Ron Baldwin graduated from the IEM program in 2005. Ron was no stranger to graduate studies since the IEM program was the third master's degree that he has earned. Ron already had a master's degree in education, as well as one in business administration. It is clear that he enjoys academia, which he calls his hobby.
Interestingly, all three degrees are stored in a closet in his home. When asked why he did not have them displayed, his response was, "I never found wall space that I wanted to hang them on. I completed all of those programs for what I could learn from them. Seeing them hanging on a wall hasn't been very important to me."
Each degree serves as a mile marker in Ron's professional life, as each roughly corresponds to a different career that Ron has undertaken in his thirty-year work history.
"I can remember being asked in grade school what I wanted to be 'when I grew up' and I never had an answer for that question." Ron said. "Through the years, there have been times when I thought that I had some type of final answer to that question, but then every seven or eight years I seem to find something new to challenge me. I suppose that I get bored too easily. For the record, I hope that my current effort in entrepreneurship turns into my next career."
The topic of entrepreneurship brought us back to the IEM program. "I suppose that I might have started my own business even if I hadn't taken the entrepreneurship courses. I own a couple of acres that I had thought about developing. However, I had not thought about a technical venture other than IT contracting. IEM challenged me to actually think through the whole matter and it provided me with the tools to do so as well."
As a co-founder of Facilitaire, Inc., Ron has his sight on growing a business with a lot more potential than merely contracting his IT skills. "We've made our first two sales calls trying to license Requirements-Online™ to customers that need a better approach to documenting business requirements. It has taken a long time to get to this point, but we're finally ready to launch our online service."
"I've had several colleagues ask me about IEM, and I've told them that the program offers a lot of value in strengthening your skills in technical management. I can’t recall ever touting the entrepreneurship aspect of the program since I’m convinced that it isn’t for everyone. However, IEM has so much to offer that entrepreneurship is like 'icing on the cake' – or a contagious disease."
September's featured IEM alumnus is Ray Shaffer, Executive Vice President and Director of Information Technology at Compass Bank. With responsibilities over telecom, operations, distributed systems, IT customer service, IS security, data warehousing, and disaster recovery, Ray's responsibilities at Compass are far reaching. Prior to Compass Bank, Ray served as Director of Technology Management for Regions Bank.
Ray got his start in IT back in the 70's on an IBM mainframe programming in COBOL. Ever since then he has been hooked on technology. To further his knowledge, he obtained a bachelors degree in computer science from Alvernia College in Reading, Pennsylvania back in 1987. Rounding out his academic career Ray graduated from the IEM program in 2008.
One of the biggest challenges that Ray sees amongst workers in IT is getting stuck in a rut. Part of his reason for entering the IEM program was to expand his mind and the way that he approached problems. Ray feels that IEM teaches you to think outside the box and approach problems from different angles.
Ray's favorite class of the IEM program was the entrepreneurship series.[EGR 642- Technical Entreprneurship] In the class he came up with the idea for Summer Breezze - a safe, portable, personal air conditioning system. Unique amongst the other IEM alumni, Ray actually built a functioning prototype of his product while in the program. Ray hopes one day to build a company around his design.
Ray heralds from the steel town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania where he grew up with his five brothers. All of his brothers were athletic and he recalls many great neighborhood football games over the years. Ray’s wife is a retired registered nurse and the logical side of the family. Ray has two sons; one is a police officer living in Montgomery and the other is an analyst working at CTS. Ray's hobbies include working, camping, and radio controlled boating.
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August’s featured IEM alumna is Sandy Brasher. By day, Sandy Brasher is an application software developer with AT&T. However, at the close of her business day, she steps into the roles of mother, daughter, sister and aunt in her close-knit family. On top of all of these many demands on her time and energy, she is a hard-working entrepreneur as well.
For the reader that has not had the pleasure of meeting her, Sandy graduated from the IEM program in 2005. The MSEE was her second degree from UAB with the first degree being a BS in Management Information Systems.
As preparation for this article, several of Sandy's colleagues were tested on their first thoughts about working with Sandy. Phrases such as hard working, smart, talented were intermingled with adjectives such as helpful, positive attitude, and generous.
Ron Baldwin, Sandy's business partner in Facilitaire, Inc. said, "Sandy likes to present herself as being easy-going and soft-spoken – and in many ways that’s the case. What she doesn't show is how strong a person that she is. Even after working with her for several years, she still amazes me with the way that she can lead others without them realizing that she is doing so."
On the benefits of IEM Sandy remains convinced that going through the program was time well spent. In the August 2007 edition of the UAB Graduate Student Newsletter, Sandy shared, "Our time at UAB broadened our professional network. It opened the doors to contacts that we would never have met if we hadn't gone through the IEM pro¬gram. Those relationships are continuing to help us today."
When asked about her time in IEM for this article, her response had not changed from this earlier story. Its validity was demonstrated last month in a local technology conference when the CEO of the sponsoring firm interrupted his opening remarks to say, "Hello Sandy!" She was the only individual that he felt compelled to acknowledge of the fifty or so professionals in the workshop.
Sandy's resume includes over 10 years of experience in software development, database administration and software configuration management. As if these professional challenges were not enough, Sandy operated a successful package delivery business in the Birmingham area several years ago while working full time.
This prior entrepreneurial experience allows Facilitaire to leverage Sandy's first-hand knowledge of the challenges that a startup business faces. Of her contribution to Facilitaire, Ron Baldwin reported, "I can’t imagine having a better business partner. I'll admit that early in our venture, I underestimated Sandy’s skills. But, it didn't take long for me to realize the strong leadership skills that she possesses."
July’s featured IEM alumnus is Kevin Gatgens, Programming Team Leader with Infinity Insurance. Kevin has been with Infinity since 2002, where he started as a Java programmer. In his current role, Kevin finds himself leading a team of developers to coordinate releases and maintenance patches of Infinity’s flag ship rating software. In addition to his role as a team leader, Kevin has brought a number of technological innovations to Infinity, including revolutionizing the way they generate policy documents.
Having graduated back in May, Kevin is a member of the newest class of IEM alumni. Kevin states that the greatest value he received from the program was learning how to manage projects, getting unstuck from his current way of thinking, and igniting the entrepreneurial flame. His favorite class in the program was software engineering (See full course offerings here), here he was able to refresh his memory of how “it is supposed to be done” and immediately apply the training to his day job. He was surprised by the diversity of the clients, which lead to some interesting discussions when he was vetting his business ideas.
Kevin feels that the value proposition of the IEM program is two-fold, depending on your background. If you are from corporate America, then you will learn how to manage projects and the full business life-cycle, ensuring your continued success. If you come from an entrepreneurial background, then you will learn how to take your idea and turn into a fully functional company.
Since entering the program Kevin has caught the entrepreneurial bug. He sees a great future in the internet and is exploring several web based opportunities. Once such venture is BHMTraffic. BHMTraffic uses Twitter to aggregates real time traffic information gathered from its user community. This site allows access and updates from your mobile phone. Stuck in traffic? You can simply text the site with an update or check to see where the problem lies.
Kevin lives in Trussville with his wife Tiffany and their new son Jack. Being a new father, Kevin spends a lot of time with his son and loves blogging about him as well.
Join Kevin on LinkedIn.