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Conversations with the Inspiring Eileen Thomas

Today we’d like to introduce you to Eileen Thomas.

Eileen, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I was a rebel from middle school through high school. I believe it was because of my dad’s brain injury he had when I was in 7th grade. It tore our family apart and that was my way of getting attention. I got kicked out of high school, arrested a few times and in general was nothing to be proud of, but I’ve always had a strong will. If I was told I couldn’t do something I’d set a mission to prove them wrong. My high school dean said I’d flip burgers for the rest of my life and never graduate. I had to go to vocational college my junior and senior year in order to graduate with a high school diploma. I was told a course called Cisco Network Academy would be too difficult for me, so I signed up for the most difficult course the college offered at the time. The fail rate was 70%. I graduated with a 4.0 and was Cisco Certified Network Associate, CCNA certified at 17. At the time that certification was the most sought after in the Information Technology, IT, field. This was 2001!

Shortly after high school, my dad passed away. I very quickly learned what it takes to provide for my family. We went from two incomes to one and so I used my CCNA to get an entry-level IT job at the helpdesk handing out Office 97 CDs and pagers to Dr.s at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. For the next five years at the University, I was a sponge soaking up knowledge from mentors at my full-time job and spending every waking hour getting more certifications in my field.

I got my Certified Information Systems Security Professional, CISSP, at 22, which even today is still sought after by some of the best in the industry. I took my test on a scantron with a pencil. I’m old school, yet still hungry, constantly evolving my career. My resume and technical background is difficult to find.  Anyone that works with me can attest to how passionate I am about using my skillset and engineering background to enable others to do the best work they’ve ever done in their career.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There will never be a smooth road to success. You have to build that road with your bare hands and sometimes you have to bulldoze over people and obstacles to get there….. and “there” is constantly evolving, which means you have to keep up. Green and growing or ripe and rotting. If you think you’ve made it, celebrate that moment, but establish a new goal and milestones to reach that goal because you’re never done. Be content, but never complacent.

Sometimes all of this is overwhelming which is why I highly recommend writing down your goals and making them into SMART goals; specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable and timebound. I shoot for the moon and figure out the milestones for how to get there. I call that moonshot goal my telescope goal, and then break it down into microscopic steps.

If you cannot do this on your own hire a reputable life coach. I have one that I originally hired to help me with my athletic mental blocks, but we quickly realized everything is interconnected and my fitness impacts all aspects of my life including work.

We’d love to hear more about your work.  What else should we know?
I work in the office of the Chief Technology Officer, as a Strategic Transformation Consultant specializing in Infrastructure transformation. I enable businesses to transform the legacy way of doing business by adopting the next generation of technology through operational efficiency to increase revenue by capitalizing new markets and enhancing their customer experience in our ever-evolving digital world. In other words, I help the taxi business not get Uber’d, the blockbusters not get NetFlix’d. All industries are driven by technology and adopting that technology is what creates market advantage.

How’d I get there!?! I’m known as the geek whisperer. I have a niche that can translate business objectives to nerd-speak and almost two decades of engineering expertise. Essentially it’s analogous to being multilingual because I have to speak with CEOs, CTOs, CIOs, marketing, finance, procurement, and the technologist that support the business, which could be; application developers, enterprise architects, IT infrastructure engineers. Each of which speak a different language and I connect the technical dots for a living, align to desired business outcomes and focus on the people and processes to adopt technology which ultimately drive business outcomes.

I love the brand question. We all know the most recognizable brands, but what is yours!?! Why can we all sing the State Farm jingle but when asked what’s your brand we freeze up!?’ The first time I was asked “what’s your brand” was in 2012 at a Women’s in IT convention. It hit me hard. I spent weeks developing my brand and my core values. I created a personal business plan because I wanted to align my vision with my employer’s core values and culture moving forward. My vision: remain green and growing; mind, body and soul. My brand: deliver results.  If you want it done, call me. My core values are responsiveness, empathy, and integrity.

To date, the most notable thing I’ve done in my career is mentoring others in the industry. The proudest moment that still gives me chills is when one of my colleagues called one day to tell me he bought a house because his wife was pregnant with their second child. He continued to thank me for making everything possible. He started in IT only two years prior making maybe $12/hr as an entry-level technician. He used to hustle doing music gigs on the weekend to make ends meet. We were in a bind on a huge 500-hour engagement so I invested in him as my Jr Engineer so we could deliver the work faster. He listened to everything and more than exceeded expectations.  Two years later when I got that phone call he was making six figures. I gave him a chance, invested my time in him like others have done for me and it most definitely paid off and changed his life forever.

I’m extremely proud of my 17-year career but I’m most proud of what I’ve been able to do outside of my career with my paychecks! I bought my parents house at 19, so my sister and I had a place to live when my mom remarried. My sister raised her kids in that house until they moved to Florida, so I bought my 2nd house in FL so I can still be in my sister’s life whenever I want to come over.

I balance my technical career and passion with fitness. I gained my International Federation of Bodybuilding Professional status in 2012. I have volunteered endless hours to train women of all ages to chase their fitness dreams. I’ve never charged for my investments in training others. My only ask for my time is for the young athletes to believe in themselves as much as I believe in them. We don’t just build the physical strength. We build each other’s physical, mental and emotional capacity.

Who do you look up to? How have they inspired you?
My mom is my number one inspiration. Not only is she brilliant and witty beyond most peoples understanding, she loves unconditionally, is completely selfless and lives her life by the mantra, “giving is living”. My family hasn’t been dealt the greatest cards, we don’t have flawless genetics, but we were raised to love and that starts with loving ourselves so we can have overflowing love for everything in our lives. If what you’re doing day in and day out comes from a place of love everything is easier, even during the toughest times you’ll find my mom, my sister and I laughing and loving life. We’re very blessed to have been raised this way.

Another career mentor is Susan Bullwinkle. To this day I call her my career mom. She is a no-nonsense, get it done with an unmatched sense of urgency kind of businesswoman. I worked side by side with Susan for four years. During those years I learned everything from business to politics and most importantly I learned to focus on the people side of the business. You can buy the best technology/assets on the market but if you don’t focus on the people supporting and how it impacts their day to day life, that cool gadget will never be adopted. After working with her I now understand the importance of focusing on the adoption of technology and enabling people to do the best work they’ve ever done in their career, just like she enabled me.

You must understand someone’s why before you can truly help them. All of my success is second hand. I focused on helping others and enabling them to be their best and it’s been overly rewarding.

You’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting. I’m still green living each day to give back like others have done for me. I’m more than fortunate for the life I’ve built. I put in decades of hard work to get to where I am, but none of it would be possible if a handful of people didn’t invest their time in me. So I will forever return that favor.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Lorin Ball

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