Three IT Careers Change Course

Three IT Careers Change Course

Don Heiman

By Gail Repsher, Staff Writer

Suzanne Peck moved to the District of Columbia government two years ago after about 20 years in the private sector.

This year, Chris Gordon moved to the private sector after about 10 years in Arizona state government.

And about a year ago, Paul Quade became a private-sector executive on loan to the state of Colorado.

Their stories illustrate both the allure of the private sector and the pull of the public arena for information technology professionals.

"It's a trade-off," Gordon said, between the benefits of a private-sector job and the stability of a public job.

"State government is much more scheduled and consistent. The private sector is much faster paced, much more frenzied," said Gordon, Arizona's former chief technology officer.

About four months ago, Gordon became chief technology officer for Carta Inc., a Sacramento, Calif., e-government solutions firm. A recent business trip took him to cities across the Northeast ? something Gordon said wouldn't have been possible in his former job.

"I'm having a blast," he said.

While Gordon likes the private sector better for its salary and benefits, he said his preference isn't just a function of money or perks.

"It's the difference between doing business and government," he said. "The government is very risk adverse. The business sector is willing to take much more risk in implementing new technologies that attract people."

Peck's first encounter with government work wasn't positive. Her first job was as a programmer for a Defense Department agency. She lasted eight months.

"They made us leave at 4:30 every day. I loved programming, and I would have stayed 14 hours a day," Peck said. "It was not a very entrepreneurial, inventive place, and I didn't like it."

Now, more than 20 years later, Peck is back in government. She had made her mark in the private sector, in banking, at computer companies and in academia, and she was ready to use her skills in a new arena.

"I really had been very successful in private industry and was very determined to and felt strongly about contributing my expertise," she said.

That sense of altruism is behind many a decision to work in the public sector, Gordon said.

"A lot of times, there were people who had a successful career and they were willing to do something for the public good," Gordon said of his days recruiting IT workers to Arizona government.

Gordon, on the other hand, had worked in the public sector first. He felt the need to move to the private sector, he said, because a "wise legislator" told him not to stay in state government more than 10 years.

"It's tough to get credibility in the private sector if you've spent all your time in government," Gordon said.

Peck had established herself in the private sector, and was ready for the job she calls "one of the most exciting and awful experiences of my life."

As the District of Columbia's chief technology officer, Peck's first charge was to get the district's systems ready for the year 2000 changeover. The district was the last major municipal government in the country to undertake the task.

Since that hard-won effort, Peck has overseen the establishment of a wide area network connecting all 541 district office locations, the installation of 30,000 state-of-the-art telephones, the construction of an award-winning e-government portal and the establishment of the first districtwide IT plan.

The exciting part is implementing state-of-the-art technologies and using her skills in a new arena.

"The awful part is that we have inherited a government that was very broken, all of whose infrastructure has to be reconstructed while we do the city's business," Peck said.

While Peck knew the next step in her career would be in government, Quade wasn't so sure.

"I really didn't want to leave private industry," said Quade, a senior IT executive at Galileo International Inc., a provider of electronic travel information and booking services worldwide. The Rosemont, Ill., company's largest presence is in Englewood, Colo., where it has about 1,300 employees.

But Quade had made his mark as a member and then chairman of Colorado's Information Management Commission under former Gov. Roy Romer. Quade had championed a vision that would move Colorado into doing business online, and the new governor, Bill Owens, wanted him to be the state's chief information officer. As CIO, Quade would be responsible for implementing the governor's IT agenda.

Quade was interested, but not convinced.

The governor had an idea, though: Go to Galileo, explain the state's need, and ask if the company would temporarily loan Quade to the state while still paying his salary.

The company agreed that lending Quade's expertise was a contribution to the community it would make, and Quade began an 18-month loan program whereby he spends three weeks each month working for the state and one week each month working for Galileo.

If Galileo had not agreed to pay his salary, Quade said, the arrangement "probably would have been a little more difficult to work out." Still, the opportunity to work toward something he believed in ultimately sealed the deal for Quade.

"It was an opportunity to execute these ideas for advancing the use of technology in the state of Colorado," Quade said. "I said if I don't do this, I'll just go on with my career. But if I do this, 10 years from now, I'll be able to look back on this and say I was a part of that."

And now, Quade said he realized working in state government will help him in the years to come.

"I stepped out of my career," Quade said. "I didn't realize this going in, but it will help anything I choose to do at Galileo."

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