Glory days: How high school shaped nine IT leaders

Jock? Geek? Artist? Underachiever? Do our high school selves predict our career paths?

Is the child father to the man? Or is the woman a reaction to the child she was? Maybe each of us is the result of a combination of straight lines and U-turns on our life's journey.

We asked nine IT leaders to reflect on their high school selves and how their younger personas affected the adults they've become and the careers they've forged. Their insights are surprising, funny, tender and wise.

Bogdan Butoi

  • CTO, Animas Corp.
  • Class of 1990, Computer Sciences High School, Bucharest, Romania

My high school self: I was a combination of a rebel and a nerd. I grew up in Romania, and I rebelled against some of the things we were forced to learn in high school that didn't apply to real life.

For instance, I was once thrown out of an economics class because I told the professor that capital gains were superior to the communist belief in value gains. I told her I preferred to have extra money than extra products on the shelf.

At the same time, I was always writing code in the computer lab between classes. There was a large group of us, and we even spent summers at school working on the computers. Both my parents were in technology, so I got exposed at an early age.

Others would have voted me most likely to...: Become president or go to jail.

Bogdan Butoi
Bogdan Butoi, then and now

How my high school persona helped form the person I am today: While the rebel part calmed down a little bit, it still helps me challenge the status quo and the processes people take for granted. I always challenge people when they say, "This is how you have to do it."

At the same time, I've learned to approach people in a politically correct way, especially when I sense their blood pressure going up. If I could go back to that economics class, I'd know how to rephrase my arguments without being thrown out.

Advice to young people who view themselves as I did: Don't get molded by the so-called standard. We all have qualities from early childhood that sometimes we try to change because we feel we'll be labeled or rejected by society. I see a lot of students who think, "I shouldn't do this because it's not cool," so they try to live two lives between the image they project and what they really are. In the long term, having this dual personality hurts.

Kevin Bott

  • Senior vice president and CIO, Ryder System Inc.
  • Class of 1972, Liberty High School, Youngstown, Ohio

My high school self: I was in two categories -- I was definitely a jock, but at the same time, I was in the audiovisual club. Nobody even thought about computers, but we did have AV, which was the closest you could get to technology.

Kevin Bott
Kevin Bott, then and now

Others would have voted me most likely to...: Go on cruise control. I was definitely an underperformer, and I didn't take a book home with me my whole senior year of high school but still got a B average. There was nothing outside of sports that I had passion for.

How my high school persona helped form the person I am today: I grew up in a family where we were always told we'd go to college. It was 1972, when there was all the craziness with Vietnam. So I cruised through my undergrad years without much interest in anything, but I ended up graduating, and my future father-in-law told me to get an MBA. I was a biophysics major, so the MBA program was easy compared to that. I went on from there into a doctoral program. Once I was exposed to technology, I really enjoyed it -- I'd finally found something I liked, and I flourished once I got into it.

Advice to young people who view themselves as I did: Stay in school, get good grades, and go to college if you can afford it. And do what you like; if you hate your job, you'll be unhappy. There's a huge variety of roles in technology. You don't have to be a programmer.

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