklists you’ll find helpful. Practice Answering Common Interview Questions… “Tell me about yourself.” “Why did you apply for this specific job?” “What were your reasons for leaving your last two jobs?” “Please tell me about a project, and include details, that highlights your technical skills and abilities.” A Handful of Do’s (and one Don’t)… Do: Your research—know details about the company. Do: Prepare a few good questions to ask. Do: Ask for feedback. Do: Take notes. Do: Bring a copy of your resumé. Do: Turn off your cell phone. Do: Prepare notes about points you want to make and have them handy if the interview is by phone or video (in the latter case, keep your notes off camera). Do: Post interview, send your interviewer a short email thanking him/her for the opportunity to interview. Include when you interviewed and for what position. To really stand out, re-attach a resumé, mention something specific that you liked about the conversation or position, and reference your salary range target and location—“I am open to Data Analyst or IT Analyst position in Little Rock with a desired salary range of $35-40K.” Don’t: Get upset if the recruiter doesn’t reply. The majority of a recruiter’s day is spent triaging resumés. Source: ACDS
2. TIME MANAGEMENT
Contrary to popular belief, most tech work isn’t performed in a room by oneself, but is actually completed in a highly team-oriented environment. That means that good or bad time management skills by a team member can have a corresponding effect on the rest of the members. Time management also affects many other soft skills, like dependability in meeting deadlines, which in turn become an employee’s reputation when considered for advancement.
Networking is important on many levels. A strong network provides a resource to help overcome challenges and solve problems. No one has all the answers all the time, and the ability to adapt and absorb others’ expertise is a leadership skill that companies are willing to pay for. The wider the network, the wider the range of outside expertise that can shore up weaknesses in a project or a team.
Before you can solve the client’s issue, you must understand the client’s difficulty and dissatisfaction with their existing network, website, app, or other technology. Products that don’t address these issues, but instead force the user to adapt to the product, are not designed with empathy in mind. As a result, such products are generally dropped at the first opportunity for companies that “get it” in the eyes of the consumer.
5. CRITICAL THINKING
Many people who gravitate into tech careers do so for the predictability of outcomes that math and science generally provide. But ask anyone in the industry and they’ll tell you that problems can emerge where you least expect them, requiring staff members to think on their feet. Critical thinking is the ability to assess a problem and offer a productive solution, being flexible and creative enough to bend within certain operational, logistical, or cost parameters. Source: Business News Daily ITARKANSAS.COM | 2021 57
Building Connections that Count
B R O A D B A N D Rural Arkansas’ Internet Partner
Dedicated to Bridging the Digital Divide BE PART OF THE SOLUTION: Aristotle.net 58 ITARKANSAS | 2021
TO RECHARGE, YOU HAVE TO UNPLUG Tech workers dish on managing stress
BACK END ►OFFSCREEN
BY DWAIN HEBDA
f all the things he loves about his job, the hustle might be Josh Whitehurst’s drug of choice. “I like aggressive deadlines,” says Whitehurst, product analyst for North Little Rock-based First Orion. “I’ve noticed that personality trait in most of my co-workers, too. They operate well with a lot going on.” For people like Whitehurst, it doesn’t get any better than when he’s feeding the dragon of a demanding professional life. Even as coronavirus has sequestered many to their homes, technology has allowed tech workers to produce almost without missing a step. And that connectivity, like all enablers, is the problem when it comes to stress and burnout. “Being a technology company, there are very few places in the world I can go to escape my work,” he said. “A stressor for me is always being connected. I love what I do. I love who I work with. But that in no way, shape, or form means I want to hear from that side of my life 24/7. “It’s a weird dichotomy that I’m stuck in right now. My phone and my computer turn into both a savior and a curse, at the same time.” IN THE ARENA of public perception, some industries walk hand firmly in hand with long hours, compulsive work habits, and nearly superhuman demands. The tech industry is near the top of that list and with good reason; last year Blind, a workplace app for tech employees, posed a one-question survey to its users, which include more than 100,000 employees from Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Uber, and Facebook alone. That question: “Are you currently experiencing burnout?” Nearly six in 10 responded, “Yes.” This isn’t a surprise in an industry where the culture of top-tier companies is built on 100hour workweeks and lavish corporate campuses replace many comforts of the outside world, giving workers less motivation to go home. Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said as much in a 2016 interview about her time at Google. “When reporters write about Google, they write about it as if [hard work] was inevitable,” Mayer said. “The actual experience was more like, ‘Could you work 130 hours in a week?’ The answer is ‘yes’ if you’re strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom.”
“My phone and my computer turn into both a savior and a curse.” ITARKANSAS.COM | 2021 59
BACK END ►OFFSCREEN
While acknowledging such examples as extreme, Whitehurst says that workaholism is to some degree endemic throughout the tech industry. “The nature of the technical world, as a whole, is technology is moving so fast, it is everything that we can do as people to keep up with it. If I were to show you what I was working on this week, it would look entirely different next week. But the magnitude of the work being done would not change.” Joe Ehrhardt, CEO of Teslar Software in Springdale, says that while individual companies can’t change everything about such a marketplace, they can support a culture that recognizes the needs of the individual while meeting the demands of the project. “Anytime I hire people, we talk about quality of life,” he says. “I say we’re busy, we’re going to work pretty hard, but I don’t ever expect you to miss a kid’s track meet, play, any of that. We’ll schedule anything and everything around that. Those are events that you’ll never get back. “I tell people one of the cool things about working for a tech startup is I might need you to work until midnight tonight, but tomorrow you might want to take the day off and go fishing with your kids. Now I will tell you, if you talk to my team members right now, they would tell you the job is hard because of COVID. But I would be very sad if I ever heard of a team member who missed a major event because of work.” Ehrhardt also understands the nature of his employees such that he manages projects strategically to keep people motivated and not just running on a hamster wheel. “Tech people, and I’m one of them, love everything new. They like new projects,” he says. “So, one of the ways to prevent burnout is to make sure that you’re rotating yourself and other people to new and exciting things and not getting people stuck in a rut. “But I think it’s not just one thing. You’ve got to have balance. You’ve got to have a good company culture. Your work has to feel like it has a purpose. People have to feel like they’re making a difference. And it’s got to have some excitement. When you’re working hard, if you don’t have those things, you’ll burn out real fast.”
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Priorities Promote Balance
ver his tech career, Cabot native Chris Bidenbender has worked as a consultant, part of a startup, and in the corporate environment, all while being a single dad. We asked the software engineer with Simmons Bank how he keeps it all in balance. SET BOUNDARIES: Too often, workers are afraid to speak up for what’s really important to them. Bidenbender staked out the one week per month his son lives with him as off-limits. “On my week, he gets out of school and I pick him up from daycare about 5:00 or 5:30. So from 5:00 to essentially 8:30, I’m not available,” he says. “I’m available if the end of the world happens, but otherwise I’m not going to answer my phone, not going to look at it.” GIVE AND TAKE: At the same time, Bidenbender says there are ways to meet your employer halfway without letting it encroach on the time you’ve set aside as your own. “When my son goes to bed, I’m on again. If something needs to be worked on, I can stay up and work late if I need to,” he says. “Another thing, wherever I’ve been if we knew we were going to have a really rough weekend I immediately volunteered to work if I didn’t have my son. That counteracted the times I couldn’t work.” DECIDE WHAT’S IMPORTANT: Periodically take inventory of what you really want in life. Understand some jobs may not be right for you, and know your priorities will change over time. “It can be hard when you’re younger, you don’t make much money and you’re trying to establish yourself, or in the startup world where you’re running to make ends meet,” Bidenbender says. “At some point I realized I was pushing, pushing, pushing. You’ve just got to say, ‘Is money really the most important thing?’ It’s good, but it’s not the only thing.” MAINTAIN YOUR VALUE: Toughing it out works in limited doses, but in the long term, the outcome is predictable. Bidenbender says that understanding your limits not only helps you avoid burnout, but makes you a better employee overall. “Taking a timeout for yourself is helpful. If you’re not mentally there, then you’re just going to fail at everything,” he says. “Everybody’s got something that drives them. I like building new things, hustling, that type of thing, but family is the most important thing I can think of. I’ve got to set time aside for that in order to be happy.”
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THROW NO ONE UNDER THE BUS And other essential career advice BY SCOTT SPRADLEY
y daughter recently graduated from college and my son from high school, and a lot of their friends have reached out and asked what advice I can share about these next stages of their lives. I generally say, first, that I’ve achieved what I’ve achieved because I genuinely love doing what I do. It’s not a job for me. I like to play with technology, I like to play with people, I like to lead people. So I’m getting paid to do my hobby. And I don’t have a single day when I wake up and say, “Oh, God, I gotta go to the office today.” I don’t have that day. So it all starts with pursuing what is genuinely fun to you. The second thing I would say is, expose yourself to a wide array of things. Just as coaches will tell you they prefer to recruit an athlete who played four or five sports and then settled on one, exposing yourself to different avenues of potential work is a great thing. My college major was political science, and I once thought being a lawyer would be cool. I loved reading law books, and I still will occasionally read case law, just because it’s fascinating to me. I love the details. I’m one of the few people who read manuals, but I read them cover to cover. When I buy a car, I read the whole thing, and then I know everything the car does. And the manual goes in the glove box and I’m the human manual for it. But finding what you love is the first thing. Then once you find that, my next advice is, don’t rush. I see a lot of people thinking they’ve got to rush to the top. They believe they’re in competition with their peers, and they’re not. Your career’s going to find you as much as you find your career. I think the biggest mistake people make is changing jobs for money. I once did that—I left a company because I got offered a considerably larger sum of money to go to work for another company. And, boy, I wasn’t there very long before I realized, “I don’t care how much money I’m making here, this is not what I like to do.” Huge mistake. I ALSO HAVE some tactical advice that I give everybody—just three or four rules, and if you live by them, you’re always going to be fine.
First is never tell a lie. If you have to work to remember something, that’s probably not good. Things that really happen to you, you never forget. So always be honest. If you’re asked if you did something, and you did it, say, “Yes, I did.” If you’re asked and you didn’t do it, say, “No, I did not.” Do you know the answer to this? “No, I do not.” Is this your work? “No, it was the team’s work.” Always be very honest. Two, never throw anybody under the bus, because you never know who’s going to be your manager. Years ago, Intel acquired a startup that I was at, and the guy who came in as the “integration manager,” who was my manager, was just brutal to me. I mean brutal. He hated how much they were paying me, he was disrespectful to me, he tore things up, slammed my laptop, he was just brutal. Two years later, I found myself standing in his cubicle because I had become his manager’s manager. So he was sitting there looking up at me, and he said, “I suppose this is where the payback starts.” And I said, “No, this is where I’m going to show you how to manage the way you want to be managed. I could easily come in here and be a jackass to you, but I’m just going to try to manage you the way most people want to be managed.” So the key rule is never throw anybody under the bus, and don’t disrespect anybody. Let people have dignity every day. My third rule is, never breach a confidence. At some point you’re going to be exposed to something, and somebody’s going to say, “Hey, keep this between us.” Do that. Because sometimes people are going to set you up and see if you’re going to keep it to yourself or not. I often give a speech about how information is like beer—how much can you handle? I’ll give you some information, and if you look like you can handle it, I’ll serve you a little bit more. But if I see you start mishandling it, then I’m shutting you down. So that’s another piece of advice I give. Finally, don’t talk about things you don’t know about. Don’t try to purport value in areas that you don’t have value in—leave that for the person who does have value in it. If you follow those rules, and if you’re doing what you love to do, you’re set up for a pretty darn good life.
Scott Spradley is EVP and Chief Technology Officer at Tyson Foods. Before returning to his native Arkansas to join Tyson, he was CIO at Hewlett-Packard and, most recently, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Prior to HP, he held a variety of leadership roles at Chevron and Intel. 62 ITARKANSAS | 2021
ILLUSTRATION: JENNIFER PERREN
BACK END ► LIFE LESSONS
Aptitude and attitude. An excellent combination for an exciting career in IT. See what these near peers – who are blazing trails at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield – have to say about their journey so far.
Subham Sarkar – Associate Developer (2018 summer intern; hired in 2019, 2 promotions within 2 calendar years) I was a part of the 2018 Arkansas Blue Cross internship program. It was an excellent experience to improve my skill set, professionalism and communication skills, to network with people and to build my resume. As a full-time employee, I learned to communicate better within teams, use time management in a fast-paced professional environment, and gained insight into the organization through luncheons with the vice presidents. Every day along the path, I learn something new about software engineering and emerging technologies, teamwork and how to face challenges and overcome them. That’s what makes this job so interesting and exciting.
Gerson Vasquez – Business Systems Analyst (hired as a claims review specialist in 2017, promoted to IS Configuration in July 2019) I’ve always been fascinated with technology and how it has evolved through the years. I personally think that Arkansas Blue Cross is one of the best, if not the best company to work for in Arkansas. I have worked in a few departments and my co-workers and leaders have been amazing and helpful. The organization really cares about its employees and it shows. If you want to learn and grow in a company, this is a great field. You gain tremendous knowledge that can be applied in more than one department. IS is a field that will always keep you on your toes. You won’t get bored.
Jordan Stormo – Associate Developer (2019 summer intern, hired onto Outbound Data Integration team in 2020) I was assigned to the Network Operations Center during the 2019 Arkansas Blue Cross Summer Internship program, where I helped research and prototype AIOps solutions (artificial intelligence for IT operations). I also cross-trained with the Virtualization Services team during their tech refresh. It was a great experience all around. If you plan to go into IT, my advice is to network with people of different backgrounds and apply for internships! It is an amazing opportunity to get some early experience. As an employee, I love the environment at Arkansas Blue Cross and the people on my team. There is such a wide range of knowledge.
Find out more about careers here: Online: arkansasbluecross.com/company/career-opportunities Email: Careers@arkbluecross.com
â€œBy exposing our students to cutting-edge research at UA Little Rock, we are training the next generation of an IT workforce capable of developing innovative solutions fueled by big data. With state and UA Little Rock leadership aligned to encourage high-impact research and innovation, limitless opportunities abound.â€? -Dr. Nitin Agarwal Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor of Information Science, Director of the Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies