Mark Dittenber joins the show and talks about his journey through the information technology world from the 90s and into today, the amazing transformations that have taken place, and how others can get plugged into a career in IT. We discuss the challenges of 90s infrastructure, executive communication, challenges of IT projects, and how companies can better position and posture themselves in today’s threat environment.

Episode brought to you by WindowCraft (https://windowcraft.biz).

#86: Information technology challenges with Mark Dittenber

February 16, 2021 • 57:22


Aaron Spatz, Host, America’s Entrepreneur
Mark Dittenber, Director of IT Business Systems, Inform Diagnostics

Aaron  00:05
You’re listening to America’s Entrepreneur, the podcast designed to educate, entertain, and inspire you in your personal and professional journey. I’m your host, Aaron Spatz. And on the podcast, I interview entrepreneurs, industry experts and other high-achievers that detailed their personal and professional journeys in business. My goal is to glean their experiences into actionable insights that you can apply to your own journey. If you’re new to the show, we’ve spoken with successful entrepreneurs, Grammy Award-winning artists, bestselling authors, chief executives, and other fascinating minds with unique experiences. We’ve covered topics such as how to achieve breakthrough in business, growing startups, effective leadership techniques, and much more. If you strive for continual self-improvement and enjoy fascinating and insightful conversation, hit the subscribe button. You’ll love it here at America’s Entrepreneur.

I’m excited to just jump right into it. So we’re going to welcome our guest, Mark Dittenber, to the show. He comes to us from a background principally centered around information technology. And so he’s been privileged to be able to see different aspects of that industry. And so we’re going to pick his brain and learn more about his story. So, Mark, I just want to welcome you, man. Thank you so much for being here this morning.

Mark  01:22
Thanks for having me.

Aaron  01:23
Yeah, absolutely. So take us through, you know, one, my first favorite question leading off is where are you originally from? Are you a DFW native? If not, where?

Mark  01:33
So we’ve been in DFW since 2004. I’m originally from Michigan. I’ve lived all over the place. So I think through high school, I had like four or five different high schools I was at.

Aaron  01:49
Holy cow. Wow. Yeah. And then take us through – so then after high school and then share with us a little bit about your journey getting into IT.

Mark  02:00
Yeah. So, you know, within the Marine Corps, spending four years in. And when I got out, I ended up back in Michigan up in Battle Creek. And at the time, I got hired in what was what we call a kind of a lumberyard. It was kind of like a Lowe’s and they hired me because I could lift things. And bought a computer because I was always interested in computer art and doing different things. And at the time, when things broke, you had to fix it yourself. I did a lot of stupid computer tricks on my own stuff and learn how to fix things. And I got tired of lifting things and said, “Hey, I need to find another job.” And I had a buddy who worked at Kellogg’s. He was a consultant there and he convinced me to put together a resume for doing help desk work.

Aaron  02:58

Mark  02:59
And I got my resume into the company there that provided help desk support for Kellogg’s and I ended up becoming an installer or help desk technician. And from there, things took off. I started learning HTML and ended up supporting one of the units there at Kellogg’s that was working on this thing called the library and what would become known as an intranet.

Aaron  03:33

Mark  03:33
So, you know, I helped out the project manager on that and showing him different things and he eventually hired me in as the lead developer for the internet.

Aaron  03:43
Holy cow. All right. So just to give me context. What year’s whereabouts are we talking? That way, we can kind of get a sense of where we were on the internet and technology space.

Mark  03:53
I think I hired in at Kellogg’s around ’95. So I think I got that role somewhere around ’97 maybe, ‘98, somewhere around there.

Aaron  04:06
Okay. Yeah. So that was right when dial up modems and all of that and there wasn’t a whole lot of, like, I mean, everything was manual, so you’re learning. I mean, you were completely self-taught, you were just in there working your butt off just to understand it all.

Mark  04:26
Yeah. And it was kind of funny. The same guy that helped me get the job at Kellogg’s, I was at his place one day and he was showing me this thing called the worldwide web and web pages and showing me these things and I was looking out, “Man, that’d be cool to be able to do.” And years later, I was actually kind of teaching him probably more than he was teaching me about it. At least that’s the story I like to say.

But yeah, I got into a great place and I had a great time. Ended up going and learning about SQL databases and stuff. And from there, that’s when the real power of what you could do on a web and stuff really took off for me. Because I came back to Kellogg’s after class and started doing more than just standing pages, reading databases, and displaying stuff on the back of people in their browser. That put my career on a new path.

Aaron  05:44
Oh, yeah. Yeah. And so for those that don’t know what we’re talking about right now. So SQL stands for structured query language. That’s the language that enables you to communicate to databases. And so you might fill out a form, you might have some type of demographic information and what makes all this happen is tables. And so you’ve got just countless tables and this makes your database. And then what you’re doing, Mark, you were able to then run queries, searches from the website to either make a deposit onto that table or to draw information off that table. Is that right? If I’m wrong, please correct me.

Mark  06:25
Yeah. I mean, that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Came back first, really started writing reports from data that was stored in the web and then it became where it was interactive, where I was entering data into things. And when we started creating a little mini apps and stuff and that’s about the time where I really felt like I was starting to learn stuff. Actually, I ended up leaving Kellogg’s and that’s how I ended up at CORT down in Virginia. It was in Northern Virginia and did some really cool things with online point of sale systems. And that led my career into just a whole new world of things.

At the time, CORT had no real IT infrastructure and it was kind of like a startup. So we ended up building out the complete network. We brought in an email system and an active directory and you name it, VPNs, firewalls, all those things that you need to run a business. And with that, they decided to rebuild their ERP system. And I ended up down here to manage the programming office that was down here in Hearst. Came down here.

And you know, it was one of those things where if you’ve ever read about an ERP project that was going wrong or ever been in one that was going wrong, it was happening right in front of me. And I think the joke at the time was I couldn’t even spell ERP. I had no idea what they really were in the scope of things. But I saw the problem of morale with the team and the lack of project management and the lack of structure. And I ended up going to the boss and saying, “Hey, this is what I’m seeing. You got to do something about it if we want this thing to be successful.” And he put me in charge of it.

Aaron  08:55
Wow. So It’s like, tag, you’re it. That’s nuts, man. That’s so crazy. That’s so crazy. And especially, and I’m just thinking, and again, this will show my total lack of knowledge of the space, but there wasn’t a ton of web-based applications back then. I mean, it was mostly all in-house stuff, right?

Mark  09:23
Yeah, pretty much. I mean, the big players obviously had some stuff and we were basically rebuilding an in-house ERP system and reengineering it in PeopleSoft.

Aaron  09:37

Aaron  09:37
It was a web-based thing. We’ve brought in a point of sale system, credit card processing. We were rebuilding everything from scratch. And like I said, I had no idea of the scope of what ERP systems were. I got a hands-on introduction to everything ERP and we were finally successful getting that rolled out and deployed it. I think it took it about two and a half years to finally finish it, to get it deployed to about 60 cities across the US. To me, it’s like one year but it was like two and a half years.

Aaron  10:29
Right. Wow. Well, you know, so that’s a great example of an IT project that just continue just to grow legs. And so you were kind of coming into something that had a lot of problems, needed some organization and structure and then you were fortunate to be able to lead that effort. And so compare that against then and then now. I mean, what have you found to be the challenge? Because I feel like this happens regularly and maybe even cover this in a different show, but the challenges of leading an IT project and how do they get sideways? How is it that IT projects will start off, we’ve got it scoped out, we’ve got the budget, we’ve got everything that we think is going to be, and then all of a sudden, it just blows up in your face. How does that happen?

Mark  11:23
Hey, you know, I think it’s a couple of things. Obviously, scope creep, it will affect any project. But the one thing about projects when people first start out, I think you’re only about 75%, you know, any estimate you have can go 75% either way, right? If you think it’s going to take you a hundred days, it might take you to 175, it might take you 25. You get halfway in and that 75% is flag kind of gets down and gets tighter and tighter and you get a better idea of what you are, where you’re at.

I also think that a lot of projects, you got great people, good people. We had them at CORT and they don’t want to disappoint the boss, right? And in some ways, maybe even afraid to say, “Hey, here’s where we’re really at.” And that just snowballs and snowballs later on where everybody thinks they can pull out and pull out and you get into those things that you see, where all of a sudden you’re working a hundred hours a week for months and months and everybody’s burnt out in four weeks or whatever, right?

Aaron  12:50
That’s nuts.

Mark  12:50
And obviously, there’s so many moving pieces just scoping it right. Understanding how long things really take. And as you’re getting in there and going along the way, you got to find out what’s really important and not do the things that aren’t important.

Aaron  13:15
Yeah. I think it’s a good bit of advice because so often there is going to be that scope creep, but I think you talked about it. And so one, kind of just what I’m seeing is being able to do your best to limit that in terms of having clearly defined boundaries of what the project is. And the problem always comes down to, “Okay. Well, hey, I thought we were going to get this function or this feature.” “Well, you’re getting an element of this function or feature, but you’re maybe not getting the entire thing.” “Well, we want the entire freaking thing. Make it happen.” And then all of a sudden, like you said, it kind of snowballs into a whole bunch of other things. Is that an example that you’ve seen? Or does it happen more often that like, hey, this data transfers has taken longer than we anticipated or building out this interface or this system, it’s just taking longer. There’s a little bit more complexities to it. Where have you found to be the most roadblocks?

Mark  14:14
You know, I’ve seen it all. And I think a lot of it really is that scope creep and I’m a sucker for a good idea too. You try and build Starship Enterprise and you don’t need it. Maybe you just need the space shuttle to get you going. And you know, I think that that affects projects a lot. And  integrating things, I think it’s a little bit easier today. But even today, it’s still hard. Integrations take longer than you ever expect them to. That’s the one thing is trying to get just systems talk to each other in the right way. It just takes longer than you’d like. Any vendor that says that it’s easy to integrate with, you know.

Aaron  15:17
Of course they’re easy to integrate with. Yeah. Of course it’s the best. All right. So take us then you passed CORT. So I mean, you’re there for a while. You’re there almost 12 years doing all sorts of stuff there. I mean, you were doing credit card processing and cloud applications. So I mean, you saw technology really evolve, I mean, because it looks like you were there from right around 2000 all the way up to 2011. So it’s like, holy cow, man. I remember what the internet looked like in 2000 and I remember what it looked like in 2011 and very, very, very different things. And then beyond just the internet, obviously, just local networks and security concerns and infrastructure and hardware. So what did you see and I think how were you able to keep up with the trends, whether it was hardware and infrastructure, methodologies or whether it was cybersecurity posture? How does an IT department or how does a company rather keep itself focused and nimble enough to keep adapting to the newest things going on?

Mark  16:25
Yeah. At CORT, I felt like I was extremely lucky. In a lot of ways, it was kind of like a startup environment. So you constantly had to learn something new. After we got the ERP system in, we brought in salesforce.com. So it was always something that you had to learn and figure out. Okay, what does it mean to me? And salesforce.com was really my first introduction to cloud applications. And early on in my career, when I was doing web stuff and thing, I was always thinking about these things that I’d love to have, you know, building websites easier, but I didn’t know quite how to get there. And then as cloud applications came along, I was like, ah, that’s what I was thinking about. Damn it.

The capabilities have increased immensely to be able to do things a lot faster and not have to worry about infrastructure and things like that. And that’s been the game changer for people to be nimble today is take advantage of these technologies. And I’ve supported large environments had a big infrastructure team and always thought that that needed to be smaller from a business standpoint. When you’ve got half of your people in infrastructure and day-to-day support, something’s probably out of balance.

I ended up at BBA Aviation and came in really to kind of turn around IT at a local company here, Dallas Airmotive. And for that environment, we transformed everything. And so we’re always looking at maybe not bleeding edge stuff, but the stuff that’s been around for a little bit and we’re comfortable moving into and getting away from the traditional type stuff. And so I always felt like I was in a good spot to learn something new along the way.

Aaron  18:45
Well, and then let’s bring up another subject as it relates to that in terms of budgeting and how much leeway or how much are you permitted in terms of your role. Because I think there’s so often you’ve got projects and there’s ideas I’m sure you come into any situation and be like, oh, my gosh, we need to do this. We need to do this. This would increase our efficiencies by X. We would actually reduce our operating expenses by this much. But oh, by the way, it’s going to cost you this. And that’s a bit of a punch to the gut, but it is something that’s going to help the company gain maybe a little bit more for competitive edge. It can be a little bit more faster. It can be a little bit more decentralized. There’s a lot of these other things. So how do you deal with that or how do you assess that when you’re coming into a company and then getting executive buy-in on some of those ideas that way you’re not hamstrung?

Mark  19:41
Well, you know, it certainly is different with the different environments. But when I was at BBA Aviation, I was probably in a good spot because I was dealing with so much old architecture and equipment across the globe and that I was able to show a real return on value and on investment by doing certain things. And there were some things that needed to be done, and I would say BBA, they had a commitment to IT as well to get updated. But most of the projects, we could show even if we invested millions of dollars, which we did at times, that there was real value in it. We could show it by reducing downtime across the infrastructure and making things stable. And you get to a point where you can measure that. That was key for any time you go in and talk to somebody and says, “Hey, I need money.” You better be able to show them what you’re going to do with it.

Aaron  20:58

Mark  20:58
And what’s the benefits going to be.

Aaron  21:01
For sure, for sure. Well, no, I think we’ll end up talking a little bit more about that as it relates to the way that the cyber stance for companies has changed and evolved. That’s one of things I want to get back to when we get back from that break. But when we’re back from the break, actually, you and I have already talked previously, that’s why we didn’t talk about this already. But for everyone else’s benefit and intrigue, you’ve got this beautiful collection of guitars hanging on the wall behind you. So when we get back from the break, let’s explore that for just a couple seconds and then we’ll jump right back into these topics.

We’re just incredibly grateful for our incredible sponsors of the show. And it’s just incredible opportunity for companies to get in front of our amazing DFW business community. And so I want to give a huge shout out to WindowCraft. And so WindowCraft is tremendous partners, but they do a lot of work as it relates to, you know, higher-end new construction and replacement work. So whether it’s windows and doors, you know, you’re looking at architectural aluminum, iron, steel, bronze, some really, really cool stuff. You could have a door system that’s sliding or folding or stacking, pivoting. I mean, there’s all sorts of really, really cool things that you’re able to do.

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So Mark, so let’s just take a hard right turn really quick and let’s talk about this collection I’m seeing on the back wall. So for those that aren’t watching, there’s probably – I’m just ballpark estimating here – about 12 to 15 guitars hanging on this wall and they all look like Jackson’s or other flavors of guitars up there. So where did all these come from, Mark?

Mark  23:23
Most of them came from a place down in Houston called Fuller’s Vintage Guitars. Vast majority of them, I think. And I’ve acquired various ones that, you know, places and stuff. I started playing guitar when I was in the Marine Corps, but I really didn’t take it seriously until – well, now I don’t know, 12, 15 years ago maybe, something like that. And it just kept building. I kept finding guitars and stuff here and there that look cool and take her home with me.

Aaron  24:04
Pretty awesome-looking collection. Which one is your prized crown jewel or is it like trying to pick your favorite kid?

Mark  24:12
It’s kind of like trying to pick my favorite kid. I’ve got some that I love to play. They’re just great. But you know, probably the crown jewel is this one.

Aaron  24:30
Yes. All right. What have we got? Oh, man. That’s nice. Yeah.

Mark  24:39
If you can see the little mini.

Aaron  24:40
Yeah, I can. Yeah, I sure can.

Mark  24:44
I saw this on the Jackson website maybe 2005 or whatever. It was a picture and figured somebody ordered it. That’s really cool. Never thought I’d see this guitar in person. Sometime later, I ended up down at Fuller’s Vintage Guitars for Jackson. They were doing a little clinic with the custom shop builders and stuff. And I got down there on Friday night and this was on the wall and it was sold.

Aaron  25:18
I have to have it. I have to have it. That’s awesome. Well, thanks for showing us that. I know for those watching, they may have been distracted slightly by this amazing background that you have. So if you’re listening to this on Apple or Spotify or anywhere else you’re listening, you want to jump over to YouTube especially if you’re a guitar afficionado so you can get an eyeball on Mark’s awesome collection there. That’s pretty cool, man.

Mark  25:45
Oh, thanks.

Aaron  25:46
Yeah, yeah, for sure. So let’s jump into a couple of other questions here. So you’ve seen technology evolve greatly. And so I think one of the topics that just continues to pique people’s interests of course is going to be the cybersecurity threat landscape. And so I’m sure you’ve had to deal with that at multiple layers of your career in the different places that you’ve worked and the things that you’ve seen and done. But I feel like – and I don’t know if this is good or bad, but more and more, we are seeing reports in the news of this attack or this problem or this and that. And so how have you been able to keep up with that? And then I guess the other part of that is what advice would you give business leaders, senior executives, leaders in corporations of how to most effectively and efficiently deal with this incredibly increasing problem?

Mark  26:44
Sure. From a technology standpoint in security, I mean, there’s all sorts of things that you can do and products and stuff and they’re great. But security of your network and your information and stuff, it all goes back to you. And that’s the thing is that security is not unlike a company that has a good safety program or culture, really. Security starts with you and understanding that what you’re doing with technology. There are people all the time trying to get past every defense that you put in and it’s easy to do when somebody does something that they shouldn’t. And so it’s about educating your users and educating yourself about good practices around why am I still clicking on links in emails where I don’t know where it goes, right? That’s the biggest thing that will get anybody into trouble. You can put in all the best defenses in the world, but if somebody does something they’re not supposed to, it doesn’t matter.

I’m a big fan of building security programs and understanding what’s really important and harden that areas as much as you can. And then the rest of the stuff, you’ve got to put some fences and stuff in. But find out what’s really important to you, make sure that’s secure, make sure that your users understand what that data is and what their actions are and how it affects that data and its security. Because there are a lot of great security products and stuff out there in the world, but information security always comes back to you and if you want to change your posture in information security, you got to take it just like you would if you’re trying to improve safety, it’s a cultural thing. It’s not just an IT initiative to be secure.

Aaron  29:13
Yeah. I’ve never heard it put that way. And I think that’s an incredibly great visual or a great thing to compare against because certain industries especially are heavy into their safety culture, right? So if you’re manufacturing, I mean, those are just the first couple things that come to mind. But yeah, there are industries that are inherently dangerous in the work that they’re doing, and so, I mean, they have rigorous safety standards and safety protocols and safety programs that they’re enacting on a day in, day out basis, whether it’s manufacturing or construction or fabrication or whatever the case may be. And what happens is those programs, they become an accepted part of the company’s business. And then there’s these initiatives and there’s these goals and there’s even rewards for safety benchmarks being hit.

And that’s a great way to compare this because cybersecurity is not going away. In fact – I mean, in my opinion, again, semi-educated on the topic, but nowhere near the level of expertise, obviously, that you have on this, but the importance of cybersecurity is just going to continue to grow as we continue to just do more and more business through web-based applications and things. And so getting executive level, leadership level buy-in and understanding of how important and how vital it is to the corporation – I mean, you put it so well – it’s not just this initiative that we’re going to deal with or we’re going to do, it’s a part of our culture. And the one thing that you hit on that I just want to make sure that I heard correctly, which was, end user education. So it’s your belief that, really, it starts there. That’s one of the lowest hanging fruit that you can grab onto is just end user education really before you maybe do anything else.

Mark  31:14
Yeah, certainly in a lot of ways. Because I can secure my email system, I can do all sorts of great things with it, but if my users are allowed to go to any terminal in the world at an airport or a hotel and log in with their user ID and password on a terminal that I have no control over, don’t even know anything about it, they put their ID and password and there is a key logger on it. Now anybody has access to that and we know that these Yahoos are sharing all that information and selling it to anybody that will buy it. Well, now, who knows how many people have access to your email on my email system and what else they can do.

So that’s the thing is if you don’t educate your users into good security practices and teach them that they can’t log in from any terminal anywhere in the world, you know, yeah, it might be convenient, but now they’ve just compromised their system. And depending on who they are, maybe they’ve got elevated privileges to something else and now they have access to all sorts of sensitive information. We’ve seen it with companies that get hit by ransomware where all of their files are corrupted and stuff, and that’s because they’ve gone somewhere or use some website or something that they probably shouldn’t and their credentials are compromised. It happens. We see it. It seems like weekly that somebody’s compromised for that.

Aaron  33:08
It’s crazy and it feels like no one’s safe either. And that’s one of the things that I noticed. I mean, there’s been some really, really freaking big companies that have gotten hit. And you kind of think like, man, you know, these large corporations, Fortune 1000 companies, they’ve got millions and millions of dollars invested into their IT infrastructure. I’m thinking more of like the local mom and pop store that just using a router that they got from Best Buy, they’re probably going to get whacked. And while that still may be true, it’s insane because I feel like if the threat actor, if the bad guy really, really wants to get in there bad enough and they put enough resources behind it, they will eventually find a way in, it’s just a matter of time.

And that’s a sucky feeling. If you’re the chief information security officer for that company or you’re one of the lead cybersecurity guys with that firm or you’re in some leadership position, I mean, how do you communicate that to a leadership team of executives who may be non-IT oriented and say, “Look, guys, we’re going to do the very best we can but it’s almost like insurance. We can throw a lot of money at this, but after a while, the rate of diminishing returns, I mean, we’re not going to be getting a whole lot more value by throwing another million dollars at this, I mean, we can, but we’re going to improve our security by 0.1%.” So I mean, one, I’d like to stop talking and get your feedback on them in terms of the volume of attacks and the persistency of threat actors. If they really want in, can they get in? What’s your opinion of that?

Mark  34:57
Well, yeah, I mean, the volume of attacks is just incredible and it’s only gotten bigger. In 2000, I was running my own web servers. I was running my own top-level DNS servers. I was doing everything on a couple sandboxes. I put stuff in to see what was going on and looking at things. And back then, the amount of attacks were substantially staggering. And today it’s even worse because it’s easier for people to do attacks against you and there are millions of machines around the globe that are compromised that people use for nefarious purposes against you.

And that’s why understanding – I took the kind of military approach to security. You got layers of defense. And the stuff that is really important, that’s where you’re going to spend your most money, that’s the stuff that you’ve got to make sure that it is properly secured and who accesses it and when. Something is going to get compromised in your network sooner or later unless you spend those millions and millions of extra dollars. I can go and create a really secure network for people. I can also shut down the business at the same time.

Aaron  36:45
Right. Exactly. It’s not functional.

Mark  36:51
Right. It’s hard to do work. That’s easy to do. I probably made some of those mistakes very early on. It was a great security thing. And you go and put it in and then now all your end users are mad at you because they can’t do anything, right?  We’ve seen that a lot happened. So you got to figure out what’s really important. You got to understand what’s on your network and who has access to it. You’re going to have a device that somebody puts in, sooner or later, that gets compromised. It’s just a matter of time. But you got to be able to identify quickly, you got to have a good plan for your backups and make sure that you recover quickly.

And I don’t think people – we’ve had great systems for backups and things. But as things have moved to the cloud, if those get compromised, oftentimes it can be the cloud provider that you’re now at their whim to get you recovered. And it may take longer to recover on the cloud than it would if you had had it onsite or in your own data center. Because the way they do computing and various things, they’re not putting all the effort into backup and restore systems in the cloud and that’s all going to upfront computing. So the backup may take longer just because it’s a throughput issue.

Aaron  38:40
Wow. That’s nice. And then, I mean, but what do you think about – I mean, because you mentioned something and it’s really got me thinking is, okay, let’s say I’m doing all these things right I’ve got security software on people’s machines. We’re doing training. We’re doing backups. I mean, but what do you do in a case where even your backups are compromised? So you can shut it all down and throw the compromised server or a laptop out the window into the lake, and theoretically, your problems are over. But you got to restore maybe that image of that laptop or maybe you’ve got another backup system that is your backup server and you’re able to spin that up right away and get back online. I mean, how do you know that that threat has been completely dealt with? Because I mean, because then you’re just backing up something that’s already bad.

Mark  39:38
Well, and that’s the case because depending on how long you’ve been compromised, that can determine how far back you got to go. And if your ERP system is compromised, that can be a devastating event for a company. It’s really about understanding those things that need to be secure, right? Knowing that whether it’s daily, maybe even hourly, who knows what that backup schedule looks like. Are you replicating information somewhere else? And if you do get compromised, being able to detect it immediately, not waiting overnight or not being compromised for weeks or months even. We’ve seen that where places have been compromised and they didn’t know it for some time.

Aaron  40:44
Damn. Oh, man. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. Well, let’s shift gears here real quick then to folks that are maybe interested in getting into that space. So they’ve had a career of doing other things and whether that’s at the manager level or maybe that’s at the technical frontline level, whatever organization they’re a part of, but how do people transition into that? How can they help themselves in terms of being able to be hireable? Because I think just what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard people say is, you know, there’s companies hiring all over the place. You got millions of unfilled positions, but they all require five plus or ten plus or 20 plus years of experience and a certification’s list as long as my arm. So I mean, how do people get started in setting themselves up for a career inside of information technology?

Mark  41:38
Well, you know, if you’re getting started, a great way is to find help desk. That was our proven talents. We hired a lot of people and promoted a lot of people through that when I was at BBA. One thing about the help desk is sometimes it’s not very sexy work, right? But you see everything and you’re probably in a better position than most after you’ve been there to really understand the nuts and bolts of how things work. You may not know the real technical stuff, but you’ve probably seen a lot to see how things work because you’ve had to work through fixing problems on computers, laptops, to backend systems and stuff and working across the board.

And that’s a place that you can learn a significant amount in a really relatively short period of time. And if you prove yourself there, there are all these system admin jobs’ opening and network admin jobs’ opening that if you take an interest and learn from those teams and stuff, I think a lot of places are always looking for that. Let’s promote from within and find that person that we can mentor. So if you’re just starting out, that’s a great way.

Aaron  43:18
Yeah. I think that’s solid advice. And I mean, because it’s like going into a whole different world, I mean, it’s like it’s as crazy diverse as the medical profession. I mean, you say, “I want to go work in the medical field.” It’s like, okay, great, I mean, there’s like a billion things you can do. And I feel like there’s some similarity of that in IT. Maybe not quite as wide, but I’d say it’s pretty wide. So I mean, what are some ways that people can kind of get a sense of these different options? Because now you’ve got more cloud-based stuff coming out and now you have the development side of stuff. You’ve got the infrastructure. I mean, you’ve got a lot of different things. I mean, help desk, I think, is a great way to start. Are there any other things people can do to kind of get themselves in a spot where they can kind of see what some of these different options look like?

Mark  44:12
You know, that’s a good question. Because in IT, you kind of have two or three tracks, right? You’ve got kind of your infrastructure side. You might have a networking and a system administration side. Although, with cloud-based stuff, that’s getting even more and more blurred. You obviously got security and then you’ve got development. And those, to me, are the three big tracks. You’ve got maybe some project management type stuff or things like that. But to be able to see those, it’s hard to kind of step into any role of not knowing what you’d like, but if you’ve ever seen code and liked code, there are a million ways to kind of get started in developing websites and learning about how websites interact with databases and doing those things. There’s bootcamps out there to show you that sort of thing.

Security’s similar too. I think it’s probably harder for somebody out of the gate to just kind of jump into security. Because having an understanding of how things work and how things talk with each other, that’s real important on the security side. Because if you don’t understand TCP/IP or some of those networking protocols or something of that nature, it could be a little foreign.

Aaron  45:59
Yeah, it makes sense. You kind of need to know how it works before you can work on it. You can’t just be a mechanic without understanding how everything kind of works together. So that makes total sense. I want to then pivot into the whole COVID era of work and how we’ve all been impacted. So curious how has COVID impacted you, and then in terms of the kind of work that people are doing now, I mean, we’re now basically a remote-first workforce with a few exceptions, obviously, if you have products and services that you have to deliver on site or produce in a facility. But by and large, especially for the professional services, a whole world there, it’s been pretty much online only. So what does that been like for you?

Mark  46:51
For me, so I just started in a new role in November. I entered a role in – let’s see, well, just about a year ago, I had a short consulting gig at a place here and then COVID hit immediately as it ended and every opportunity that I had dried up overnight. Everybody I was talking to is saying, “Well, position’s on-hold.” So I ended up doing some different things. I was doing a bunch of other work and I was kind of making a go with that. I ended up taking actually a bootcamp because I love development. That was kind of my background. So I had some personal projects that I wanted to do and I figured, well, this not going to change anytime soon, I’m going to do a coding bootcamp because I wanted to learn some of the newer technologies and the way of some of the websites are doing things. So I figured this would be fun for the summer.

And so I did that. And at the end of that, I said, “I’ll get back to work here.” And I ended up at Inform Diagnostics. It’s interesting because I’m onboarding, everything is remote, and I’ve always been the remote guy. I’ve always traveled a lot. At BBA, the headquarter was essentially in Orlando. I had people all over the globe as well as felt like I was the remote person. But coming in and onboarding is different remote. You’ve got to put yourself out there. It’s not as easy to be able to walk around the halls and see people and you see them a couple of times, you got them on video. And actually, the guitar wall actually probably helped a lot because I made sure my video was on as I was introducing myself to people and it’s a great, you know.

Aaron  49:09

Mark  49:09
Everybody wants to know if that’s a real background or if it was just a screenshot. Because yeah, I mean, you got to put yourself out there and it takes longer to make the connections because you don’t see the face and the name as often. And it’s different onboarding remotely. It’s not bad, it’s just different and you got to kind of adjust to that. But I did notice it, it took longer to make those connections of the voice and the face.

Aaron  49:45
Yeah, for sure. Well, because you’re not – I mean, you don’t have the walking around the office dynamics of hopping over to someone’s office real quick or cubicle or wherever they’re working and chatting with them just real quick about a problem but then maybe take a minute to talk about their family or about how bad the Cowboys are doing or whatever the case may be. And so then you’re able to kind of build up that little bit of a of a feel of a culture. And so when you’re doing it all remote, it’s really tough because you’re relying on avenues like this. I mean, we’re doing everything over video and it’s all 100% remote. And so you’re trying to build rapport with people and that can definitely be a challenge.

And so it’s fascinating because there’s going to be, I think, some really interesting, fascinating cultural studies of companies in the coming years, I think it’s still too early to do that, but of the impact of the hiring of workers 100% remote where they didn’t come to the office for their round of interviews. Maybe they went to the office for a day to go grab their stuff and maybe sign a document or get a photo taken and that’s about it, if that – yeah. So just seeing the impact that it’s had and it’ll be really interesting to see if there is any large cultural ramifications to that. Because I think that’s what most companies are probably fearful of is like, man, what is this going to do to our culture? And then if we ever do go back to the office, maybe it’s not even going to be the same. Maybe it’s not 100% of people, now it’s 50% of the people.

So it’ll be fascinating. It’s going to be fascinating to see kind of how all this shakes out for sure. And you’re right. I think the first time you and I spoke, I thought at first your background was a virtual background. And I’m like, oh my gosh, he just walked into his background and pulled something off of the background, but it’s a great conversation starter, right? If you’re on the line with someone who is a musician or they appreciate guitars, they’re going to quickly jump on that. I mean, my background right here is strategic in and of itself. I’ve got enough stuff up there that there’s a good chance that you could latch onto any one thing. And we could talk about that and that becomes a bridge builder, right? It’s all about building these bridges with people.

Anyway, well, Mark, how, how do people get in touch with you? If people want to learn more about you and what you’re doing, is it LinkedIn? How would you prefer people to get to you?

Mark  52:28
Yeah, LinkedIn is a good way. I think I might be the only Mark Dittenber out there.

Aaron  52:34

Mark  52:35
I don’t think there’s a lot.

Aaron  52:35
That’s possible.

Mark  52:36
Yeah. LinkedIn is a good way. And if you’re interested in leather work and stuff, I’ve got Leatherneck Leathercrafts.

Aaron  52:48
Well, let’s talk about that real quick. What’s that all about?

Mark  52:41
So I left BBA, I was out of work and I was doing some different things and I keep busy because I cannot stop doing things. I started learning how to do some leather work and it blossomed very quickly into something more than just making something once a month or something. So I ended up making – I had a kind of buckle. Actually, I brought one just in case.

Aaron  53:26
Yeah, man. Oh, that’s cool.

Mark  53:28
So I had this buckle and it was Eagle, Globe, and Anchor that was cast from my original uniform piece. And so I have these made in in bronze so I could make a Marine Corps belt. And from there, it blossomed into making holsters and you know.

Aaron  53:56
Oh, that’s cool. Yeah. It’s hard to see. Yeah, there you go. You can see it a little bit better. Oh, that’s awesome. That’s pretty epic.

Mark  54:02
And I make everything, I make a lot of Marine Corps stuff, but I do other stuff as well and it just blossomed into doing different things. it’s been year and a half, maybe a little bit more, since I’ve started doing it. And it kept me going while I was looking for a job and doing some different things. I love it. The one that I love about IT is there is a lot of creativity in it from development side to figuring out problems and making things work and it goes hand-in-hand because I love making things, right?

Aaron  54:59
Yeah, I’ve noticed that. I’ve noticed that a lot of folks that work in the space are creatives. They’re problem solvers. And so you definitely have this passion and this aptitude for just creative problem solving. That’s what you’ve spent a ton of time doing. And through this, you’re able to let that creativity part of you have more of an outlet. So you’re able to just craft and make things, which is really, really cool that you’re able to do work. So I’m just thinking for your benefit, if there is a company that reached out to you and they wanted you to do what you just showed but with their company logo, how hard would that be to do?

Mark  55:41
Pretty easy. I mean, how intricate the logo is. I’ve worked really hard over the last year and a half to get better and better and doing smaller and smaller things.

Aaron  55:53

Mark  55:53
And so I can do some pretty small EGAs and those were pretty complicated.

Aaron  55:58
Oh, that’s cool. That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, thanks for sharing that. And also, I just want to thank you for making time to be with me this morning. It’s been a blast. I hope you’re staying warm. I hope your house is in good shape just with all the cold.

Mark  56:11
Yeah. Amazingly, we’ve had reports all around us, you know, power’s been out and on and out and on. And we have not lost power yet here. As soon as I say that, we’ll probably drop, right?

Aaron  56:26
Right. Yeah, somehow I’ve been able to continue producing the show despite all of this and then watch. To your point, exactly, I won’t be able to produce a show for the rest of this week because of the power issues and internet connectivity issues. But no, man, I just want to thank you again. Thanks so much for making time with me. This has been a lot of fun. I really enjoyed learning more about you and your story. I appreciate it.

Mark  56:48
No, thank you. Thanks for having me. This has been fun.

Aaron  56:51
Absolutely, Mark. Thanks for listening to America’s Entrepreneur. If you enjoyed the show, please leave a review or comment on your preferred social media platform. Share it out with friends, family, coworkers, others in your network. And of course you can write me directly at aaron@boldmedia.us. That’s aaron@boldmedia.us. Until next time.

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