ITArkansas Magazine | Vol. 2 | 2022

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A Partnership of Arkansas Times, Arkansas Center for Data Sciences, and East Initiative

ISSUE NO. 2 | 2022









Fearless Frontier Cyberspace. A bold frontier. Information is the engine that propels our daily lives and helps us explore brave new worlds. And generating, managing and defending data are mission-critical. From internships … to analysts … to project leads – if you are looking for a career adventure as an information professional, join us and help us chart a course that leads to a better future for the people who trust us with their health coverage.

Find out more about careers here: 00419.01.01-0122



Ingen Software, incorporated in 2000, is located in Cabot, Arkansas. While our company’s initial focus was creating ondemand software solutions and consulting, we quickly realized a software need within a niche industry: the industrial lighting industry. In 2001, Ingen created OASIS Sales Software to begin the journey of providing the most useable and innovative business solutions to lighting representatives, distributors, and manufacturers.

INGENIOUS SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS With few competitors, OASIS quickly became a tool to define industry standards. By 2003, our team began training lighting agencies across the United States and Canada on best practices, using their feedback to guide its future development. By the end of 2012, OASIS became the leading business management software in the industry. We operate on a fail-fast system, meaning we develop new products incrementally and conduct extensive testing to identify points of failure early on. This approach to development limits the amount of downtime our customers may face. We also encourage this philosophy within our culture; we have the freedom to fail and emphasize the importance of learning from failure. Removing the stigma of failure empowers our employees to take chances and express ideas when approaching a problem, ultimately leading to new, innovative solutions. We also strive to cultivate partnerships within our community. Early on, we designed an internship program to work with colleges in our area to train new talent and develop the next generation of IT professionals. Students contribute to real projects that challenge them to think critically and apply the knowledge learned within the classroom, all while picking up new skill sets along the way.

Top Row Left to Right: Ryan Burnette, Bradley Rhea, Derek Waterman Bottom Row Left to Right: Lauren Smith, Trinity Lopez, Shelby Smith, Aleah Langrell

Today, Ingen Software celebrates twenty-two years of successful innovation. OASIS has grown from a simple software application into separate software versions for lighting representatives, distributors, and manufacturers. With over 8000 users, we strike a healthy balance between innovation and stability by releasing new features or improvements monthly. Additionally, when a user calls, we always have a live person to help resolve their issues. If you’re interested in joining our team or applying for our internship program, email us at

Derek Waterman

Trinity Lopez

Cay Percifield

Lauren Smith

Tony Moss

ISSUE NO. 2 | 2022


As you go through life, having just a “job” becomes less and less fulfilling. Work isn’t “work” if you’re doing something you love.


The new industrial revolution inside our factories…Life 2.0: How the best-laid plans can surprise you with a tech career… An Arkansas company redefines supply chain at the perfect moment… Anti-social media: Why military and government agencies are so interested in today’s online chatter…Infrastructure in place, Arkansas’s Office of Skills Development looks to the bright possibilities of 2022


So goes the official industry stance. But it’s a messy world out there, and it doesn’t like being inconvenienced.



As Steve Jobs said, you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking back. So how do you know you’re on the right track?

22 IN THE BEGINNING: Q & A with ACDS’ Ashley French

You can’t have a career without landing that first job. Which means the IT recruiter is your new best friend.

24 ONE DAY, IF YOU’RE LUCKY, YOU’LL BE 45 By Charles D. Morgan

The serial entrepreneur and First Orion CEO tells why you should take a longer view of what you look for in your work.


In today's hypercompetitive labor market, here’s what the most successful companies do to bring on the talent they need—and hold onto them for the long haul.


How job-hopping became a generational flash point, and what some tech professionals recommend to change that.



Because careers look different at different stages, we asked tech professionals at 5 years, 10 years, 15 years,

and 25+ years to share their hard-earned wisdom. 4 ITARKANSAS | 2022


Remember who you are: The importance of a positive attitude…Soft skills that can take you far…Apprentices on Apprenticeships: Insights and advice from the ‘Class of ‘21’

45 OFFSCREEN By Dwain Hebda

For one tech CEO, every day is like going to the gym—it’s you vs. you

46 LIFE LESSONS By Lawrence E. Whitman

People find the spark of imagination in all kinds of places

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 (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.

A Partnership of

Please email your illustration (black and white only) in an EPS or PDF file to

ENTRY DEADLINE IS 5 P.M. FRIDAY, MAY 29. The book will feature your illustration on a 8-by-10-inch page. Please provide the name you would like to have as credit, plus your website, twitter handle, Instagram handle and anything else you would like to include for folks to reach you. Please also send a three- or four-sentence sentence bio of yourself along with a photo if possible for our contributor page. Be sure and include your address so we can mail you the monthly check.

UA-PTC means Business AND Information Technology!

Computer Information Systems

MANYApplied THANKS! Programming, Cybersecurity, and Networking. Digital Media Production Advertising, Graphic Design, Computer Illustration, Web Design, and Animation.


Business and Information Technology Program Associate of Applied Science degrees and certificates for career education in Accounting, Entrepreneurship, Office Technology, Office Supervision Management and Paralegal Technology. Business or Information Technology Associate of Science degrees transfer to four-year bachelors programs upon graduation to prepare you for taking the next step in your college education!


DIRECTOR OF ADVERTISING Phyllis A. Britton ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES Brooke Wallace, Lee Major, Terrell Jacob and Kaitlyn Looney DIRECTOR OF DIGITAL STRATEGY Jordan Little




ARKANSAS IS HOME THE WORLD IS OUR NEIGHBORHOOD What inspires you? At Euronet Software Solutions, it's our internationally diverse, creative, and entrepreneurial team members. With over 65 global offices serving 165 countries, we have a unique perspective of different cultures, economies, and consumer needs. While our Little Rock team collaborates with some of the world's most experienced software developers and programmers on a daily basis, it is also important to us that we support our local community through involvement with organizations such as Arkansas Food Bank, Special Olympics, and Habitat for Humanity. If you have a passion for improving lives locally and globally, we would love for you to join us.



201 EAST MARKHAM, SUITE 150 LITTLE ROCK, AR 72201 501-375-2985

Arkansas based. Globally connected. Euronet Software Solutions, A Division of Euronet Worldwide, Inc. 17300 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock, AR 72223 USA ITARKANSAS.COM | 2022 5



HOW IS A CAREER DIFFERENT FROM AHowJOB? is a river different from a pond? BY BILL YODER


nybody who's ever had a career started by getting a job. A job is a good thing to have. It’s what you do in order to receive a paycheck. But as you go through life, having just a “job” becomes less and less fulfilling. Work doesn’t have to be “work.” If you’re doing something you love, something that makes you feel good about yourself and your contribution to the world, that’s one aspect of this concept we call a “career.” In a sense, a career is a two-sided thing. On one side is you, realizing you love your work and are committed to growing with it. That means becoming the best you can be at the work you do. It entails setting goals for yourself within your chosen field, and continually measuring yourself against your goals. A career is, by definition, a long-view process. The other side of a career is the company that employs you. Most of us, with the possible exception of artists and writers, will work for a company—or companies—during our careers, and that’s especially true of most IT professionals, who more and more operate as members of a team. So again, that word commitment comes into play. You’re committed to growing in your career, which necessarily means that you’re committed to helping your team and your company succeed. Companies have a vision and a mission, and if you want to build a successful career at a company, you internalize the vision and the mission so you viscerally understand how you can make an impact. Having a career implies that you’re committed to being a lifetime learner, both for yourself and for your company. Companies never stop evolving, or they go out of business. That means all of the individuals who make up that company’s teams can never stop growing and evolving as well. In return for your commitment to your company, your company is committed—ideally—to helping you succeed and grow. I say “ideally” because some companies fall short in that effort, that responsibility. Instead, their allegiance may be to their stockholders or to their senior executives. “There’s one quick way for prospective employees to judge a company’s culture,” says Charles Morgan, CEO of First Orion and Chairman of ACDS. “If the CEO has a reserved parking spot right by the door, it’s a good bet that company isn’t for you.”

THE SUBJECT OF Careers is a complex one, especially in this time of remote work and a hypercompetitive IT talent market. That’s why for this second issue of ITArkansas Magazine we at ACDS and Arkansas Times chose to explore the idea of Careers in all its ramifications. It’s interesting to me that the word career has two very different meanings. As a noun, it’s defined as “an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.” An example of that definition would be, “He seemed destined for a career as an engineer like his father.” But as a verb, career means to “move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way in a specified direction”—as in,



“Everyone’s career is essentially a personal pursuit, negotiated across any number of playing fields over the course of a lifetime.”

“The car careered across the road and went through a hedge.” As you young readers embark on your own work-life journey, remember that you want the noun, not the verb! Ultimately, everyone’s career is essentially a personal pursuit, negotiated across any number of playing fields over the course of a lifetime. That means there are lots of ways to go about it, as well as ways not to go about it. But all careers begin in the same place—with your landing that first job. Appropriately, we kick off our special Careers package with an interview with Ashley French, ACDS’ Director of Talent Acquisition and Development, whose goal is to get you started on the right foot. Ashley’s professional insights have been gained over many years of high-level IT talent recruitment. Ironically, she says she seldom uses the word career—the better to get you started on one. We’re especially pleased to feature a piece by Charles Morgan, who knows a thing or two about successful careers. In “One Day, If You’re Lucky, You’ll Be 45,” he urges young tech talent to “take a longer view of what you look for in your work.” Morgan, whose dynamic First Orion is on a hiring spree, laments that too many young tech people choose “instant gratification over career.” At various times over your working life, you’re likely to be faced with deciding whether or not to leave one company for another. These are very important decisions, and knowing what you love and value about your work is a key strength when it comes to deciding wisely. “I think the biggest mistake people make is changing jobs for money,” wrote Scott Spradley, EVP and Chief Technology Officer of Tyson Foods, in the inaugural issue of ITArkansas. Now, in this issue, Senior Editor Dwain Hebda probes the generational flash point of “Job-Hopping.” On the other side of the employment equation, today’s smartest tech companies are doing everything they can to recruit and retain top IT talent. In “It’s the Culture, Stupid,” we check in with several of the most successful companies to find out the secrets of their success. Incidentally, Arkansas is fortunate to be the home of several tech companies that are leaders in their industry, so our career-minded young tech professionals have some great opportunities right here in The Natural State. Finally, because careers look and feel different at different stages of the process, we’re wrapping up our Careers package with profiles of four tech professionals at different milestones on their journey: five years, 10 years, 15 years, and 25+ years. We hope you find this issue interesting, provocative, instructive, and challenging. In closing, I want to share a quote about the nebulous nature of building a career from one of the truly legendary stars of the tech industry, Steve Jobs. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” Bill Yoder is Executive Director of the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences.



TECH YOU DON’T EXPECT The new industrial revolution taking place inside our factories


sk most people what they think of when they hear the word factory, and well-worn images of smokestacks or lumbering mechanical assembly lines are likely the first thing to enter their minds. Such attitudes are understandable, as American manufacturing’s image has suffered over the past half-century, pockmarked by the crumbling Rust Belt and jobs shipped abroad in search of cheaper labor. For decades, Uncle Sam foundered while competitors thrived—competitors that were more technologically advanced and, not by coincidence, more cost effective in their operations. But today, American industry is once again a contender in the manufacturing sector, thanks to companies’ leveraging technology to hold down costs, boost productivity, and maximize quality. Factories look less like the soot-covered 10 ITARKANSAS | 2022

workhouses and grimy sweatshops of the past, bristling instead with robotics, computer-aided machinery, and lasers in climate-controlled comfort. Economists have even coined a name for this renaissance in American manufacturing: “Industry 4.0,” the latest turning point in a string of milestones. The first industrial revolution harnessed water and steam power to move assembly lines and power machinery; the second applied electricity to do the same, while ushering in the concept of a viable third shift. Industry 3.0 saw the first applications of computers in the manufacturing space, but with human operators directing every move. Industry 4.0 furthers this with technology that can operate independently, thanks to computers that can communicate with one another and ultimately make decisions without human involvement. As Forbes pointed

out in 2018, “A combination of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, and the Internet of Systems make Industry 4.0 possible, and the smart factory a reality.” Industry 4.0 isn’t just changing the way factories operate, but the profile of the operators themselves. Skilled workers used to be evaluated on their skill in welding, plumbing, or mechanical systems, and while those trades are still vitally important, those workers are increasingly sharing the talent bench with people who can program, troubleshoot, and code. “All this technology isn’t eliminating jobs, it’s creating new jobs,”says Jenny Sales, one of the ReSkill Arkansas recruiters for ACDS. “Our new manufacturing world is here to stay. And it’s going to become stronger, faster, and easier to use.”

LIFE 2.0

The best-laid plans, and all that


avannah Herrera graduated from Hendrix College in 2017, having majored in art and French with no designs whatsoever on a career in tech. But the realities of the job market in her chosen field quickly derailed the Little Rock native’s plans. “After college, I had planned to go into arts administration,” Herrera says, “and as I was looking for a job, the closest thing I could find was at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, a community organization that works with artists. My title was administrative assistant.” But Herrera immediately recognized the value of the position. “I got to work with a team of really cool people with a whole lot of overlap between art and tech,” she says. Herrera wasn’t tech-averse; quite the opposite, in fact. Her father, Patrick, is a software developer in the fintech industry, and she herself had long been curious about technological gadgets, a fascination she traces to the iPod she bought in middle school. But it would take major life events to elevate IT on her list of career options. “Through high school and college, I had a lot of conversations with my dad about his job, most of which I didn’t understand. I just enjoyed talking to him about it, and it made me somewhat familiar with that industry. I didn’t do much tech stuff in college, though; the plan was to go to grad school in 2019 for arts administration, which didn’t ultimately work out for financial and health reasons.” The onset of COVID-19 further complicated things, as the Innovation Hub had to furlough several staffers, Herrera included. This forced her to take an unvarnished assessment of her career path. “I really like the arts and I really like community work, but unfortunately there aren’t that many positions available, and it’s often difficult to make a living wage anyway,” she says. “So I started looking for things that felt creatively and intellectually stimulating, but that also had a lot of room for growth and a lot of choices for positions.” The longer she thought about it, the more boxes tech began to check on her want list. “In my mental model of the world, IT felt very achievable,” she says. So with the help of her former boss at the Innovation Hub, Herrera landed a job with Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), which paid the bills as she looked into training programs. Initially discouraged by the cost of IT boot camps fetching up to $20,000, she at last found an affordable option through the University of Arkansas. “I’d been trying to figure out how to get into tech, but I didn’t really know how,” she says. “Finally, I found the University of Arkansas IT certificate program where they did a couple of different six-month programs for front-end development, back-end development, UX and a couple of other things. Previously, they’d only offered it in person, but because of the pandemic, they announced they were switching to an all-virtual format.” Herrera began online evening and weekend classes in November 2020, learning front-end development, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and some other frameworks for designing websites. “I had used W3Schools and some of the other coding tutorial websites to dabble in HTML and CSS and a little bit of JavaScript,” she says. “Most of them start with tutorials on how the Internet works and what HTTP is and that sort of thing. So, when I started the class, some of the material was actually really familiar because I’d already been working on it. That gave me an advantage on the front end because, while I definitely didn’t have solid knowledge in those areas, it wasn’t the first time I was hearing those terms and those concepts.” Nearing the end of the course, Herrera was introduced to entrepreneur Ashley Steele, who was about to open a digital marketing firm, Obtain Creative. The two hit it off, and today Herrera is a full-time web design vendor and UX/UI specialist for the agency. In that role, she brings together her artistic and technical sides in ways that satisfy both halves of her brain. “Part of the appeal of tech to me is that necessity to think creatively, even when I’m working on a technical problem. You get faced with a problem and you spend a long time sitting at your computer trying to figure out every possible combination. And once you figure it out, it’s an amazing feeling!” ITARKANSAS.COM | 2022 11

Learn to code and kick-start your career in


GAME CHANGER An Arkansas company redefines supply chain at the perfect time



etting products efficiently from producer to warehouse to point-of-sale has always been a monumental and expensive challenge, right down to the lowly fast-food hamburger bun. In fact, that’s precisely where Charu Thomas, founder and CEO of Bentonville-based Ox, first began to unravel the DNA of supply chain issues. “I went to school for industrial engineering,” says the Georgia Tech graduate. “The concentration I was doing was operation research, which is super deep in those upper-level classes of advanced optimization and statistics and stuff. Originally, my goal was to do that coursework and then get an advanced degree of some sort, whether computer science or mathematics or something. But obviously fate had a different plan.” Thomas instead went to work for McDonald’s North America. At one of the company’s food distribution centers, she built automation and process improvement tools within the supply chain. The resulting technology was impressive, but so expensive and infrastructure-heavy that it was largely impractical for all but the very largest companies. “One of the biggest outcomes I learned through that experience was about return on investment,” she says. “We were selling these automated storage retrieval systems for the palletizers and de-palletizers—think of them as big vending machine robots. In order to justify the ROI for that type of physical robotic infrastructure, even though it’s incredibly efficient, you had to get it through space savings

12 ITARKANSAS | 2022

or through other ways in addition to the [machine’s] inherent efficiencies.” Thomas began to think about designing a system just as powerful and efficient as using robots but without the overhead. Starting in 2017, she began to visualize a combination of machine learning, Artificial Intelligence, and even wearable technology (such as smart glasses) combining to boost warehouse efficiency, thereby reducing the human and monetary cost of order fulfillment, even down to the store level. “I had a little bit of funding, $100,000,” she says. “I packed up and moved to Northwest Arkansas, and started building a team.” Like every startup in 2019, Ox (formerly Oculex) would have to prove its concept and identify its market. But unlike almost every other startup that year, world events would largely do it for them, as COVID-19 caused wholesale upheaval in how people bought goods—online— and how those purchases were fulfilled. Overnight, Ox was staring at a sea of opportunity, as big companies struggled to pivot quickly and small companies were desperate for technology they could afford. “Once the dust settled, it became clear what the direction was, and it accelerated our technology and the adoption of our technology dramatically,” Thomas says. “If you’re really frank about it, fulfillment went from just a part of the supply chain to one of the top five priorities for every retailer or supply chain vendor on earth.” Digitizing paperwork, reducing order errors, and eliminating wasted motion are key

to overall efficiency in distribution centers. By substantially cutting the time it takes to fill a typical order, Ox minimizes this cost center by streamlining how online orders are organized, picked, and fulfilled. Using the Ox system, individual retail stores within a company chain operate like micro-fulfillment centers, thanks to a hands-free method for synchronizing the process, mapping the optimum path to find items for multiple orders at once, and tracking inventory levels in real time. The system, which needs no special hardware, provides other operational advantages, thanks to an intuitive, easyto-use platform that even new employees learn and grasp quickly. “With Ox, we can automate a lot of manual tasks, route associates through the store in the most efficient way, and make the order fulfillment process more effective,” Thomas says. “We were able to take what was on average a 14.9-minute task down to about 10.5 minutes per order using the Ox system.” The benefit to the company’s customers— which include Fortune 500 retailers, grocery chains, and national third-party shippers—is staggering. Clients report 25-percent gains in order fulfillment efficiency and 20-percent reductions in errors, each representing millions in cost savings. Client companies have enjoyed a collective ROI of 2,600 percent, so of course Ox’s phones are ringing off the hook. “The micro-fulfillment and nano-fulfillment technology space have absolutely exploded,” Thomas says. “Online grocery sales alone have 7X’d over the past year, which is mind-boggling. Those are obvious spaces that we’re already pursuing or continuing to grow into. Longer term, we’re thinking about opportunities to offer technology services to many different types of companies. I think that’s what I’m most excited about—offering that automation as a true service model.” As for why she chose to locate Ox in Northwest Arkansas, Thomas cites several factors. “For us, it was a really strategic decision, based on the immense supply chain and retail talent being in the vicinity of Walmart, JB Hunt, and Tyson, obviously. There’s a wealth of talent in this ecosystem and that was really important when we were considering where we wanted to be based. “That’s also given us access to expertise,” Thomas says. “When I started, I was just a 20-something college graduate, but I found that I could Facetime with Fortune 100 C-level executives. That just doesn’t happen elsewhere. When you combine that with an exceptional quality of life, it makes a really compelling case for Northwest Arkansas.” ITARKANSAS.COM | 2022 13



Why the military and government agencies are so interested in online chatter these days BY NITIN AGARWAL, PH.D.


ocial media is now an indistinguishable part of our lives. Many of us cannot imagine our world without being in touch with our friends and family, either through social media or some other digital tools. When I say social media, I’m talking about all the digital communication tools, whether it’s WhatsApp, Telegram, or other messaging platforms and forums. There have always been cases in which social media was abused or exploited, whether to sow discord, create chaos, or undermine trust in democratic and scientific institutions of a society. However, in recent years we have seen a rise of the so-called deviant mobs, weaponization of information, radical and extremist groups, propaganda dissemination, misinformation, fake news, and the like. These deviant behaviors affect the democratic societies of the world, which 14 ITARKANSAS | 2022

are known for their openness to viewpoints. Countries like Russia or China are known to selectively quash narratives through strict content moderation policies. However, such policies infringe upon freedom of speech. Therefore, adversarial actors, whether state sponsored or non-state sponsored, extremist groups or terrorists, find it easier to target democracies of the world. They consider that openness as weakness and try to exploit it. We’re now seeing highly sophisticated ways of using social media to conduct emerging cyber threats. The Department of Defense, NATO, and other agencies are interested in identifying these threat actors and their attack vectors so that we can shore up our defenses. Days after the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, we saw rampant misinformation about gas shortag-

es, which led to an unnecessary gas price surge, and that was all conducted through social media platforms. This is not new for us, as we have been tracking disinformation (false information spread with intent) for over 15 years, whether it is to undermine NATO or the West. Adversarial actors often distort or manipulate historical and cultural facts and present to the public to influence their beliefs and behaviors, something that can be considered as transforming folklore to fakelore. This is the new asymmetric warfare, where the war of ideologies is fought with tweets, bots, and trolls as opposed to bullets, bombs, and missiles. In my research center called COSMOS at UA Little Rock, we have several projects with a combined funding of over $15 million from an array of federal agencies including the Army, Navy,

TURNING OPPORTUNITIES INTO OUTCOMES Infrastructure in place, OSD looks to the bright possibilities of 2022

Air Force, DARPA, Department of State, National Science Foundation, and a long-term partnership between UA Little Rock and the Department of Homeland Security. These projects aim to develop capabilities that the military operations need in order to manage and adapt to the information ecology and better understand the emerging socio-technical behaviors, when confronted with civil conflicts, crisis situations, or executing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. NATO recently recognized us among the top 10 teams worldwide to counter cognitive warfare. We aim to fill a critical research gap to understand the social dynamics underlying the deviant sociotechnical behaviors (e.g., stoking civil unrest, effecting civil conflict, disseminating propaganda, coordinating cyberattacks, coordinating cyber campaigns) to better support situation awareness, risk assessment, mission assessment, policy design (kinetic or non-kinetic), force protection, operation security, and for an overall mission effectiveness. COVID-19 has presented a unique scenario, where misinformation was pushed with a volume, velocity, and variety that was unprecedented compared to what we have seen in the last 15 years of our work in the misinformation and disinformation space. During COVID-19 we have seen misinformation about masks or PPE kits or fake vaccines—or just fake narratives about COVID-19 conspiracy theories, such as Bill Gates being responsible for the global pandemic, or vaccines having chips in them that communicate using the 5G towers and allow the government to control its citizens, among other equally outlandish claims. There’s always been an audience for conspiracy theories, but what social media has done is connect such individuals and helped create an echo chamber, where information or opinion diversity is left at the door. You enter that community, that echo chamber, with the notions and biases that are held by the members of the community. That’s a perfect recipe for social non-cohesion, and it’s one of the biggest challenges we are facing in our cyber behaviors that are affecting our real world. Dr. Nitin Agarwal is the Director of the Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock ( This article was adapted from an interview with Dr. Agarwal in the ACDS Newsletter. To read the complete interview, click on and then on “News.”



n 2015, Governor Asa Hutchinson established the Office of Skills Development (OSD), a division of the Arkansas Department of Commerce, and in 2019 expanded the agency’s role as the state’s comprehensive apprenticeship office, leading to greater focus on expansion activities across industry sectors and enhanced collaboration efforts with education and private sector business. Over the past couple of years, we at OSD have made great strides working with our partners at the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences. What we’ve been engaged in might be called “system building”—developing these processes and employer connections and relationships and building all that out in an effort to do what we’ve hoped to do ever since ACDS was launched in 2018, which was to get Arkansas employers to realize that apprenticeships—whether in IT, manufacturing, healthcare, or what have you—are a viable and valuable supplemental staffing strategy. And we’re seeing that in spades. In OSD’s 202021 fiscal year, Arkansas ranked second in the nation in newly created IT apprenticeships, and we notched a 113 percent increase in overall apprenticeships. Today there’s a lot of interest in the healthcare field. Hospitals are looking at apprenticeships, whether it’s LPNs or graduate registered nursing programs—a resident nursing program essentially made up of apprentices. The point is, the infrastructure is coming together, which is proof that our long-term strategy is paying off. We had to do it this way. All along, Arkansas’ K-12 community has been a main target of our Skills Development work, but you can’t start building those pipelines from the elementary and middle schools and high schools across the state until you’ve got the registered apprenticeship programs, complete with topnotch training providers, in place. And now we have. ACDS, created as part of the governor’s computer science initiative and the Blue-Ribbon Commission on Advancing the Economic Competitiveness of Data Analytics and Computing in Arkansas, is our industry intermediary for IT apprenticeships. In that role, they’ve not only established and refined the apprenticeship programs themselves, but they’ve also provided us a single point of contact for both employers and the employee talent pool across the state. Now we can go to our K-12 partners and say, “You know, more than ever, small

to medium businesses are trying to source IT talent.” Heck, even our large corporations—and we have some major ones—are now sourcing apprenticeship talent. I called this piece “Turning Opportunities Into Outcomes” for a reason. We’ve long known that we have myriad potential opportunities to provide new and enhanced pathways for Arkansans to improve their lot in life, but for all the reasons I mentioned above, we weren’t quite ready to turn those opportunities into outcomes. Now, thanks to our partnership with ACDS, we’re poised to put many of our strategic initiatives into place in the coming year. I see us going to those secondary career centers around the state, those high school computer science programs as part of the governor’s computer science initiative, and saying, “Listen, not only can you get a computer science education through K-12, not only can you get dual credit enrollment through a post-secondary institution, but you can also begin earning a wage now with one of the hundreds of employers that we have in the state of Arkansas who are looking to adopt apprenticeships while you’re going through that pathway.” I see us telling the parents of our high school students, “If your child is interested in computer science or a career in IT or information systems, whatever language you want to use, there’s an opportunity for them to start gaining real-world experience as an employee of a company working on work-based learning projects at the age of 18 years—or even younger. In order to be an apprentice, you have to be at least 16 years old, so we should be doing that at that age. And that’s our goal for moving into 2022.” Beyond the specific IT pursuits, we at OSD have a strategic initiative across all our 30 career centers state-wide, and part of my plan for the coming year is to get a third of those to adopt a youth apprenticeship program or a pre-apprenticeship program so that we can have students engaged with program sponsors, with employers, and earning a wage and gaining that real-world experience even as they’re working toward getting their high school diploma. It’s really a win-win for all Arkansans, and that’s one of the things we’re really going to push in 2022. Cody Waits is the Director of Arkansas’ s Office of Skills Development. ITARKANSAS.COM | 2022 15

“CYBERSECURITY IS EVERYONE’S RESPONSIBILITY” So goes the official industry stance. But it’s a messy world out there, and it doesn’t like being inconvenienced BY JAMES MORGAN

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ybersecurity is the hottest of hot tech fields, the one that most young people interested in a tech career aspire to today. There’s an aura of the dramatic about it, a definite whiff of intrigue, and, with its “red teams” and “blue teams” and “purple teams,” probably no small relationship to video gaming. And Arkansas, perhaps surprisingly, happens to be a great place to study cybersecurity. “Arkansas is in a unique position because Governor Hutchinson used to serve as the co-chair for cybersecurity for the National Governors Association,” says Lee Watson, CEO of Forge Institute, which partners with ACDS to conduct cybersecurity apprenticeship programs in both Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas. “Because of his leadership in that area, Arkansas was not only well positioned to learn what other states are doing in cyber, but also to maybe take a step forward.” Does the fact that Governor Hutchinson also once held the title Undersecretary of Homeland Security contribute to making Arkansas a “natural” at cybersecurity? It couldn’t hurt. “Arkansas has a pretty strong cybercommunity,” Watson says. “If you look at the professionals that work in regulated industries, like the electric grid sector, the banking sector, or just the large enterprises including the telco sector, they've got some good expertise. Arkansas is also blessed with some pretty interesting military missions. They bring in some really smart people from around the country for that.” Scott Anderson is one of them, having earned his big-time cybersecurity spurs during eight years of active duty at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, and then 16 more years in the Air National Guard. Discharged in April of 2020, Anderson is now executive director of Forge Institute’s American Cyber Alliance, which is dedicated to reducing cybersecurity risks through training and collaboration with stakeholders in business and government. “People need to be thinking about everything that's going on,” says Anderson. “Cybersecurity, like physical security, is everyone's responsibility, not just the responsibility of IT or cybersecurity professionals.” In academia, Dr. Philip Huff and his team at UA Little Rock have developed an elite cybersecurity degree program, the centerpiece of which is its Cloud-based Trojan Cyber Arena, which students from all over the state use to experience various attack scenarios—more about that in a minute. Before Huff joined UA Little Rock to develop its cybersecurity program, he worked in the power industry for 15 years, starting as a programmer right out of college. “Pretty quickly I moved over to cybersecurity,” he says, “and was director of cybersecurity and critical infrastructure, which covered generation facilities, substations, and control centers.” The University of Central Arkansas in Conway graduated its first cybersecurity-degree students in 2021. “Cybersecurity is vitally important,” says Dr. Stephen Addison, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at UCA, in which the cybersecurity program falls. “I became chair of physics at UCA in


2002, and at that time I sat down and figured out what I wanted to see happen in the college that would make the university prosper into the future. I made a list of things, and cybersecurity—or what we call cybersecurity today—was one of the things on that list. That’s why I pushed for a cyber range here on campus. Our cyber range runs hundreds of virtual machines and duplicates the entire Internet. Our students learn how traffic moves around the Internet, where weaknesses are, how to harness systems, how to use different tools. And the great thing is, we can inject viruses and launch attacks within the range without them getting out into the wild. It allows people to develop skills without putting the outside networks at risk.” “And then,” says Christopher Wright, himself another Air Force cybersecurity veteran who’s now a principal in the Little Rock cybersecurity consulting firm Sullivan Wright Technologies, “you’ve got my alma mater, U of A, which has a longstanding cybersecurity program in the College of Engineering. Then there’s UA Little Rock, which not only has a program for university students, but also develops training and education for other industries around the state. We’ve also got a hidden gem in south Arkansas—Southern Arkansas University Magnolia has an outstanding cybersecurity program in its computer science department. Arkansas Tech has a program. And these Arkansas universities are all building, or have built, cybersecurity programs that are kind of the “second-generation” cybersecurity programs, ones that really build off of true computer knowledge instead of just offering a paper-pushing degree like the first-gen cyber programs were.” There are also grassroots community cyber groups throughout the state. “There’s one in Northwest Arkansas called ArkanSec,” says Wright. “In Fort Smith, there’s one called FS2600. In Little Rock, we’ve got one called Central Arkansas Hackers. These aren’t super-formal things, just people coming together to mentor, to be mentored, to learn, to share jobs, to help people grow.” While this disparate network of cybersecurity experts operates independently of one another, they also band together in strategic ways. For example, Chris Wright is a frequent instructor in the cybersecurity apprenticeship boot camps that Forge Institute organizes on behalf of ACDS, and Forge uses the UA Little Rock Cyber Arena in its training classes. “The folks that are taking our training programs are already employed by Arkansas employers,” says Lee Watson, “and the companies range from managed service providers that are assisting doctor’s offices and clinics and law firms, all the way up to Fortune 500 companies within the state.” Perhaps most strategically of all, many members of this Arkansas cybercommunity came together to serve on Governor Hutchinson’s State Computer Science and Cybersecurity Task Force. Formed in December 2019 and composed of leaders in education, industry, and government, the Task Force’s mission was to assess the state’s computer science and cybersecurity education programs and make recommendations for continuing and enhancing the

progress made since Governor Hutchinson’s 2015 mandate that all Arkansas schools provide a computer science curriculum in grades K through 12. On October 1, 2020, the Task Force presented its final report. There were 21 recommendations, one of which was to Increase Cybersecurity Knowledge and Awareness. “The Task Force stressed an ongoing and growing concern for the economy of Arkansas is lack of cybersecurity awareness and knowledge across multiple sectors and populations [my Italics].” YOU MIGHT THINK, with all this cybersecurity training and energy and expertise bubbling up throughout the state, and with today’s businesses relying more and more on data, that cyber-readiness would be an easy sell. Yet if you talk with any of these cybersecurity experts long enough, they’re likely to tell you that whenever they move out of their self-reinforcing cyber-bubble and into the sprawling 21st century world of e-commerce and online banking and social media and mobile devices that are the electronic equivalent of the Swiss Army Knife, it’s as though they’re preaching into the wind. “What I’ve seen in a lot of businesses is that they say they want security,” says Chris Wright, “but they want it only as long as it doesn’t inconvenience them. When it starts to inconvenience them, the cybersecurity becomes the villain instead of the attackers. So they’ll start to fight against that.” Another problem, Wright says, is the near-constant bombardment of apocalyptic statistics about cybersecurity that seem designed to shock like a Hollywood horror movie trailer: "A cyberattack happens every 39 seconds!” “Nearly $3 million is lost to cybercrime every minute!” “Global cybercrime inflicted a total of $6 trillion USD in damages in 2021!” “Between 2019 and 2020, malware increased by 358 percent and ransomware by 435 percent!” “People hear things like that and they say, ‘Yes, that’s bad, but it’s not my problem. It’s the problem of Bank of America. It’s the problem of the U.S. federal government. It’s the problem of Microsoft or Google or something like that, but it’s not the problem of XYZ cardiologist or some specialty clinic in the middle of nowhere in Arkansas.’ But we’re seeing it trickle down. In reality, it is the problem of these small clients. And, by the way, those kinds of statistics aren’t terribly accurate. The standard deviation for any of them is so large that it’s kind of hard to take them seriously.” To an outside observer, this disconnect looks like the age-old standoff between risk and reward, perhaps thrown into overdrive in this era of heightened suspicion of “experts” and strident demands for “personal freedom.” Eric Wall has spent the past 24 years protecting the data of such major entities as Baptist Memorial Health Care, Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, and, currently, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. “There’s a saying, and I didn’t come up with it,” Wall says, “that the network or web-

“One confusing thing is, there’s cyber safety and there’s cybersecurity,” Huff says. “Cyber safety basically means keeping your network clean. Cybersecurity is a profession.” 18 ITARKANSAS | 2022

“THERE ARE ALWAYS trade-offs,” Philip Huff says. “Nobody has enough resources to fully solve the problem. It is deemed an organizational risk.” Huff suspects there’s still a lot of confusion about cybersecurity. “One of the confusing things is, there’s cyber safety and there’s cybersecurity,” he says. “And especially in October, Cybersecurity Awareness Month, you always hear about privacy, be aware of social media, change your passwords, and so on—which is great. Everybody needs to do that. But cyber safety and cybersecurity are two different things. Cyber safety is sometimes called cyber hygiene, which basically means keeping your network clean and up to date. “But cybersecurity is a profession. It’s work, organizations have to invest in it, they have to pay for it. If we want to develop a workforce here in Arkansas, we can't just take cyber safety and teach more of it. It requires actual professionals that study and get really good at this cybersecurity task. We're not going to get out of this mess from good safety and hygiene alone.” In 2019, when Huff arrived at UA Little Rock, the existing program to address what we now call cybersecurity issues was called “information assurance.” “That’s more of a federal agency term,” Huff says. “It kind of originated out of the NSA [National Security Agency], which, along with the Department of Homeland Security, had started what they called ‘centers of academic excellence’ across the country to create a community of schools developing workforce talent for cybersecurity. And UA Little Rock was one of those schools. For the longest time, it had offered a minor in information assurance. But by the time I came here, a lot of schools were looking at the job market and seeing a need for a more focused study. Because the world had gotten to the point that cybersecurity was more than a minor. It has become a very prominent position having a seat at the executive table and emerging as its own unit within an organization.” Huff was brought in to make that transition at UA Little Rock, and he arrived with an ambitious goal in mind. “My vision was for us to be the top cybersecurity-degree institution in the U.S. I mean, what else?” His mandate was not only to develop a degree program in cybersecurity, but also to establish, within the school’s Emerging Analytics Center, a research arm in cybersecurity. In order to accomplish all of that, he knew they needed to start with a blank page. “I had seen a lot of schools kind of hopping on the bandwagon, if you will,” he says, “just taking some of their computer science and criminal investigation degrees and merging them together into this multidisciplinary cybersecurity degree. We wanted to do something more holistic with UA Little Rock, and I think we've done that. I think we've set ourselves apart as a ground-up cybersecurity program instead of piecing together lots of different courses.” He began by “improving the operations,” which meant automating—via Artificial Intelligence—a lot of the big data problems the profession was facing. “It’s gotten to the point that no single human can get their hands around it. We don’t even have enough humans. It has to be automated.” He also focused on training. “It really goes hand in hand, because building a cybersecurity community here brings industry to the table. If we're not providing a workforce, then there’s no reason for industry to be at the table


site that’s best for business is one that’s worst for security, and the network that's best for security is the one that's worst for business. So the most secure network or website would be one that nobody could get to—but then you couldn't sell your product. It hasn’t always been good for my career to be the one who says to the businesspeople, ‘We need to block this.’” Scott Anderson is disturbed by what he sees happening. “I’m not a fearful person,” he says, “but I hate that we have all of this knowledge and ability as a country, as a society, and yet there’s not enough getting done. Coming from the military, I would say that what we call ‘the attack surface’ is growing, with everybody using and integrating technology into everything. It was growing before COVID, but it’s growing exponentially now because of the pandemic. Think about how many more people are working from home, and how many are using technology they've never used before.”

Clockwise, from top left: Scott Anderson, American Cyber Alliance; Christopher Wright, Sullivan Wright Technologies; Michael Sullivan, Sullivan Wright Technologies; Dr. Philip Huff, UA Little Rock; Lee Watson, Forge Institute; Sandra Leiterman, UA Little Rock.

(continued on page 38)



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hese aren't normal times, but have no doubt that they’re the New Normal. As this issue of ITArkansas Magazine goes to print, we’re coming up on two full years of living in the shadow of COVID, an experience that for many has underscored the hollowness of former beliefs and aspirations. Priorities are changing, and who’s surprised about that? One major area of reexamination is the world of work. As we backslid into the fall of 2021—thank you, Delta variant—the Washington Post proclaimed that “there is a massive reallocation underway in the economy that’s triggering a ‘Great Reassessment’ of work in America from both the employer and employee perspectives. Workers are shifting where they want to work—and how. For some, this is a personal choice. The pandemic and all of the anxieties, lockdowns, and time at home have changed people. Some want to work remotely forever. Others want to spend more time with family. And others want a more flexible or more meaningful career path. It’s the ‘you only live once’ mentality on steroids.” At almost the same moment, Charlie Warzel, former OpinionWriter-at-Large for The New York Times, posted a piece on Substack called “What If People Don’t Want ‘A Career’”? “In all of my reporting on the future of work, one of the most interesting and potentially profound trends is the growing skepticism around careers,” Warzel wrote. “‘Careerist’ has long been a dirty word in the working world—usually it’s meant to signify a cynical, ladder-climbing mentality. A careerist isn’t a team player. They care more about the job title and advancement than the work. The current brand of career skepticism I’m talking about is different, more absolute. It’s not a rejection of how somebody navigates the game, it’s a rejection of the game itself. The idea isn’t limited to a specific age group, but the best articulation of it comes from younger Millennials and working-age Gen Zers. Many of them are fed up with their jobs and they’re quitting in droves. Even those with jobs are reevaluating their options….” This, then, is where we find ourselves as we contemplate this theme of “Careers.” And yet employers need more tech workers than ever before, and talented young tech candidates need the cutting-edge projects of industry to challenge and fulfill them (not to mention the accompanying pay and perks). So while the dance may feel different today, tech demand and tech talent will always be partners. It’s that ongoing relationship that we examine in the following pages. —JM


IN THE BEGINNING… It all starts with landing that first job


etween the employer and the potential tech employee stands the gatekeeper, the talent recruiter who decides which applicant resumes move forward. Corporate recruiters work on an average of 30 positions at a time, with some 150 applications on each position. They use keyword searches on musthave computer skills, filters on salary expectations, and a 10-second glance of a resume to determine their first batch of interviews (prescreens). The pre-screen is a 15- to 30-minute conversation to confirm that the job seeker has the necessary skills and requirements (location and within salary budget). In corporate recruitment, there’s very little time for coaching, and feedback is frowned upon by legal due to possible retribution by a non-hire. In comparison, ACDS talent recruiters are able to spend time even on candidates who

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most likely aren’t yet ready for an employer interview. Consequently, ACDS recruiters wear any number of hats, including that of Life Coach, Teacher, Etiquette Adviser, Correction Officer, Social Worker, Bubble Burster, Cheerleader, Hand Holder, and Positive Thinking Guru, all while working with a target workforce largely comprised of a generation of people who’ve never not known computers, who may feel an outsized sense of power from their knowledge of technology, who are often more comfortable socializing screen-to-screen than in person, and who want what they want (the whole enchilada) right now. For this special Careers issue, we sat down with the person who’s likely to be Ground Zero in these young tech workers’ IT careers—Ashley French, ACDS’ Director of Talent Acquisition and Development.

highest score on my Java assessment. So in his situation, I do share his assessment scores because I think it’s helped me get him more interviews. And I’m happy to tell you that he’s about to land a job offer with a big retail e-commerce corporation!

What do you mean, “touchy”? About the idea of a career? I mean the thought of “long-term” scares them. They don’t want to get stuck doing the same thing for the same company. I see my role as helping give them an opportunity to learn all the different types of occupation tracks that are available to them. And wherever they start, I don’t want them to feel that they’re “locked in” to a specific career focus. Fair enough. What areas of IT do you suggest to them as a starting place? It’s funny, nearly everyone we interview wants to get into cybersecurity. That’s such a hot field right now. But guess what— usually you’re not going to get your first job in cybersecurity. Before you get to do that, you need to work in the network operating center, or on a frontline help desk. You’ve first got to learn what’s behind the hardware, and behind the system, to be able to understand those hackers and how they penetrate a system. And then transition in. I just see so many cool career starting places in IT. Take data analytics—that’s such a great foundational skill, so I often suggest starting with a data analyst position. Every industry needs it—manufacturing, tech, there are even data analysts within an HR function. So that can give you a way to see what different departments, what types of tools, what types of tasks you enjoy, and it’s a transferable skill. Because every industry is now using data to make decisions.

What happens after the initial assessment? In an ideal world, all of our candidates will be poised and polished and ready to present to potential employers. But this isn’t an ideal world. I want to talk in a minute about the importance of soft skills, but for now I’ll just say that some candidates are strong enough in the subject matter to become apprentices right away. Others need a little more tech knowledge under their belts, so we put them in our “pre-apprentice” program, which consists of several months of self-learning online, and of course we guide them to the courses they need to take. And in the summer of 2021, we began a third pathway—what we call our “work-based learning” initiative. Employers want these young people to have work experience. So how do we entice employers to give them that initial work experience? Well, we offer them the individual to work for them for three months, at no cost to the employer. Instead, ACDS covers the cost of their hourly pay—$13 an hour for three months. This program was a little slow to kick off, but our first three candidates to complete their 90 days have all received full-time job offers from the companies we placed them with. And by the time this magazine comes out, we will have placed many more Arkansans in work-based learning with Arkansas companies. It’s essentially the same concept that the internship is for college students. Employers are significantly more inclined to hire you if they know you’ve had some actual exposure to office life, including business etiquette.

Tell me about your “ACDS assessment test” to help you determine whether or not a candidate has the aptitude for a given IT job. How long does it take, and how do you use it? Our assessment test varies in length, depending on which position you apply for. For example, if you’re looking to go into a developer or software engineering role, there’s going to be a live coding section in addition to the traditional logic-based aptitude questions. So that one’s about an hour. Our data analyst assessment will have some Microsoft Excel kind of intermediate formulas instead of programming, and I think that one’s about 45 minutes. Assessments are starting to be the norm, especially for tech roles to confirm proficiency. In recruiting, time is always limited, and with the number of applications per job opening, HR departments are challenged to automate and streamline the hiring process. Some surveys show that more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies are now using hiring assessments. But because ACDS is a nonprofit, our mission is to help everyone, no matter if they bombed the assessment or aced it. We really use the assessment almost like a homework assignment to show initiative, and we do see a significant drop-off rate of people who don’t complete it. They’re scared, and they don’t want to take it. But it’s not a pass or fail by any means, and we don’t usually share the assessment scores with potential employers. I mean, some people just aren’t good test takers. Then there are others who are better at tests than they are at interviewing. I’ve got a candidate in Northwest Arkansas who doesn’t have the strongest interview skills. He’s been in manufacturing, so on paper it doesn’t look as good. But he made the

That’s a good segue to the soft skills you mentioned earlier. It’s funny, we sometimes have to do what we call “Adulting 101.” Some candidates need advice on what to wear, the importance of taking a shower, proper email etiquette—that is, don’t use an exclamation mark on every single sentence! And don’t talk in too many of the texting acronyms. Then there’s calendar etiquette. A lot of them don’t understand that if a calendar invite is sent to them, they have to accept or decline. You know, those soft skills are so key. I can’t overstress the importance of first impressions in an interview, especially in regard to communication style, or the do’s and don’ts. They’ll set up a confirmed interview with me and it’s on their lunch break. I can hear them in the car—they’ve put me on hold so they can order their lunch. Sometimes my staff and I have to do three touch points of coaching calls before we feel comfortable sending out their resume. A lot of them immediately think BRIAN CHILSON

What do you tell these young job seekers about a career in IT? I don’t use the word “career.” This generation is touchy about that.

Ashley French, ACDS Director of Talent Acquisition and Development (continued on page 40) ITARKANSAS.COM | 2022 23


ONE DAY, IF YOU’RE LUCKY, YOU’LL BE 45 Trust me, it’s closer than you think BY CHARLES D. MORGAN

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hen I graduated from engineering school, I didn’t have a clue about what I wanted to do. The summer before my final year of classes, I had worked in Houston for Humble Oil, soon to become Exxon, and at the end of the summer they’d offered me a job based on an oil-gas separator that I’d designed during my time there. But their lead engineer was a total jerk, and I couldn’t imagine spending my days working for that guy. Besides, the most rewarding part of that summer for me had been buying a wrecked Jaguar XKE and rebuilding it on nights and weekends. That was the kind of work I loved, and for years I’d looked forward to becoming a mechanical engineer so I could spend my life doing things like that. There was even a point in my younger days when I thought the best job in the world was being a race car mechanic. Engines, speed, the elegance of solving mechanical problems—that’s what I was looking for. But in job interviews during my final spring semester, I hadn’t been offered anything I thought could sustain my interest. IBM flew me down to Cape Canaveral to talk about a rocket job. On the surface, it sounded glamorous, but it turned out they needed a mechanical engineer mainly to design frames to support their banks of computers. I also interviewed with Mobil, again in Texas, and they were offering maybe 40 percent higher pay than I could expect from most starting engineer jobs. But pay wasn’t my main motivation; the job itself felt like a glorified sales job. My big hope was Texas Instruments, which was doing interesting things in those days. They invited me down to see them and I liked their building—very modern, sleek partitions, a smart solution to an office problem. I met with the engineering team and we were having a stimulating conversation. “So how would you solve this problem?” they would say, and I would explain how I would go about it. I was getting excited about these guys, about being part of their team. Then a bell rang somewhere in the office. “Coffee break!” they said. “We go to coffee now.” “What?” I said. “You have a coffee bell?” “Yeah, we get exactly 15 minutes, then we have to be back.” Just like elementary school. Later I found out they also had a lunch bell and a time-to-go-home bell. It was too depressing to think about. So as my classmates were packing up to move on to the next stage of their lives, I was sitting around the engineering fraternity house telling a buddy my tale of woe—how I had all these job offers and didn’t want any of them. “Well,” he said, “I’ve just made my decision—I’m going to work for IBM in Little Rock.” “What’ll you do for them?” I said. Even though I’d interviewed for that engineering spot with IBM at Cape Canaveral, I really didn’t know much about the company. “They sell and install computers,” he said, “and I’m going to be a computer systems engineer. Writing programs, developing software, stuff like that.” This came as a revelation. No doubt I paid special attention because the guy talking, Randy Stewart, had a formidable brain—he was a starting Arkansas Razorback football player but also an Academic All-American, and I respected him greatly. Because of that, something about his words “computer systems engineer” hit me like a bolt of lightning. For years I’d been pursuing a single-minded hardware dream, allowing no alien options into my line of vision. Now, thanks to Randy, I felt like I had just shed my blinders. “How’d you get hooked up with them?” “They interviewed on campus twice this spring. In fact, they’re here today, probably for the last time this year. I just stopped by the interview room to check in with them.” At that point, I sprang from my chair and dashed out the door, sprinting across campus as fast as I could. I was dressed like a slob, but there was no time to change. I had to catch the IBM recruiter

and get in on this new thing, the only stimulating idea I’d heard in months. When I reached the interview room, there was only one IBM rep still there—but he was the top guy; all his colleagues had already packed up and gone. If I’d been five minutes later, all I would’ve found was an empty room. “I was just about to walk out the door,” said Bob Oliver. His briefcase was already buckled shut. Out of breath, I blurted Randy Stewart’s name and said Randy had urged me to see him. “I never even thought about working for IBM,” I said. “But will you talk to me?” Bob looked at his watch. “Yeah, okay, I’ve got a few minutes,” and he sat back down at the desk. I WORKED AT IBM for six years, and for a long time I loved it. I was especially happy when, after two years, I got transferred to the Fayetteville office to oversee the installation of the biggest computer in the state, at the University of Arkansas. Working in Fayetteville was great. It was an office of about 20 people, but only two of us were in computers; the rest were in the services group or the typewriter section. This meant I was essentially my own boss on a day-to-day basis; my time was now free for me to allocate as I saw fit, with no interference from my anal boss in the Little Rock office. It was in Fayetteville that I changed my work style: Instead of working hard, like I had in Little Rock, I now made a point of working smart. They didn’t need to know the ins and outs of my day—all they needed to see were results. IBM had decided they were going to make guys like me available for hire if a customer wanted us as a consultant. As it turned out, I was the top-billing systems engineer in the state, and more customers wanted to hire me. So, in addition to doing a good job for the University on its computer installation, I made sure I took care of my clients, which included Daisy Air Rifle and a little up-and-coming company called Walmart. I also occasionally accompanied the other computer guy, sales rep Jim Hefley, to call on prospective customers. But once my work was done, I was on my own time. Alex Dietz, a colleague in the Little Rock office, had introduced me to motocross racing, and I was hooked. So in Fayetteville, far from my boss’ sightlines, I often knocked off early to take my motorcycle out to the dirt track to indulge my new passion. And what was the fallout from that? Two years in a row—1969 and 1970—I was named IBM’s Top Systems Engineer in all of Arkansas. They presented the award at a big banquet in Little Rock. Even though I knew I was taking care of business, I was totally surprised when they called my name that first year. IBM had also nearly doubled my salary over the time I’d been with them. To me, it just reinforced this evolving philosophy of mine: Results are all that matter. At the beginning of 1971, IBM sent me to a three-month school in New York City. Called the Systems Research Institute, it was a sort of master’s degree program that only a few IBM people worldwide were invited to attend. It was mostly for non-management professionals who planned to stay with the company, as well as for younger guys like me on the road to promotion. It was quite an honor to be asked to go. The idea of SRI was to give attendees a chance to get away from everyday concerns and turn their minds to Big Thoughts. The company brought in high-priced talent to teach the courses, which ranged from logic to the future of computing to the future of the world. They wanted smart, big-thinking people working for IBM— people who could make a difference for the company long term— and this course was a chance to get smart people together in the same room and let the synergy happen. You get a little philosophi(continued on page 40)



Creating a working environment that actually works



sk any exec in any company the secret to success and they’ll invariably give the same answer—company culture—followed by a string of platitudes about open communication, respect for the individual, and welcoming disruption and innovation. It’s a party line with roots stretching back to well before the digital revolution. A generation before dot.coms introduced Food Truck Fridays and slides where stairs should be, analog companies of every description began adopting “mission statements,” broken down into core values. These mechanisms were meant to formally capture what, as its heart, a company aspired to be, and how it intended to carry out that mission. Today, there’s virtually no company that hasn’t taken on this exercise, reminding both internal and external audiences of who they are and why they do what they do. And for good reason—in study after study, employees point to things like training and development, social responsibility and aligning with a noble mission as key elements in choosing to join or stay with a given company. And when you consider recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that more than 3.5 million Americans quit their jobs every month, it’s clear that employees aren’t shy about protesting with their feet when a company’s promised and actual culture don’t align. So, what separates a dynamic, living company culture from the ones gathering dust on the wall? ITArkansas reached out to three companies to discover how to build and leverage work culture to attract and retain the best people. Shocking spoiler alert: It’s not what you say, or pay, that matters most.

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EVER SINCE FEW launched in 2013, company leadership has understood the value of balance. It’s reflected in Few’s broadened line of services—from straight-up web design to websites, web applications, mobile applications, and what they call “concept to scale,” which means handling end-to-end product services. It’s also repeatedly reflected in the company’s culture, which folds diversity of thought and opinion into the existing culture batter. “One thing that most people don’t take into consideration when they’re hiring is other opinions,” says Zack Hill, partner and CEO. “They want employees to overly align with them. But I think that diversity in the workplace should not just relate to gender and race and things like that, but also to skill sets and mindsets.” Hill says that Few’s approach is to hire people who’ll fit the company’s culture without tamping down their own perspectives and opinions and ideas. “We look for people who know that they’re opinionated, especially among our lead developers and lead designers, who are quite opinionated,” Hill says. “But they also must understand that they don’t have the only perspective. They can’t be so set in their ways that they can’t consume different outlooks from others.” Being able to integrate diversity among employees has developed a mindset of adaptability at Few, something that has been applied to great benefit throughout the pandemic and in adjusting to stair-stepped growth. “Remote work has been our M.O. all along,” Hill says. “Back in 2016, we had a more established office space in Little Rock, but as we started to ramp up higher-level talent, especially development talent, we found ourselves needing to branch out into a remote structure, which we quickly shifted to. So, pre-pandemic, we were already operating a heavily remote-structured environment, and as things went downhill in March 2020, we were in a position to accommodate that pretty seamlessly.” Few has enjoyed some of the best sales quarters in its history since the second half of 2020, and has essentially doubled headcount to more than 30 over that time. In some ways the work environment has become much more formalized, particularly in its organizational structure, but in other ways it still comes down to some very basic components between employees and company founders Hill and CCO Arlton Lowry. “It’s easier said than done, but I think it really comes down to making sure that the cultural aspects remain true in all of the day-to-day, minute-by-minute interactions you’re having with employees,” Hill says. “The respect factor, the be-nice factor, just needs to be part of it. My business partner and I work very hard to make clear that the things we say we value are all things that run right into the middle of everything we’re doing. We take responsibility. We try to have fun. “I think what people do a lot of times is create the values or mission statement, put it on the wall, and that’s where it lives. It’s not living out in the day-to-day interactions. That becomes extremely clear to employees, and I think it can become very clear to potential employees as well. The more you align decision-making and daily activities with your values, the more it shows through in turnover and general reputation in the marketplace.”



Zack Hill

KEY TAKEAWAYS: Embrace diversity of thought and opinion. Stay nimble enough to embrace change. Leadership must demonstrate company culture daily. ITARKANSAS.COM | 2022 27


THINK SMALL Windstream, Little Rock


Stephen Farkouh

Mary Michaels

FOR ALL THE advantages that large companies hold in the marketplace, maintaining a consistent corporate culture generally isn’t one of them—distance and disconnect across multiple organizational layers often undermine any cultural playbook. Communications and software provider Windstream, an enterprise spanning 18 states and employing thousands, is no exception to that. But one way they’ve overcome the usual big-company malaise is by consciously embracing the best elements of smaller firms. “It’s all about learning to think like a small company,” says Chief Information Officer Stephen Farkouh. “Throughout all of IT, we operate in small teams, and that’s been our answer to creating a small-company-like approach within a much larger company. That lets one team work with agility and speed both in and of itself and in communicating with other small teams to bring a project together.” Farkouh is quick to point out that this doesn’t mean sacrificing the advantages of being a large company; it just means applying those advantages in new and more effective ways. “About four years ago, in a concerted effort to transform from a traditional telecom to a communications and software provider, we began a journey to change the way we operate, the way we code and build solutions, the way we think and innovate,” Farkouh says. “When we talk about culture, what we think about within IT is being 100 percent aligned to the business. It’s not what tasks you’ve completed, but what outcomes we delivered. Through that clear connection to the business through outcomes, there’s a great connection to the overall purpose of why we’re all here, which is to do something great for employees, for the business—to do something great in general.” This small-company thinking buoyed by big-company resources extends throughout the rest of the Windstream organization. Mary Michaels, chief human resources officer, says that the philosophy not only promotes the company’s existing culture, but evolves that culture to connect the firm’s varied work sectors and employee demographics. “We communicate a lot,” she says. “We have this great internal platform called Stream that’s like an internal Facebook. You get all the news from the company, you know what’s going on, you collaborate, it keeps people in the know. From there, we try to reinforce what employees have told us is important to them, such as a robust learning and development platform, providing frequent feedback between manager and employee, and really focusing on connection across our company. Our employee resource groups— Women of Windstream, Win Vets, Black Professionals, and a disability-focused ERG—are some of the most successful parts of our program. Those are open for everybody, and we use them to develop people within the group.” Michaels says that one of the most conspicuous signs a corporate culture is a living thing and not just a poster on the break room wall is how information flows from the frontline up. Listening to employees and incorporating their feedback helps solidify buyin, especially when that feedback translates to tangible activities within the company. “It’s not just about what we’re doing, but how we’re doing it,” she says. “We’ve gotten very focused on the environmental, social, and governance of the way we operate the company. Diversity and inclusion are a huge part of that, and we use our efforts there to communicate what’s important to employees and show that the company cares.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS: Break down large work groups, but stay connected. Communication and feedback must flow both ways. Use what you’ve learned to improve culture and buy-in. 28 ITARKANSAS | 2022

CULTURE PAYS Workers and corporate culture, by the numbers


GET REAL SupplyPike, Fayetteville

Christine Tan

IN FOUR YEARS, Christine Tan has gone from a project manager to Chief Operating Officer of SupplyPike, which produces software for consumer package goods companies, firms supplying the likes of Kroger, Walmart, and Target. Along the way, she’s gained a clear understanding of what resonates and what’s dismissed by the frontline when it comes to the company mission statement. To her mind, it all starts with authenticity. “Culture really comes from the top. You have to embody it, you have to live and breathe it,” she says. “If something is coming out of your mouth but you’re doing something else, people can see right through that. “Here at SupplyPike, we preach, ‘Always be your authentic self.’” Tan says that this cuts both ways between leadership and employees, so it is a factor in their hiring process. “We try really hard during the interview process to select new hires who’ll be satisfied and enjoy working with us in their role,” she says. “We have probably one of the longer and more challenging interview processes—at minimum, there are three rounds. We want to see how you collaborate, how you think. We want to see that you can push back if we give you feedback right then and there. What would it be like to work with you? “We always finish off with a culture fit interview in which you get to meet different members from the team, not necessarily just your department. We’ll take you to lunch and see how you fit in. We always iterate to the candidates that just as much as we’re assessing you as a good fit for SupplyPike, we want to make absolutely sure that you think SupplyPike is a good fit for you.” From there, it’s on the company to live up—daily—to what it bills itself to its 60 employees and 15 interns. Companies that are really serious about making the culture relevant on a day-to-day basis generally designate someone to that role, Tan says, and she should know. “Before I was the head of anything, I was tasked by our CEO to be the ‘culture champion. You would always find me in the halls, talking to people, inviting people, almost harassing people like, ‘Hey, you have to come to our event,’ or ‘Don’t forget to wear a Halloween costume.’” Tan says that recognition is given out liberally at SupplyPike, but there’s serious thought behind it, too. Management pays attention to who’s getting kudos and makes sure to spread the praise to those working in the background as well. Praise can come from anywhere. “We have a shout-outs channel on Slack, and we really encourage non-leadership employees to shout out each other and their co-workers,” Tan says. “We encourage that peer-to-peer recognition with the requirement to tie it back to whatever culture code piece it applies to most.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS: Be authentic in word and behavior. Hire for culture match, not just skills proficiency. Designate a culture champion to lead the charge.

52—Percentage of employees who say they would choose a company that cared about their wellbeing over one that paid 10 percent more. (Source:

70—Percentage of 400 workers who reported staying at their job because of training and development opportunities. (Source:

40—Percentage of the above 400 workers who quit in the first year of employment because they didn’t get the training they needed. (Source:

89—Percentage of employees who say that understanding their company’s mission is critical to their job satisfaction. (Source:

92—Percentage of CEOs who consider their organization “empathetic.” (Source:

50—Percentage of employees who say their company demonstrates empathy. (Source:

81—Percentage of employees who say they’d work longer hours for an empathetic employer. (Source:

202—Percentage of increased productivity that companies with engaged employees enjoy over those without. (Source: Dale Carnegie survey)


SHOULD YOU STAY OR SHOULD YOU GO? How job-hopping became a generational flash point BY DWAIN HEBDA

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hen Michelle Cheesman graduated from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro in 2018, she carried with her the same professional uncertainties that generations of college graduates have felt, from where to start her career, to where she wanted it to end up, to everything she wanted to accomplish in between. In the three years since, she’s learned a lot about those very questions—and about herself in the process. Cheesman has had three jobs in three years, all of them working in social media. Her first was for a manufacturing firm, which she enjoyed, but industry didn’t speak to her. The second was with a startup ad agency, which she liked for working remotely, but pay became an issue. The third, with another ad agency, turned out to be a bad cultural match. “I think it’s different for everyone,” she says of her job-hopping. “My mom worked for American Airlines for 20 years and she’s worked where she is now for 15. I’ve had more jobs than she has, and I’m 25. I feel like in older generations, they look down on that. Younger people, they don’t care; they see it as, ‘You’ve gained these skills, you have a valid reason you left, okay.’” Of all the things that define the Millennial generation as a societal pivot point, job tenure might be the one that grinds older generations’ gears the most—unfair though that may be, considering that latter-day Gen-Xers started it and Gen-Zs job-hop at a much higher rate than Millennials. Regardless, many younger workers reject the long-held career tenet that stability and expertise built in one place over time is the primary path to success. A recent Gallup poll showed that more than one in five Millennials had changed jobs in the past 12 months, and yet 60 percent said they were currently open to new job opportunities. Moreover, half of respondents doubted they would be in their current job 12 months hence, a blasphemous concept to the Builder Generation and Baby Boomers who preceded Generation X. But where the market used to largely condemn job-hopping as little more than youthful petulance, such isn’t the case anymore. Today, source after source points out compelling arguments in favor of job-hopping, saving their scolding for companies that aren’t doing enough to create employee engagement or meet younger workers’ needs. “You step outside your comfort zone,” promises in a 2021 blog post extolling the virtues of job-hopping. “You develop a wider network. You won’t get bored.” lists additional positives of job-hopping, and also provides a template for deciding just when to jump ship. Its barometer for leaving includes if you feel your skills aren’t be utilized, if your opportunities for advancement are lacking, or if you feel you aren’t “serving a purpose” in your present role. Of course, companies like CareerAddict and Indeed have a vested interest in seeing more people job-hopping—they’re in the business of helping people get new jobs. And yet, according to ADP’s Workforce Now Vitality Report, wage growth is consistently higher for “job switchers” who move to different companies than for “job stayers” who remain with one employer. And in a 2019 article for, leadership consultant Selena Rezvani preached job-hopping as a more efficient way to get ahead, especially for women. “Job-hopping benefits the Millennial woman’s wallet,” Rezvani writes. “And why shouldn’t it? Women who change jobs more frequently can expect to see more aggressive raises.” Rezvani makes another interesting point: Given survey results

showing that up to 83 percent of women want to own their own business, job-hopping provides exposure to a variety of job roles and work cultures that they can then apply to their own ventures. That’s precisely how Michelle Cheesman sees it, now that she’s an entrepreneur getting her own photography business off the ground. “I don’t think I could do what I do now without [having job-hopped], even though I’d done photography for 10 years and done video work since college. I had the skill set, but I don’t think I had the business mind. There’s always going to be jobs. If this doesn’t work and I fail, great—I frickin’ tried, and that’s better than not trying. Life’s just too short not to try.” PLENTY OF CHEESMAN’S contemporaries still prefer the single-track approach to their careers, however. Jorge Zavala, 26, social media director with GWL Advertising, says the company has done a good job of spotlighting a career path determined by things that are in his control to deliver. “What’s kept me at GWL is, I’ve seen opportunities to grow,” he says. “As people left, there were opportunities to move up. To really make it in advertising, you have to create your own path. You don’t just come into the job and do that one thing. You figure out ways to take it further. You have to bring something to the table that nobody else can bring.” Zavala learned that lesson on the job. “The first year and a half that I was here, I was timid. Fresh out of college, I was seeking a little bit of reassurance from everybody. Then just something hit where I was, like, ʻWait, I know what I’m doing, this is exactly what I studied.’ You just have to go for it, especially in digital. Digital is evolving every single day. I think it’s my drive to learn more that keeps me in the company.” Amber Stanley-Kruth, GWL’s Fayetteville-based interim digital director and Zavala’s co-worker, has struck a happy medium during her career, experiencing a diverse set of jobs while working for the same employer. Before joining the agency in September 2021, she worked seven different positions with a daily newspaper in Northwest Arkansas over 14 years. “Changing companies is different than changing jobs,” she says. “I was open to doing whatever was needed within my talent scope. That kind of security was important to me—knowing that my job was there—but also having the freedom to adapt and grow into different roles.” Stanley-Kruth believes that her path is a good one for today’s young workers to follow. “You can change roles within a company fairly easily,” she says, “and I think that’s important for this new generation to understand. Personally, I think two to three years is actually more responsible if you’re in a company where you love the culture and they treat you well and you and your family are being taken care of—rather than leaving in three months just because you don’t like something.” Stanley-Kruth also has a message for companies today: If they did a better job of outlining various career paths available in-house, they’d likely see fewer employees hopping next door. “Companies should be open to embracing the individual’s desire to explore and learn,” she says. “Help them find the right spot, even if that means adapting positions that the company has in order to accommodate current employees. That’s how growth happens for the company, and that’s how you retain someone."





career isn't a static thing, and it’s not even all about the work. Ultimately, it’s about finding that challenge, that reason for being, that makes you happy to get up in the morning…and then continuing to reinvent yourself in relation to that sense of purpose in increasingly rewarding ways. So a career is also a journey of discovery, both externally and internally. Because a career looks different from the perspective of 25-plus years than it did at year five, ITArkansas caught up with four IT professionals at different milestones on their journey and asked them what they had learned, about their work and about themselves. These are their stories.

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5 YEARS: Sean Hurley, Simmons Bank

Communication Is Key HURLEY SAYS THAT one of the most important skills he’s learned, one that has advanced his career, is the ability to effectively interact with employees and work teams. The image of the tech professional as isolated is a misnomer, he says; the best companies ensure that their teams communicate and share ideas constructively. “In the workplace, it’s really all about interaction. Anywhere I work, I want to know how every other team operates. In banking and cyber, I’m tied in to every other group, and it definitely helps me understand the environment I’m in—not just in a technical sense, but in an overall business direction.” When he first started managing people, Hurley tried to manage them like he would manage myself. “But not everyone is like me, and not everyone works like I do,” he says. “Certain people might need to know the priority of a task. Some people you can give a task and they’ll complete it. Some people you need to drive exactly how important it is and really set a deadline. So, learning how each person works and tweaking how I talk to them really helps.” The flip side of that is interacting with his own supervisor. “One goal I’ve set for myself is to always beat my boss when it comes to information,” Hurley says. “If he asks me a question, I want to already have the answer. I think it’s important to anticipate what people want and improve your knowledge so that you’ll be ready for any kind of question.” Improve Skills Daily TODAY THERE ARE lots of opportunities to improve technical skills through online classes and various formal educational approaches, but Hurley also advises young people to look for learning opportunities that happen daily. He’s discovered how quickly these small skill-building opportunities can add up. “Something that really helped me is recognizing my weaknesses and then learning about whatever that is,” he says. “If there’s something I’m not comfortable with, I’ll research it and try to have a good knowledge of it or at least to be able to understand it. When I decided I wanted to get into cyber, I took jobs specifically to widen my skill set. That way, I had networking, I had desktops, I had hardware, I had all the baseline experience I needed to build my pathway to cyber.” Find What Fits TECH IS SUCH a broad field that there’s a niche for every personality and interest. But that doesn’t mean a young person new to the working world will know automatically where their future lies. “When you’re starting out, I wouldn’t specialize until you know what you like,” Hurley says. “There’s a lot of free tools to get hands-on experience with different networking equipment or virtual machines and operating systems. I’d recommend playing around with different tools, learning what you think is fun, and then work toward that. Find what you’ll enjoy doing in 10 years. That’s partly why I like tech; I like being able to interact with all these new tools, especially in cyber, and being up to date with everything. I like to discover new things and learn all I can.”


SEAN HURLEY HAS made his own opportunities in tech, being largely self-taught through multiple industry certifications. With that background, he spent five-plus years in a variety of positions, including field technician, networking, and desktop support. At Simmons Bank, he’s now a supervisor in the Security Operations Center, leading a team of five who monitor the bank’s network and systems for vulnerabilities and perform internal investigations.

THE FINAL WORD “THERE ARE COMPANIES out there that really want to see you succeed. Simmons, for instance, is very big on career development and career advancement. As soon as I started here, they saw my potential and wanted me to move into bigger roles. That really helps when it comes to keeping folks on track to get promoted; the bank really tries to anticipate where someone wants to go and helps get them there. “Something I didn’t do personally but I know other people on my team have benefited from is Simmons’ internship program. That’s been a good way for people to find what they like to do and get a head start on a job here. One colleague of mine is a former intern, and she loved it. Now she’s a big part of our team.” —Sean Hurley, Simmons Bank


10 Years:

Edwin Ortiz, Rejoicy DURING HIS ROUGHLY 10-year tech career, Edwin Ortiz has worked in supply chain tech for Sherwin Williams and for one of the biggest companies on the planet, Walmart. Since then, the 32-yearold has founded two startups: Luncher (currently on hiatus) and Rejoicy, which provides an e-marketplace for small businesses, making it easier for consumers to shop local online. Ortiz’s tech journey has been one of near-continuous discovery, particularly when it comes to life in startups. The sooner an entrepreneur learns to recognize and embrace what they don’t know, he says, the sooner their venture will start to gain traction.

Be Your Own Brand THE ENTREPRENEUR’S LIFE can be enormously rewarding. It’s also one of the hardest jobs one can ever do, fraught with setbacks and wrong turns. To succeed, says Ortiz, takes dedication, hard work, and the ability to stand out in a crowded marketplace, adjusting as the situation dictates. “What people don’t realize, coming from a large company, is that the leverage they had was from the title and position that they held in that company. When you jump into your own thing, you lose all of that. That was definitely hard for me. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, everyone’s going to want to talk to me.’ But instead, once I’d left Walmart and the leverage it gave me, nobody wanted to talk to me. That was a hard lesson to learn. “The biggest key for entrepreneurs is, one, you need to be passionate about whatever it is that you’re trying to solve. If you’re not passionate about it, it’s pretty easy to just say, ‘You know what? Maybe I won’t do this anymore.’ You also have to be resilient. Resilience doesn’t mean you don’t get frustrated or you don’t pivot, it means you find ways to keep going.” Find Your Tribe THE MARKETPLACE, WHILE competitive, can also offer invaluable insights and assistance to the entrepreneur. Ortiz says that one of the biggest advantages he’s had launching his companies here in Arkansas is a more cooperative spirit, as well as being able to network and find resources within the local startup ecosystem. “We’re super fortunate to be in this area,” he says. “There are pockets of high expertise in Northwest Arkansas, definitely in retail, but even more in supply chain. Having access to people who’ve seen different problems is really valuable. I’ve lived in a lot of places in the U.S. and abroad, and you can’t just go into a coffee shop and talk to the VP of a Fortune 100 company like you can here. “In terms of groups, having the Walton Family Foundation is huge. They’re big partners for us, and more than just on the financial side. They’re definitely looking at things in a very strategic way and they have experts in all kinds of fields. Startup Junkie has been a huge resource for us, and they open doors on things through Startup Weekend and One Million Cups. There’s just a lot of resources here that you can tap into as you start on this journey.” 34 ITARKANSAS | 2022


Listen, Learn, Lead “FOR STARTUPS, THE learning curve begins from the original hypothesis of how you start your business,” Ortiz says. “And most entrepreneurs start with the wrong hypothesis. A lot of the assumptions that you make are wrong from the get-go, meaning you have to test those hypotheses as soon as possible to learn what the real problem is. “To do that, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of talking to customers. It took a while for me to fully realize you really want to know what the problems are, not the solutions. When you ask for feedback, it’s super important to talk to as many people as possible. What are their pain points? That’s what you need to get out of those conversations.”

THE FINAL WORD “ONE THING THAT I think is definitely under-valued about being located in a smaller area like Northwest Arkansas is that you get to have a much larger impact. It’s like if you’re part of a 10-person team, you have so much more impact than if you’re on a team of 200 or 1,000. Working in tech here gives you the ability to make a huge impact on your company and also on the state. “I also think you have to consider quality of life. As a young entrepreneur or a young professional, living in an area where the cost of living is much lower than on either of the coasts or any major city is a huge advantage. There are a ton of opportunities to get paid pretty competitively with Silicon Valley, yet still have a bike trail five minutes from your house.” —Edwin Ortiz, Rejoicy

15 Years:

Jon Gaebe, AcreTrader ST. LOUIS NATIVE Jon Gaebe migrated to Arkansas for a position with transportation powerhouse J.B. Hunt, in a role that would inform much of the rest of his 15 years in professional life. During a career that has included a run at tech entrepreneurship and now as Director of Software Development with Fayetteville-based AcreTrader, a farmland real estate investment company, Gaebe says that mastering business fundamentals has been a potent accelerator for his success.


Tech Is Business “BEING A BUSINESS-MINDED IT professional has helped me advance my career more quickly than some others who have just done the pure IT career,” he says, pointing out that today’s multifaceted business environment calls for people with elastic skill sets that can bend and shape to the situation at hand. Gaebe, who holds an executive MBA from the Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas, developed a suite of business skills early that can be applied to any industry. “It helped me in a couple of different ways. Thinking like a technical buyer and having to sell things or field late-night phone calls about why this isn’t working, that comes from my sales side. It’s also helped develop management skills. Things like hiring well, interviewing well, letting people go, having conversations, motivating people, public speaking. Those kinds of things have enabled me to excel.”

THE FINAL WORD “IF YOU’RE JUST starting out, I would say you’re in a great area. You’ve got a great mixture of small- and medium-sized businesses like AcreTrader, which are innovative fintech startups, all the way to marketing firms supporting big box retail. Then you have those enterprise-level companies — J.B. Hunt, Walmart and Tyson — that are hiring dozens of workers every month. “Take it from the personal perspective of somebody who spent eight and a half years in Chicago, about four and a half years in St. Louis (and I’m from there) — this area is great. There’s low crime, the cost of living is a fraction of what it is in Chicago, traffic isn’t bad, and there are a number of awesome things to do. After all this time, I’m excited to be working for a fast-growing company that’s headquartered here. I’m just very happy to be here.” —Jon Gaebe, AcreTrader

Don’t Stop Learning GAEBE ALSO LEARNED early on that for as valuable as his business acumen was, it wasn’t nearly as effective without sound, industry-specific tech skills. So he’s sought to improve his technical knowledge at each stop on his career journey. “I was getting tired of being beholden to software developers telling me a rough estimate of how long things would take, like the magnitude of a project,” he says. “In 2019 I decided to take a software development certification course at the University of Arkansas global campus in Rogers. I did the six-month course and I learned a lot about JavaScript and service-side development, and I actually got a backend software development certification that helped me speak tech a little better. I have no delusions of grandeur—you wouldn’t want my code in any app that you’d want to run—but it did help me understand how things can be built from a software development perspective. And that technical knowledge is something I continue to hone.” Harness Change CHANGE IS THE only constant in life, as well as in business. Gaebe says that one of the most important lessons he’s learned is not only to adjust to change, but to leverage it as a catalyst for professional opportunities and individual growth. “There are probably two transformational shifts I’ve made in my career,” he says. “The first would be when I decided to leave my operations and sales manager perspective at J.B. Hunt and make that jump to engineering and technology. That was really a big leap for me, but it wound up paving the way for a happier career. It allowed me to open some doors to what were better fits for me. I haven’t left the technology space since I made that decision, and I don’t intend on doing that anytime soon. “It was also transformational to come to AcreTrader, because I went from a large organization bordering on thousands of employees at J.B. Hunt, to a small organization where if I work a little harder, I can impact the value of our company. I have more ability to influence change. Certainly, it’s a higher-pressure situation, but it’s very refreshing to know that if I notice a problem and present a solution, there’s a good chance that my solution will be enacted within a week.” ITARKANSAS.COM | 2022 35

25+ Years:

Kim Henderson, Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield

Recognize Opportunity “WHEN I GRADUATED from Arkansas State University, my parents thought I was crazy for picking a degree in IT,” she says. “They were like, ‘You’re not going to be able to find a job.’ But I could see that it was the beginning of something that would go on forever, and I definitely made the right decision. Because now the world revolves around IT.” Tech evolves quickly, and each time it does, new opportunities present themselves. Henderson says she developed a keen sense for what was next, and took steps to position herself to be at the forefront of industry evolution. “The main thing that helped me was volunteering to do things. Sometimes it was things other people didn’t want to do. Sometimes it was a project that they didn’t even offer to me, but I saw it sitting out there and decided I was going to beat others to the punch. I even had to go into my boss’ office and lobby to get it. If you don’t volunteer for things or ask for things you want, you’re not ever going to be given an opportunity to be noticed or to show your skills.” Go the Extra Mile TOO OFTEN, PEOPLE get so focused on the task at hand that they fail to ponder the big picture, Henderson says. Thinking and working with a proactive mindset is not only beneficial to your career, it can also improve the performance of the people around you, making everyone better. “Challenge business as usual. Don’t do things the way they’ve ‘always been done’ just because that’s the way they’ve always been done,” she says. “When I became a manager, my people would come to me and say, ‘So-and-so’s got a problem and this is what we can do for them.’ I was like, ‘What else can we do? How can we do it differently and make it better?’ You’ve got to think outside the box. “I always did more than what I was asked to do. If somebody asked me if I could fix a particular problem, while fixing that I always tried to fix something else that needed fixing in the process.” Curiosity Makes a Career WORKING FOR A big company can sometimes slow innovation, due to all the layers of bureaucracy. Yet Henderson has made a career out of challenging the status quo through a refined set of skills that begins with understanding processes, and then transitions to recommending improvements based on what will have the greatest practical impact. “You have to have an analytical mind in tech,” Henderson says. “You have to be curious enough to want to figure out why things work the way they work. At Blue Cross, we have to know the intricacies of the whole business because when you really get down there and understand what people need, that’s when they value you. “There are a few programmers that we sit over on the side crunching numbers, because they’re not good with people. But most of the ones getting promoted are the people who get in there and understand the business.”

36 ITARKANSAS | 2022


KIM HENDERSON’S INTEREST in tech came in college, just as the modern IT industry was being born. Over the decades, her career developed along with technical advancements, from code written on punch cards, to the onset of email, to the Cloud. The Vice President of Information Systems’ long run with Arkansas BCBS, the only company she’s ever worked for, yields to retirement in January 2022. She will have been there 38 years.

THE FINAL WORD “A WOMAN IN tech has to be assertive. You certainly have to not be afraid to speak up and talk when you go into a room. Even today, I go to a conference and there may be three women out of 50 in the room. You have to be assertive and want to jump in there and not be afraid to walk in a room with 10 men and get things done and show them how smart you are. “It definitely helps to find mentors. I had two who took me under their wing and gave me advice about networking and social interaction. I’m not necessarily the best at politics, but you do have to do some politicking and play that game of networking for people to notice you. You don’t want to just sit in your office and be a real hard-worker bee. People value you for being a worker bee, but you don’t get many opportunities to show what you know unless you make yourself heard.” —Kim Henderson, Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield

We’re in the business of making connections. At First Orion, everything we do revolves around making the connection. Whether it’s connecting businesses to their customers through the power of branded communication or connecting with each other through our “People First” culture, we’re committed to what we do and who we are. We’re always looking for tech-forward thinkers to create world-class products and solutions. If you’re looking for a collaborative work environment that empowers employees to be passionate about what they do - let’s chat.


(continued from page 19) with us, as our partners. And to do innovation in cybersecurity, we really need that close partnership. So it's all about developing the ecosystem. I've been working with Lee Watson, Scott Anderson, and others at Forge Institute from even before I got into academia, trying to lay the groundwork. And it’s not just me. The people at the Emerging Analytics Center and the leadership at UA Little Rock have been very forward thinking.” Part of the UA Little Rock vision was to continue building the ecosystem by teaching teachers to teach cybersecurity, as well as to bring high school students across Arkansas into the cyber loop. To that end, in 2017 UA Little Rock was awarded a PROMISE Grant from the National Science Foundation. “Dr. Mengjun Xie received money to develop our free Cloudbased cybersecurity lab—what we now call our Trojan Cyber Arena,” says Huff. “That was a key component of our success, because getting that off the ground allowed us to solve the problem of all these high schools across the state wanting to offer a cybersecurity course, but you really need these labs, and you need not just one computer but several computers to simulate different scenarios in cybersecurity. Buying that many computers was prohibitive for many of these school districts, so this was a real game changer. With metered use of our Cloud-based lab, the cost is significantly reduced.” A happy offshoot of the PROMISE Grant was the addition of veteran teacher Sandra Leiterman as Managing Director of the Cyber Arena. “In 2015 I got my master’s in Digital Teaching and Online Learning from UA Little Rock, and I was working here as a Math Education Specialist in the STEM Center,” Leiterman says. “I spent a lot of my time on Arkansas Department of Education math initiatives and was doing professional development for teachers throughout the school year and over the summer. Philip and his team had all this amazing content, but they didn’t have the

PEOPLE DRIVEN Our people are our greatest asset. We offer top notch benefits, great compensation, sponsorship, technical training, and professional success. In an ever-changing world, we make people-first decisions, and we prioritize the well-being of our work families. QUALITY FOCUSED While it is tempting to emphasize quantity in our fast-paced world, we value quality, knowledge, and diligence. We set high standards for every hire and pursue technical excellence across the board. TRANSPARENT We pride ourselves on being honest and transparent with our employees and clients. We choose integrity, value authenticity, and act in the best interests of our partners. EMPOWERED We are a passionate, action-oriented company. By promoting critical thinking, we are empowered to ask the tough questions, make strategic decisions, and produce optimal outcomes. SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE We embrace our roles as socially responsible community members. We persistently challenge the barriers to diversity, inclusion, and empathic cooperation. 38 ITARKANSAS | 2022

connection to the schools. And Dr. Carolina Cruz-Neira, who was head of the Computer Science department and director of the Emerging Analytics Center at the time, recommended that they bring me in. ‘She’ll get you hooked up,’ Carolina said, so I worked with them in getting the teachers into the training. And then I spent the teaching week with them basically just learning and watching, and it was mind-blowing. “They’ve created all these different modules, from password security to phishing to ransomware. And what’s cool about this program is that in the workouts that Philip and his people designed, you get to see them from both the attacker’s side and the victim’s side. I mean, after watching some of these courses, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to be online again. Maybe I should delete all my social media. Maybe I don’t want my cell phone.’” Another pivotal moment arrived in December 2019. “We got a big grant from the Arkansas Department of Education to take our teaching global,” says Leiterman. “So we, in collaboration with Virtual Arkansas, designed an online cybersecurity course—levels I, II, III, and IV—that’s being deployed free of charge to every high school student in the state of Arkansas through the Virtual Arkansas platform. I eventually got our team to buy into the need to also go into middle schools. That’s when these kids are making their decisions about what they want to do, where they want to go. So now we go down to seventh grade.” Huff says “We now have hundreds of students across the state accessing our labs through Virtual Arkansas. We’ll have more than a thousand servers up and running in the Cloud on any given day.” “My role,” Leiterman says, “is to keep this up, so we’re doing summer camps. We’re doing events. Of course, I officially started in the middle of the pandemic, so nobody would let me in the schools. But I did a Women in Cybersecurity virtual event partnered with the Women’s Foundation of

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Arkansas. In October 2020, we did that on International Day of the Girl. I had an FBI mobile forensics agent, a female Certified Systems Security Officer who is the manager of the Secure Operations Center at Simmons Bank, a security analyst from Arvest Bank, plus female security experts from Acxiom and Edafio. So all these wonderful women in leadership positions in cybersecurity were my panelists, and we had 60 girls log on on a Sunday afternoon to hear all about it and participate in the cyber workouts. “Then a couple of weeks later we did another very similar event, but this was for Cybersecurity Awareness Month. So we had another summit where I invited speakers. And we organized a summer camp in about three weeks’ time. We had almost 100 kids come through. We had four different sessions over a two-week period and again, it’s pretty amazing the speakers that we had. A lot of them chose a different path first or they didn’t know this is where they were going. Or it kind of fell into their laps, so their stories are really essential to hear, especially in Arkansas where we have a lot of students of color. We have a lot of students who fall into a low socioeconomic bracket. “And for both, we need to make them aware of the career opportunities that are available to them. The second thing is, so many of these kids think they can’t do it because to get one of these big, glamorous jobs, they’ll have to leave home. And our low-income students, they especially don’t want to leave home. They don’t want to leave their small hometowns. So they can get a degree online, and a lot of times they can work from home in their hometowns. So it gives them something to strive for.” The most recent accomplishment for the UA Little Rock cybersecurity program came in October 2021, when it received a $750,000 grant from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity, located

within the National Security Agency. UA Little Rock will be one of the first universities in the country to offer a graduate certificate in cybersecurity education through the National Cybersecurity Teaching Academy, a collaborative of 10 institutions in nine states that will offer the first credentialing program for high school cybersecurity education in the country. The inaugural program will prepare 90 high school teachers to teach an advanced cybersecurity course. “Providing these educational resources to our partners at the secondary level strengthens our fight against cyber crime, while attracting more students into a reliable and exciting career pipeline,” UA Little Rock Chancellor Christina Drale says. “The demand for cybersecurity professionals shows no sign of slowing down as more businesses become increasingly dependent on technology.” AT THE END of the day, it appears that UA Little Rock has figured out a way to “package” messages of cyber safety in the service of the deeper message of cybersecurity, and that would seem to be a good thing. After all, to quote another of those statistics, “The number of Internet-connected devices is expected to increase from 35 billion in 2021 to 75 billion in 2025.” And as American Cyber Alliance’s Scott Anderson so deftly puts it, “We used to tell our kids not to talk to strangers. Now they talk to strangers all day long.” “I think we have a role to play in educating the general public about cyber safety,” Philip Huff says. “There is a part of that—the hey, what do I do and not do with my phone, my password, social media, privacy, all of that. That gets kids interested, and it makes people aware. But our main focus is on developing the workforce, on developing them as professionals.”

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What makes us unique: Responsiveness, Personal Attention, and our focus on security in all we do. ITARKANSAS.COM | 2022 39

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they're ready to be a vice president. Not everyone, but we’re having to coach quite a few folks on being humble. Yes, in an interview you are selling yourself, but there’s a way to strategically deliver that in a humble manner. Instead of saying, “I did this” or “I won that,” you say, “I was fortunate enough to have this job opportunity in which I could accomplish such and such….”

cal at times like this. For three months, I didn’t think motorcycle racing; I didn’t think Walmart. I was like, “Wow, hmm, what does this mean? What does it mean to the world? What does it mean to me?” In the middle of that three-month course, I was surprised when my boss asked me to take a couple of days off to meet him at IBM’s annual sales and systems engineering symposium in Atlanta. All the top systems engineers from around the country would be there, and again, it was an honor to be invited. Even so, I was shocked to suddenly hear my name spoken from the podium; I was being called up to accept one of the national awards for systems engineers. My boss was beaming. And here’s where this story gets interesting, from the perspective of this theme of careers. Flying back to New York to finish SRI school, I found myself feeling…uneasy. I loved the work at IBM, but all these awards I’d won were beginning to weigh on me. I was starting to feel a subtle pressure about my future, a topic I hadn’t given much thought to. Now I felt a twinge of urgency: Was IBM where I wanted to be for the long haul? After SRI school, I took the train to Connecticut to visit my old colleague Jim Hefley, who’d been promoted from the Fayetteville office to IBM’s corporate headquarters in White Plains, New York. I wanted to know what it was like to breathe such rarefied air. What I heard was discouraging. Jim seemed to spend most of his days making presentations to various divisions of IBM, trying to convince them to support data processing’s latest product. He was a lobbyist in his own company. I returned to Fayetteville a wiser man, but not in the way IBM had intended. I’d turned 28 in New York—time was slipping by. I’d always had a propensity for projecting myself into the future. Now I applied the template of time to everything around me: Do I want to be lugging this briefcase to meetings with Walmart 20 years from now? It was an unanswerable question. But time is elastic. Some days I felt an imminent worry, other days I could banish the questions from my mind. I lived that way for the next six months. Then, in mid-October 1971, I received word that I’d been selected to attend a two-day class in New Orleans. It was a class about how to plan your career, and everyone at IBM knew it was a precursor to promotion. You might not get promoted immediately, but this “career class” was a tip-off that you were on the fast track and would likely receive a promotion within a year or so. The class was held right before Thanksgiving. I remember nothing substantive about the class itself, but the instructor’s opening words have never left me: “You’ve got to think about the rest of your life,” he said. “All of you are likely to be promoted within the next few years, and you really need to decide what you want to do. You need to have a strategic planning session with yourself. This isn’t a group session, but you do need to coordinate it with your family. Family wishes are key here. So I suggest that the only good way to do this is to get away by yourself for at least one day, with a pen and a notepad, and write down what’s important to you, what the issues are in your life. You’ve got to write stuff down, and you have to articulate it, or it’s not real.” The instructor’s admonitions about family really hit home with me. The joke was that IBM stood for I’ve Been Moved—climbing the corporate ladder meant that you had to be willing to relocate every couple of years for up to a decade. I was married by then, and I knew my wife would have trouble with that. She was a good soldier, she would go, but she wouldn’t do well at it. So staying with IBM was a domestic disaster in the making. If IBM was my choice, I might as well file for divorce right now, because that would be the inevitable result. But marriage aside, one thing I really feared was being promoted out of the work I loved. It occurred to me to tell IBM I wanted to stay in the field a few more years and then I would move up the ladder. But would I be ready then? Was I just procrastinating? When I came back to Fayetteville after that New Orleans class, I took the instructor’s words to heart. I rented a motel room and spent a day in it all by myself. For about six hours I sat in a chair at the little desk and filled several pages in a yellow notepad—what I liked about my work, what I didn’t like, what my options were. I was writing some cool software and tackling meaty tech problems in my present job, but if I lifted my sights for a second and really looked at what my boss did all day, and

Okay, so you’ve held their hands, you’ve polished them up, you’ve finally sent out their resumes. Tell me about the extraordinary strengths that this generation brings to the employers in this state. They’re a blank slate for an employer. They’re not going to be resistant to change. They’ve always had computers. They’re totally comfortable with the whole agile approach of quickly putting out a solution for the end user and seeing how it goes, then editing and modifying it after the fact. They’re also really good problem solvers, really good at thinking outside the box. They can visualize things better because they’ve always had technology and video games. They were raised to embrace diversity, so they value individual personalities and cultures that are different. Another cool thing about this group is, at the end of a mock interview I tell them to come with two different questions that they like to ask an employer. Often, I hear some type of question about how the company gives back to society or the environment. They’re very in tune with green initiatives. And something that I’ve started seeing in benefit plans is, companies giving employees paid time off for volunteering. That speaks to this generation’s passion. Let’s go back to that worrisome concept of careers. How would you say this generation deals with that? This younger generation has an issue with job-hopping. They like to job hop every year, every two years, and we recruiters see that as red flags. It’s Recruiting 101—when we get a resume, the first thing we do is look at the applicant’s tenure at each recent position. What amount of time is okay, and what isn’t? We used to like to see four- or five-year tenures, but a lot of people were laid off during COVID and recruiters are a little more flexible because of that. As long as someone stays at a job at least two years, I feel like that’s acceptable. But the longer the better. Bottom line, though: These young people want flexibility. In their ideal world, they want to rent an RV with their best friend and travel the country and send their work in via satellite. Like the song says, nice work if you can get it. Yes, but I think that the more “homework” you’ve done before getting into the working world, the more likely you’ll be to find an occupation and a company that’s right for you. We live in a time—thank you, Google—when there’s just so much research material available at our fingertips, from YouTube to online courses to LinkedIn and other social media. One easy thing we at ACDS suggest to candidates is to follow companies that you’re interested in on social media. That’s a great way to start educating yourself on what different career tracks are available to you today. Sometimes companies talk about the technologies that they use. Sometime you may even see job openings. Another idea is job shadowing—otherwise known as an “informational interview.” If you’re connected to someone on LinkedIn, or you know your friend’s mom is a systems engineer at Acxiom, use that network to your advantage. Some 60 percent of all job transitions—first job, or a later job—are the result of some type of networking, the old “who you know” network. So just put yourself out there and say, “I want to learn what you do.” Maybe you’ll learn what you like, and maybe you’ll learn what you don’t like. Both are valuable pieces of information. And if you do get with a company and decide it’s not working out the way you like, don’t just up and leave the company; be upfront with your manager and see what you can do internally by changing departments. Or talk to your HR adviser or mentor. That way, you avoid the “job hopper” stigma because you’re still with the same company. And at the end of the day, you just want to be happy in what you’re doing. 40 ITARKANSAS | 2022

what my boss’s boss did, the probability of such a future felt downright dispiriting. I imagined myself doing two years in Birmingham, two more in Cincinnati, another two in Tucson, then two more in some place like Armonk, New York—all on my long slog up to White Plains, the crowning glory of IBM Lifers. I saw myself sitting in a sequence of increasingly larger offices and managing bigger and bigger budgets and making more important presentations, but not really doing anything, as in creating something. The more I thought about it, the more terrified I became. I can’t do that, I told myself. That day I spent in that Fayetteville motel room taking inventory was a real eye-opener. It forced me to face who I really am and what I really love, and it confirmed what I’d been feeling—that I was approaching a crucial crossroads. At moments like this, you either choose what feels authentic to you, or you find yourself on the path to unhappiness. What was I going to do? And then I thought: Alex Dietz. We still raced motocross together, still talked all the time, but a couple of years earlier, Alex had left IBM for a small startup company called Demographics. Based in Conway, Demographics was a “service bureau,” which means it rented out its computer services to other companies. Alex had tried repeatedly to get me to join him, but I’d told him I was still happy at IBM. That was true, but I also looked down on service bureaus, which for tech companies were the bottom of the barrel. And yet it was a lean young company, entrepreneurial in spirit, still making it up as they went. Hadn’t I flourished in Fayetteville, where I was basically my own boss? In this new light, the service bureau looked vastly more attractive. To near-universal disbelief, I submitted my resignation from IBM before the end of the year and started my new career at Demographics in January 1972, running the company as a co-equal with Alex Dietz. Our success was anything but certain, and we experienced many, many hard times. But every day when I went to work, I felt alive and in the right place, and the future confirmed that instinct. Demographics was the company we would eventually grow into the blockbuster called Acxiom. THE YEAR 2022 marks half a century since I made that crucial career move, and I’m no longer a young man worried about my own future. But over these past 50 years, both at Acxiom and now at First Orion, I’ve hired and worked with and nurtured several generations of talented young tech professionals. The world has changed drastically since I was coming up; today’s graduates, and even the self-taught tech whizzes, are brighter and better educated and more capable than ever. And yet I submit that the advice given to me by that IBM careers course instructor half a century ago isn’t just a lesson from the Dark Ages. It is, in fact, a lesson for the Ages: Think about your future. Actively think about it. What do you love? What do you not love? Where do you want to be in 10 years, 15 years, 25 years? I’ve put those questions to many a young hire, and most of the time it just blows their minds. “The future? You mean like next week?” But let’s talk about why that advice remains so important. There are two parts to that answer—your part (that is, you young up-and-coming tech professionals) and my part (as an employer of young up-and-coming tech professionals). Getting your part right helps both of us. Returning for a moment to my situation at IBM all those decades ago, I was just blissfully going along, doing work I liked, getting raises, having lots of free time…. It was a nice external work situation that I was enjoying without thinking much about it. But here’s the thing about external work situations. They’re a little like being on a carousel: Inevitably, at some point, the music stops. A new boss comes in. A product is discontinued. A company changes direction. You get promoted out of the work you love. And a new external work situation begins. The reason you need to conduct that written, spoken, consciously-thought-out strategic self-examination early in your career is so you’ll be grounded whenever that music stops. At Demographics, we experienced many a change of direction and of fortune, and yet I never once felt that I should go somewhere else. Early on, I had realized that I like building things, whether it’s an office tower or a mobile phone app or a business. I like leading people and inspiring them to reach higher and try new things. I like getting up every day and solving problems with cutting-edge technol-

“As an employer, I want to hire committed, self-aware people who know what they need from their work to fulfill them….” ogy. Demographics gave me all that in spades, so no matter how bad a day I might’ve occasionally had, I knew I was on my right path. As an employer, I want to hire committed, self-aware people who know what they need from their work to fulfill them and who are convinced that they can build their skills and have a rewarding career at our company. This doesn’t mean they’ll never go to work for someone else, or even change careers; but it does mean they’ll be fully aware of why they’re making those decisions. The problem hires turn out to be the ones who haven’t asked themselves the hard questions about what makes them want to get up in the morning, so they’re likely to have their heads turned at the slightest new thing. Ask where they see themselves in 10 years, and they’ll say, “I want to be a boss.” Or, “I want to be making a ton of money.” Those aren’t thought-out goals. No telling how many miserable lawyers I know who chose that profession because they could make a lot of money. But money doesn’t bring fulfillment; meaning does. The happiest, most successful people I know have an internal compass that guides them, and sometimes it takes some casting about before you find your true north. You’ve got to identify that thing that compels you every single day. If you’re pursuing a tech career because you’ve always loved playing video games, well, sorry—you’re not going to get paid a lot of money doing just that. But what is it about video games that makes you love them so? Is it the fast action? The problem solving? The going it alone? Isolate your sweet spot in that process and then channel it into a career that gives you that high day in and day out. Find what you like and then pursue the heck out of that. There are thousands of technology companies out there today, and somewhere there’s a company or a startup that’s just right for every passion. For example, at First Orion we’re working with a really interesting little company in North Carolina’s Research Triangle that revels in solving extremely complicated software engineering problems. I say “little company”—it’s 14 people, and they know exactly who they want to hire. Their employees are likely to have worked for larger companies and hated it. They detest meetings. They can’t stand teams. They’re repelled by talking to other people, especially customers. All these brilliant tech geeks want to do is be given challenging problems and the freedom to go write software and build stuff they can feel good about building. They just want to go off and do their projects. So whatever you like to do or don’t like to do, there’s a niche for you out there. But the first move—knowing yourself—is up to you. I’ll close on the crass old subject of money. At First Orion, we give our people stock options. If this company turns out to be as successful as I think it’s going to be, everyone who works here now can eventually be a millionaire. Everyone. I know that’s crazy, but you build long-term wealth by small beginnings. And yet we’ve had people walk away from our big stock option grants in order to get $20,000 more a year in salary. I understand that; we all have our current pressures. But after tax they’ll make $75,000 but give up $5 million. Just another little reason for taking the long view. Charles D. Morgan is the CEO of First Orion. Parts of this article were adapted from passages in his book “Matters of Life and Data: The Remarkable Journey of a Big Data Visionary Whose Work Impacted Millions (Including You)”; Morgan James Publishing, 2015. ITARKANSAS.COM | 2022 41


REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE You can do this, and don’t forget it BY JENNY SALES


y fellow ACDS talent recruiters and I have lots of nutsand-bolts tips and good practical advice to share with job candidates. But one tip that I’m particularly partial to is the need to keep a positive attitude. We’re all human, and there’s nothing more human than to beat ourselves up by focusing on our negatives—especially when we’re in a stressful situation with a lot on the line. But that’s the very time we need to push out those negative feelings and remember all the things we’re good at. I tell the candidates I work with, “Before you build a resume, before you answer the recruiter’s phone call, before you go to a job interview, carry a notepad around for a week and write down every positive skill you have, as they come to you. You’ll be surprised at how smart and talented you really are.” I’ve seen it work time and time again. Today you may think you can only do MS Excel. But as you mull it over during that week, you start to realize that that spreadsheet’s formulas and pivot tables and graphs feed into Access, which notifies inventory to reorder supplies, while also alerting accounting to send out the invoice and the shipping labels. It’s not just a spreadsheet; it’s a valuable business process, and you built and implemented all of those important steps. In my book, maintaining a positive attitude is the best tip to keep you moving forward, but it’s the hardest to do. We’re all different, and what helps me stay positive may not help you. So I tell people to find whatever it is that makes them happy and proud, and then apply it to everything they do. None of us has all the answers, but every one of us can choose to put on a smile—or not—each and every day. Personally, I choose to smile and look to the positive, because the return on investment is worth it. Jenny Sales is one of the ReSkill Arkansas recruiters for ACDS.


It feels good, and not only do you give back, you’re also networking… which leads me to another tip.

42 ITARKANSAS | 2022


Always be open, and train yourself to listen carefully for the sound of opportunity.


Who do you know who knows that person that you need to know? Step out, step up, and keep up your networking in person and via social media.


Make sure your profiles are set up on all related social media platforms.


If multiple interviews and job offers come in, you have a choice. The fewer you apply to, the more you’re limiting yourself. —JS

APPRENTICES ON APPRENTICESHIPS Memories, insights, and advice from the ‘Class of ’21’ I

n Arkansas, we're big on Registered Apprenticeships—in fact, in 2021 we were one of three states that led the nation in the number of IT apprenticeships processed for the year. That’s a statistic we at ACDS are very proud of, because it means that we’re helping meet our employers’ tech demand with homegrown tech talent. That’s an all-around formula for success. For this issue of ITArkansas Magazine, we checked in with a few of 2021’s stellar crop of IT Apprentices to hear how their jobs were going and what impact their apprenticeships have had on their career and life goals. —JM

“UNLIMITED MENTORSHIP” JUSTICE BAKER, METOVA OVERALL, I WOULD say that my work is going really well. I’ve been on a project as the main QA/tester for the majority of 2021, and my remaining time apart from that is dedicated toward professional development, such as QA automation practice and cross training for other technical areas, such as front end web development. My apprenticeship has definitely shaped and really defined my career as a Quality Assurance Test Engineer in the best ways possible. I've been able to receive basically unlimited mentorship, on-thejob training, and plenty of additional technical training to further advance me as an IT professional. My main advice for future apprentices is that this is a constantly changing industry with so many domains that you never truly have to stick to one forever—switch it up, keep things interesting, and, as cliched as it sounds, just never stop learning.

“MAKES THE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE” KELSEY HEDRICK, ACDS YOU MAY NOT realize just how much you gain by participating in an apprenticeship, but once you start to use that knowledge in your position and within your company, it’s such a satisfying feeling. I will forever use what I’ve learned going forward in my career. I feel like I’ve had a "career" for a long time, yet, somehow, I now feel like I have a "fulfilling career," which is so far beyond just having a career. If you’re given the opportunity to be a part of an apprenticeship, take it—you’ll never regret it. In my job at ACDS, I get the privilege of speaking with other apprentices daily, and I can hear, and read, not only the excitement of beginning an apprenticeship, but also that sense of accomplishment when they’ve finished training and again when they complete their year of apprenticeship. Seeing these apprentices graduate from the program has been one of the most rewarding aspects of what I do. Not only am I an alumna of the program, but I also get to help apprentices along and see them gain the skills and knowledge to further their careers. I’ve seen entry level apprentices become mentors after training, and even become senior level employees so quickly you feel like they were just starting out and won a gold medal in the Olympics by training for a year! We all know that unless you’re a prodigy in something, that’s almost impossible. I guess you could say apprenticeships make the almost impossible, possible.



“LEARN ABOUT A DIFFERENT PATH” HANNAH BAUM, HYTROL MY WORK IS going well. I enjoy my job and have recently been asked to take on a project management role for some of our upcoming projects in 2022. The worst part of it is they sent everyone home due to COVID not long after I started at Hytrol, so it was difficult for me to learn on the job during the past two years. I’m looking forward to learning more and developing my skills and knowledge to be a better employee. The apprenticeship was a good opportunity to learn while I was stuck at home, because the training was mostly online. It also allowed me to learn more about a different path in technology. It was interesting to me and I am considering masters level training in data science after I finish my computer science degree in December 2022.


“PUTTING SKILLS TO WORK IMMEDIATELY” LAURA WEIDERHAFT, SKUNINJA + WHYTESPYDER SINCE FINISHING THE training portion of my apprenticeship in July 2021, I’ve been able to take on several new projects at work. The training really gave me the tools to not just work with the data that drive the insights and strategy on my team, but also to provide the technical support to manage the large volumes of data that we collect and work with. I’ve been able to create databases and build dashboards that have saved the other analysts and account managers on my team a lot of time. Joining a startup like SkuNinja + WhyteSpyder allowed me to put the skills I was growing through the apprenticeship to work immediately; I might not have had the opportunity to make an impact so quickly at a larger company. SkuNinja + WhyteSpyder was recently acquired, so now I’ll be able to put my skills to work in new ways and support the integration with our new parent company, Ascential. I’m so thankful to be a part of the ACDS apprenticeship program, not only because I was able to be placed with a great company like SkuNinja + WhyteSpyder. I’m also thankful because the apprenticeship helped me find the confidence that I had lost after stagnating for years in my career. The training and mentorship I received helped me see the value in the skills I already had and allowed me to develop those skills toward a career that I know I’ll be able to grow with. I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about applying for an ACDS apprenticeship to go for it! I thought I didn’t have enough skills or experience to make a career change, but the apprenticeship program helped me bridge that gap.

JODI-ANN CLOUGH, ARVEST BANK THE LAST TIME we spoke I was a Senior Reporting Analyst. Since then, I’ve assumed a Division Data Analyst role with our Data Science team. That’s three role changes since starting the apprenticeship program! I’m still excited by this career change because I’m learning a lot and hope to become a Data Scientist eventually. I feel like this career change can be directly linked to the apprenticeship. Here are some of the ways: In the apprenticeship, I was exposed to multiple technical processes, and it helps when you can discuss new technology, especially in interviews. It also helps when you don’t feel overwhelmed about learning new things, because you know you can since you’ve done it already. In our apprenticeship, we learned Java, JavaScript, HTML and SQL. I’m learning R right now, and a lot of the logic is similar to things I’ve done in the past. That’s another helpful aspect of the apprenticeship—expanding my logical and analytical mindset. I think going through the apprenticeship is what you make it. Everyone has different backgrounds and experiences, but one of the things I committed to was to not taking the easy path, but to continually challenge myself.

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“DON’T WASTE THE OPPORTUNITY” KRIS HAIRE, OAKLAWN SINCE COMPLETING MY apprenticeship program, many things have changed. I not only received a very nice pay increase from my employer, I also was moved into a network-security-related role. My apprenticeship greatly prepared me to tackle the day-today tasks in my new role, which also helped me feel more confident in my personal life. If there’s a piece of advice I can pass on to future apprentices, it would be to not waste the opportunity to ask the person mentoring you through this process not only technical questions but also quality-of-life questions. I was blessed to have a great group of people to help guide me, and I’ll be forever grateful.


THE CEO WORKOUT Life is like the gym—every day is you vs. you J

amie Taylor is a study in contradictions. Since graduating high school, her entire career has been in real estate, only to make a hard right turn to launch Jumpstart Studios, a Little Rock digital media company last year. And, as a laid-back SoCal type, it’s a little jarring to place her in the uber-intense world of competitive CrossFit, labeled by many as the most intense workout regimen out there. But as Taylor herself will tell you, it’s because of her demanding hobby that she’s able to maintain equilibrium in her non-stop roles as business owner and mom. “CrossFit is something I couldn’t really continue on my journey without,” she says. “It gives me a mental release so that I can’t think about anything else. You can’t think about work when you’re lifting 150 pounds above your head.” An itinerant athlete growing up, Taylor says she didn’t get into weight training until about six years ago when she started working out to lose weight. She also was looking to shed some of the stress of balancing her job with her responsibilities at home. “With respect to me specifically, my hands are in so many different kinds of businesses doing different things that the mental clarity required is directly correlated with my functionality,” she says. “Everybody is aware that the better health you’re in physically, the more mentally sharp you are. When you’re eating well and sleeping well and exercising, you find that perfect balance of how your body works. The body is a machine; I give it the right fuel and it’s going to execute better than it would if I fill it full of things that are not good for it.” Taylor came to launch Jumpstart Studios via the real estate game where she started her career before to moving to Arkansas in 2006. Noticing a need many entrepreneurs and small businesses had for branding help, including in real estate, she began the business to provide media assets such as video and podcast support, from conception through post-production. “Our primary function at Jumpstart Studios is to give other people their jumpstart and brand them through media assets,” she says. “We help companies, including those in the tech space whose CEOs aren’t sure how to tell their story or brand themselves in an effective manner. We help them to position themselves on camera, understand how to deliver the message of what they really do and why, and what they specifically bring to that mission.”

BY DWAIN HEBDA CrossFit was a workout option she tried when looking for a way to live a healthier lifestyle. It was also a rude awakening the first time out. “I was so sore,” she says. “I went in the gym the first day like, ‘Yeah, I can do this. No problem.’ Well, I forgot I’d have to come back the next day. I left the gym that day like, ‘There’s no way I’m coming back tomorrow.’ So, I immediately learned to have a little bit less of an ego when I walked into the gym after that.” But return she did, and over time she found the mental side of the strenuous workouts to be as valuable as the physical elements. These not only help her tackle the day’s agenda, but also give her a strategy blueprint for operational improvement and approaching the unknowns of the future with confidence. “The harder I work in the gym, the more my mind is released the next time I sit down to get on a work project, because physically there’s no anxiety. It’s totally out of my body,” she says. “I’m worn out physically which allows my mental side to be sharper and stronger. “I would say the other part of it is the benefits of the constant endorphins that you get from working out. The positivity that comes from succeeding in your workout or accomplishing a fitness goal you didn’t think you could meet just a few months back are the small steps forward that remind you you’re on a journey in every area of your life, including your work or running a business.” Case in point: After turning on to CrossFit as a stand-alone activity, she advanced to the competitive levels of the sport, which has taken her to test her skills against other athletes in competitions all over the United States. From this progression, she draws a lot of parallels to advancing her business and how she leads it. “When I joined this community, I said out loud, ‘Oh, it would be crazy if I tried to compete,’ and the coach was like, ‘No it wouldn’t. Why don’t you start working at it?’ And I thought, Well, why don’t I start working at it? “That’s a mindset that can directly apply to a business. If you just take one small step forward, improve one little bit from the time you did yesterday, what would that look like? It’s really just a reminder that everything in life is truly just like it is in the gym; you walk in every day and every single workout is really, truly you versus you.”




NOT EVERY KID THE SAME People find the spark of imagination in all kinds of places BY LAWRENCE E. WHITMAN

nce upon a time, college was that period in people's lives when they went off and wandered in different directions until they found themselves. This was especially true in the liberal arts. I’ve been asked if it can still be that way in tech too, and I think it can. But being in administration, I necessarily bring a different viewpoint to the question. Today, there’s pressure to get students through the system—the state wants to see that there’s an investment in these kids to graduate in a timely manner. I think the liberal arts people here would say the same. It’s just the times. But this is one reason I think it would be ideal to help kids learn about their different career options when they’re in high school, so when they come to college, they have a more direct path. They don’t lose time changing course. And I think we are doing a lot of things in a lot of schools to promote that. But to say that we’re there is wrong. I’m actually of the belief that we’ll always be wrong in some ways. There are some societies that want to give tests to high school sophomores or juniors—tests that say whether they’re going to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, or tradesmen. I don’t buy that for everybody. I understand the efficiency of it, but I also think that part of what’s made this country great is that we allow people to be late bloomers. We allow people to change careers. To be more efficient at what we’re doing is a good thing—as long as we allow points for people to jump out of that efficiency. Design itself is not a perfectly efficient process. The spark of imagination can be given by all kinds of things. And people find themselves. People find themselves in the technical professions all the time. You give a student a project as a freshman, you give him or her a project as a sophomore, a junior, a senior—that same kid will approach it differently as a senior than as a freshman. And if they don’t, we’ve kind of failed in educating the student. They need to know different methods, too, but also the student has matured. What we want to do is mature them in such a way that we don’t teach the creativity out of them. We want to make them as creative as possible, to enhance their creativity, and to give them a structure to apply it. But not to make every kid the same. I always tell kids, I spent 10 years as a practicing engineer in the defense industry before I became an academic. And I loved my job, and I was paid well. So I tell them, “There are jobs that you can enjoy that don’t pay well. There are jobs that pay well that you don’t enjoy. But there are also jobs that pay well that you enjoy. “ Just think about video games—when I was an engineer, I was building parts of an aircraft on the computer, and that was as much fun as playing any video game at home. And I was getting paid to do it. It doesn’t get better than that. If we in higher education can assist students in realizing a career that is more than a job, that they can enjoy, we will have been successful.

Lawrence E. Whitman, Ph.D., P.E., is Dean of the Donaghey College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. 46 ITARKANSAS | 2022


OPPORTUNITIES COMPUTER SCIENCE DEGREE PROGRAMS » Cybersecurity, B.S. » Computer Science, B.S. » Computer Science, M.S. » Computer & Information Sciences, Ph.D.

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