Glory days: How high school shaped nine IT leaders

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

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Ron Bonig

  • Vice president and CIO, The George Washington University
  • Class of 1965, LaSalle High School, Cumberland, Md.

My high school self: I always worked after school, so I couldn't practice on a regular sports team. But I was always involved in scouting, all the way to Eagle Scout, and then to the national scout honors and service society. My outdoor time was spent with the scouts program -- hunting, fishing, camping -- and the woods were literally my backyard. In those days, scouting led to getting involved in leadership programs and learning to tackle new challenges.

Others would have voted me most likely to...: Argue before the Supreme Court. I had a reputation -- both in class and with my parents -- for debating everything, and I was involved in student government.

Ron Bonig
Ron Bonig today

How my high school persona helped form the person I am today: I went to a Christian Brothers high school where we were encouraged to question everything, whether the subject was literature, science or religion. I was extroverted anyway, and I went to a school that helped drive it further. It formed the basic core of my personality, not to question things in a nasty sense but in a scientific, "Why does it have to be that way?" approach.

Someone who's willing to take on new things and challenge the status quo makes a good CIO, because you need to question things -- like why are we going with Linux or trying voice over IP. You need to question assumptions not to be obnoxious but to see whether there are holes in the reasoning.

Advice to young people who view themselves as I did: Concentrate on working in teams. Very little these days gets done solo, whether it's research or engineering. You have to be able to let go and not always be in charge of your own fate.

Mary Leonardo Patry

  • Former vice president, IT transformation, American Red Cross
  • Class of 1971, West High School, Rockford, Ill.

My high school self: I was considered somewhat offbeat. I was a painter and a sculptor, so I always had some smudge of paint or wood chip somewhere on my clothing.

Mary Leonardo Patry
Mary Leonardo Patry, then and now

At the same time, I was also analytical; I tended to correlate things that others might not have, and my art tended toward geometric or Cubist-style paintings and works that had perspective. I was a Picasso, Escher and Van Gogh fan, never a Monet type.

I got kicked out of typing because I goofed around too much. It bored me to tears! I literally talked my way into getting a passing grade by doing some graphics work for the teacher. I guess that shows I had some negotiation skills.

Others would have voted me most likely to...: Run an art commune.

How my high school persona helped form the person I am today: I've always had the tendency to think out of the box and take advantage of my creativity to solve problems. In fact, one reason I got into IT was because I was told I couldn't.

After high school, I worked at a local manufacturing firm, and someone asked if I'd like to work in data processing. My first day on the job, the supervisor said, "I'm not taking her; she's a girl." As a result, I really had to prove myself. So I made a game out of how to improve the batch processes and get more jobs through.

Later, I was in charge of figuring out what was wrong with code and fixing it. I definitely needed to use my creative and analytical skills because there was very little guidance.

As part of my job today, I have users walk me through their experience, and that really helps me visualize how it's used and what should change. I still see myself as an artist more than an IT person.

Advice to young people who view themselves as I did: You don't have to be a geek or into gizmos to have a rich, rewarding career in technology. In my early years, I purposely hired music majors because of the right brain/left brain interconnection. There are such wonderful rewards in IT, both financially as well as creatively.

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