Inspiring Success

A blog from Creating IT Futures

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February 24, 2012

In IT Security, Clark Found His Stage

By Eric Larson

Of all the new directors on the board of the Creating IT Futures Foundation, Julius Clark certainly has the most broadly defined IT career. And, to think, it started almost by accident.   

Clark grew up in Boston’s Roxbury Madison Park neighborhood. During his high school’s junior year, a teacher casually invited him to sign up for the computer-programming course he was teaching. Julius went along. “I was intrigued.”

Turns out, programming was a fun challenge Clark had never encountered. “There was this whole different level of thinking. You set your variables, and you didn’t have to play with the numbers anymore. We learned BASIC, Turbo Pascal, but he’d let us take breaks to play games on the computers. One of the most complex programs we had to write was to simulate the Space Shuttle launch sequence.”

Several years later, Clark would have another brush with the NASA program while working at Thermo Electron doing AutoCAD design. “I worked with machinists and scientists who literally had parts that they’d designed and manufactured that were left up on the moon during the Apollo program. And now some of these scientists were coming to me and saying, ‘Julius, can you design this for me?’ I thought, ‘This is cool!’”

Finding His Way to IT

Clark earned an associate’s degree in electronics and worked a number of different technology-related jobs, including the one at Thermo Electron, not really finding a niche he loved more than the others.

Then one day he woke up and realized he had become the resident expert for maintaining his office’s personal computers. IT departments at the time didn’t service workers’ PCs — they focused on maintaining a company’s mainframe computers. Not only did he enjoy the technology, but he enjoyed interacting with people to get them up to speed on the technology. Eventually he saw that he could be doing this kind of work work full-time — and get paid well for it.

“Many come into IT through helpdesk work. That’s how I came on,” he recalls. “But once you master desktop support, you want to work in the back office, in the server room. You want to work on projects that affect the whole enterprise. You have to prove yourself worthy that you won’t bring down an entire network, or an application that the entire enterprise is using.”

Clark would go on to work in a number of different IT roles. Enjoying his new career in IT as a Support Engineer, he became very good at supporting desktop environments, and soon managed projects for rapidly deploying enterprise-wide PCs on the more secure Windows NT platform.

A few years later he was given the opportunity by an insurance company start-up to implement and manage its entire desktop, networking and phone system environment from scratch.  

Then, about ten years ago (now working in the banking industry) he watched the accounting scandals at WorldCom and Enron unfold and the new technology regulations that followed. Computer viruses were getting more virulent — taking down whole systems for days and requiring hundreds to thousands of employee hours to fix.

“I said to myself, ‘I should study information security.’ I definitely understand a broad range of IT components that require protecting.” Before too long, he knew he had found his niche.

As a security professional, Clark has helped to audit and secure everything from ATM machines to the computer-use policies of banks. Today, a good number of  technology projects within Wells Fargo’s Wholesale Banking division require his team’s input.  

“It’s a journey,” reflects Clark. “The thing that got me really noticed and valued, allowing me to get over over hurdles to start my career in IT Security was attaining industry recognized certifications. A certification is a crucial step in starting a career, and even more so moving to the next level. It’s the only thing that an employer can view that is some standard of what you do know.”

On Being a Minority

Often the only man of color in an IT team or department, Clark has at times felt excluded from “in-groups” of people who did not value diversity and who seemed to help each other move up the corporate ladder more rapidly than he did on his own merits. In most cases, he responded by transferring to a different group within his company, headed by a different director.
 
“It’s a touchy subject, but it’s one that has to be communicated,” Clark reflects. “Being excluded, that really, really takes a toll on you. But professional IT organizations like BDPA (the Black Data Processing Associates, whose Charlotte chapter has featured Clark as its president) where I could meet people who are directors, even CIOs, and who look like me, gave me hope. They said, ‘You’re not the only one. Here’s the way you get around it and succeed.’” Today, Clark is part of a corporate security team at Wells Fargo where he feels valued for both his breadth and depth of experience. He’s moved up in rank and pay, and he loves his work.  

“I’m in the hot seat. I make decisions every day by managing technology risks, even denying project implementation because of excessive risk.” His job is important, and his compensation reflects that.

Today, Clark looks back with perspective. Even the discouragement he’s had to endure has added to his overall outlook and fortitude — and made him a better IT professional and person.

Says Clark: “There is no way I could have entered the role I’m in now and be as effective as I am if it wasn’t for the journey that I had to go through to get to where I am now.”