Inspiring Success

A blog from Creating IT Futures

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March 17, 2014

Early guidance positioned Craig Brown for success

For the most part, the person in charge of Craig Brown’s daily life in high school was his mother. It was Mom who determined what young Craig ate and his curfew time on weekend nights. It was Mom who decided whether he’d done his chores and deserved an allowance for the week.

But Brown’s class schedule — that was Dad’s turf.

Brown leaned toward the humanities and signed up for as many music and art classes as he could.

That’s when Dad got out the red pen.

“Whenever I submitted my class schedule, my dad always changed it. He left one (humanities class) and took out the extras.” Study halls were also in the center of Dad’s chopping block. In their place, the senior Brown penciled in extra math and science courses.

“I always had two math classes and a science, or two sciences and a math,” recalls Brown, 45, who is now the senior partner of a successful IT consultancy business and the newest national president of the Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA).

Brown is thankful for his father’s strong guidance in his life. “Most of my childhood friends either didn’t have a father present or had one that didn’t pay that close attention.” He is paying forward his personal success to today’s youth by leading the BDPA, a nonprofit whose main focus is preparing young people for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.

The organization, which has more than 40 chapters nationally, teaches and mentors high school students in after school and weekend classes, gearing them toward a team web-design competition held each spring. Members of winning teams earn substantial college scholarships from the group’s educational foundation.

Brown knew where his own father’s guidance was coming from. His dad worked as an electrical engineer for various contractors, including a company that worked on NASA’s Space Shuttle program — a fact that made the younger Brown mighty proud.

So Brown endured the imposed course loads and graduated from high school in 1987 with stellar grades. He matriculated at the University of Pennsylvania on academic and Navy ROTC scholarships, and he also made the track team, having won state high school championships in several events.

The choices available to him were enumerable. And he would have complete control over his course schedule. Still, he listened to Dad.

“When I was ready to go to college, (Dad) sat me down and told me that engineer is the most stable of jobs.” Though Brown eventually chose mechanical engineering as his major, his first college internship at Bell of Pennsylvania centered squarely around computers. In that internship he worked as a programmer analyst, using PASCAL, Fortran, and COBOL to convert mainframe data into reports that could be viewed on a PC.

He loved the work.

“It was so much fun. I got to create things and it was all brand new. Being the subject-matter expert and go-to guy at 20-years-old, that’s a good thing. It’s a confidence-builder when your boss needs you.”

Brown graduated with a dual major, with bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering and computer science, during Operation Desert Storm and became a full-time Naval reservist, stationed primarily at the Pentagon in a computer systems role. “The military helped me because I got a lot of hands-on with big systems, large servers that nearly mimicked a mainframe.”

While he served his country, he earned his MBA at the Wharton College of Business, then went on to pick up a Ph.D. in management information systems. Brown’s Ph.D. dissertation focused on global micro-computing and considered a future in which PCs would be able to handle computations that, at the time, were still being handled by mainframe computers.

By age 26, Brown had already accumulated four degrees and several years of work experience at Bell of Pennsylvania. He switched to consulting for the phone company and watched his hourly pay grow five-fold, from $30 to $150 per hour. Most of his early work as a consultant centered around client server technology and replicating data.

Eventually what was being asked of him grew beyond what one person could do, so he started his own company and brought on other contract consultants. Over the next several years he built up an active Rolodex of 60 consultants who Brown contracts out globally for over $6 million in annual company revenue. The company pays a small administrative staff to manage the company accounts, while Brown helps to onboard new clients and steps in if a project requires some troubleshooting.

Brown has pointed advice for young people who want to make a good living in the IT field:

  1. Seek out organizations such as BDPA that will support your computer interest and help you develop your talents. “That will help you find your path early on. You don’t have to do it on your own.” 

  2. Get to know the world of big data and the open source software that can search unstructured databases. It’s a new enough subfield right now that it’s possible to become knowledgeable pretty quickly. 

  3. Market your existing current computer skills. “When I tell someone that they can earn $20 an hour doing social media campaigns and posting ads online, that gets their attention.”

  4. Work your way through college by working on a help desk, guiding users through software. “It’s the perfect kind of job if you’re a college student. A help-desk job is a good foundation for overall technical skills that you can build on.”

  5. Take time out from video games to learn new marketable computer skills. “There are jobs out there for people who have the skills. You just have to go through a training program.”

  6. Finally: Make it a goal to work for a good company. “If you play your cards right and get with the right organization, they may pay for your education. It’s not a pipe dream. And if you ever change your mind and do something completely different, those skills will still be valid in whatever you decide to do.”