Career Insights with Bruce Harmon: How My Career Path Became a Winding Road
Sometimes the career you planned for isn’t the career you end up in. CTU’s University Program Director for Computer Science (CS), Bruce Harmon, always had an interest in the technical field, but didn’t expect it to lead him to higher education.
CTU: Tell us more about your career path and how it led to this position.
Bruce: I’ve been a hands-on technical computer enthusiast my entire professional life. My first break came when I was assigned to the Pentagon as an Air Force captain. I worked in the Air Force Studies and Analysis Agency to construct detailed flyout simulations, and within a very small team, the entire Soviet surface-to-air missile fleet as well as the offensive and defensive tactics and the associated electronic countermeasures. This was a very rewarding experience and led to my seeking similar assignments.
Later as a defense contractor, I developed a battle management software package for the AWACS aircraft and a triply-redundant message processing system for North American Aerospace Defense Command, better known as NORAD. Following this, I spent 17 years at Hewlett-Packard® (HP) where I supported logic analysis, microprocessor and ASIC emulation products for the worldwide market. I worked my way through a variety of roles, from project manager to senior director before becoming a member of the executive leadership at HP, Synopsys and KLA-Tencor.
CTU: When did you become an educator?
Bruce: I taught aeronautical engineering and computer science at the Air Force Academy, while still on active duty, and then taught electrical engineering and computer science here, at Colorado Technical University (CTU). Years later, I was recruited back to CTU where I held a few roles, including campus dean of engineering and computer science, before arriving in my current position.
CTU: What advice would you offer to our CS and IT students?
Bruce: First and foremost, challenge yourself in all you do. But more important, stay connected to your technical roots for as long as possible. There is plenty of time to rise through the ranks of leadership, but having a solid base of experience and a strong understanding of relevant technologies is critical. Also, seek learning opportunities in complementary fields and emerging technologies so you’re always on top of the industry. This is how you build a sustainable career in high-tech.
CTU: Who were your mentors and how did they support your career development?
Bruce: A couple of people come to mind. From my high school basketball coach, I learned how exceptional dedication leads to exceptional results. He drove himself and the team very hard, which led to our team winning many championship games. I still apply many of his lessons to my life today.
Then, when I was in the Air Force, I came under the command, support and mentorship of Dr. Sam Baty who was a brilliant scientist. He was assigned to develop and support detailed fly-out simulations of the entire Soviet surface-to-air missile fleet. For 18 months Sam and I worked shoulder-to-shoulder and during that time he empowered, encouraged and guided me. I grew enormously in my skills and my confidence, which changed my career away from flying aircrafts to the engineering and analysis of high-tech systems.
CTU: What is the most important lesson you learned in your career?
Bruce: Build your network before you need it. I was laid off once and it was quite a shock. I had been with this company for only a year and had relocated to San Jose to take the position. Unexpectedly losing my job in a new city was nerve-racking. I hadn’t thought to develop a strong network, and realistically, I didn’t really have much time. It was difficult finding a new position, so I spent that period of unemployment reflecting on what I could have done to be more valuable to my employer. It was a very humbling experience, from which I learned a great deal, and I’m stronger because of it.
CTU: Any final tips for our IT and CS students on the path to career success?
Bruce: If you want to be a top performer in this industry you need to do three things:
- Throw yourself into your assignments; give your work more than your 100 percent.
- Do everything you can to help your customers. You exist because of their needs.
- Proactively seek the education and training necessary to become an exceptional IT/CS professional.
Have more questions for Bruce? Leave a comment below to join the conversation.
Bruce Harmon, Ph.D., is the university doctoral chair of computer science at Colorado Technical University. He earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering with a minor in computer science from the University of Colorado and his M.S. in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University. He earned a B.S. in aeronautical engineering at the United States Air Force Academy. After nine years in the Air Force, he worked in the defense industry and later at top-tier commercial companies for 17 years both in research and executive leadership positions. Learn why he’s IN.
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Image Credit: Flickr/Jeff Walker