Beginnings

As we prepared for summer graduation in the AIM Program, I was thinking about new beginnings. Our graduates now have a new degree in hand and the potential for a new beginning in their careers and in their lives. I believe that it is never too late to take on a new adventure and work to realize your full potential. As you read this blog post, I encourage you to examine your life and see if there is still something that you want to do to grow and stretch. If there is, then I challenge you to start the process now.

Examples

Examples of new beginnings could be a new job, a new college degree, retirement, moving to a new city, or the birth of a baby. All of these things move us out of our comfort zone and push us to do things differently. Often we talk ourselves out of starting the journey because we think that we are too old or maybe don’t have enough money or we have always done it the other way or we worry about what others would think. Take a hard look at each of the barriers that you have placed in your way to see if they are legitimate or if you can get past them and move on to your own new beginning.

A Plan

The Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu once said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” An important aspect of creating your own plan is identifying that first step to a new beginning. This summer I decided to do the Seattle-to-Portland (STP) bike ride again after a gap of twenty-five years. STP is essentially back-to-back century rides, or you can do all 203 miles in one day if you are strong enough and fast enough, which I am not. As part of my plan, I had to make sure I could still complete one century and I found that I could do that. I learned by riding the STP that I could have a new beginning and finish strong. I dubbed this my “comeback tour.” Even more important to me were the stories that I heard from other riders. This was a new beginning for many of them and was often instigated by an illness or an urgent need to make a lifestyle change. Some were riding the STP for the first time and some for the twentieth. They all made the decision to change, and they all crafted and executed their plan.

Thoughts

If you have put off starting your new beginning, I challenge you to start today. Whether it is going back to school or making a lifestyle change, now is the time. The barriers may seem high but if you start with that single step it can lead to a lifelong journey. Have you recently started a new beginning? Tell me about it.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at nigh

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Plan To Get Back To Business Fast After A Disaster

Broken phone, notebook and glasses, in the dirt and covered in dustThis week I want to write about something that you are probably not thinking about in these lazy days of summer: disaster recovery planning (DRP). Last time I checked disasters do not follow the calendar, weather related hazards aside. They can happen anytime, even when you are on vacation and not thinking about work. If a disaster were to strike your business, do you have a plan in place and does everyone know how to execute it? If not, this is a tickler to make that a priority. Here are some tips on how to build a plan and keep it current.

Priorities

First of all, you need to understand your most important business processes. This is an exercise not only for IT, but also for finance and accounting, marketing, manufacturing, and operations. In the event of a disaster, many people would argue that payroll should be restored first. Others would argue that customer facing processes should come first. Finally, others would argue that manufacturing should come first since without active inventory there is nothing to sell to the customers and therefore no revenue to fund the paychecks. Each business is different but the key is to decide what processes should be recovered first, second, and third, and everyone should be in agreement.

Drafting the Plan

Just as important as deciding the sequence of process recovery is writing and publishing the plan. What components go into a good plan? I recently came across a template that will help you draft your first plan or help you validate your current plan to make sure that you have all of the components necessary. It is important to get a peer review on this document to make sure that all agree on the necessary steps to recovery.

Regular Review

Once drafted and written, don’t let your plan become “shelfware,” never to see the light of day again. It is important that this document be reviewed on a regular basis. Your organization is dynamic and this document needs to reflect that. I have found that it is best to tie this review to other regular updates in your business. For example, when you are budgeting for the next fiscal year, why not review the DR to see what has changed in the last year or the last six months? What is about to change based on your proposed budget? Be proactive with the DR plan.

Thoughts

A disaster recovery plan is one component of a good business continuity plan. It outlines the first steps of how you are going to operate your business for a prolonged period while recovering from an outage, whether due to a storm or your customer-facing web page going offline. It is important to think carefully about how you are going to come back from that adversity. The worst time to develop a plan is in the middle of a disaster.

Take a minute this summer to review your plan with your team. When disaster strikes, you will be glad you did.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at nigh

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Is It Time to Start Your Own Business?

shutterstock_137403869_ConvertedHow do you know when the time is right to start your own business? Surely you have had one of those days in your job where you want to jump ship and start fresh on your own. In this blog, I will explore the three key areas I think need to be addressed before you become serious about pursuing your dream.

The Idea

Before you give up your day job, make sure that you have a winning plan that will carry you through a period without a regular paycheck. What is it that you do better than anyone else? Do you have an idea for a new product or service that is better than anything available now? It is not enough just to compete, you need to know that you are the best and have the best idea.

The Passion

Understand that you will most likely work harder than you do at your current job, at least at the outset. A forty-hour workweek will be a luxury that you cannot afford as you get your new business off the ground. Ask yourself whether you are ready and willing to put in the time and effort to start a successful business. Perhaps even more important is this question: Is your family ready for you to start your own business? They will have to sacrifice along side you as you work to make your idea successful. They may even be involved in the business in some respect. Growing up, my father always had a steady job but was a serial entrepreneur when it came to side jobs. I clearly remember sitting around the kitchen table filling, bagging, weighing, and labeling pistachio nuts that my father sold around town. I also remember dragging rebuilt transmissions out of our basement on cold winter nights as part of another business. It is not unusual for some or all of your family to be involved. Are they ready? Are you ready to see it through?

The Capital

It is a romantic notion to start a wildly successful multibillion dollar business on a shoestring budget, but the reality is you will need some sort of start-up capital to tide you over until you start generating revenue. At first income will go toward offsetting expenses, so you will need to have enough to operate until you become profitable. This could come in the form of personal savings, family savings, loans from angel investors such as family members, or even from venture capitalists if your business is solid enough. Any or all of these potential investors will want to see a business plan. What is your product or service? Who are your potential customers? How large is your target market? How are you going to price your product? When do you expect to be profitable? When will you see a return on your investment? These are all questions that you are going to have to answer in a business plan before they take a chance on you. Passion and an idea only go so far.

Thoughts

There are many other considerations to factor in when deciding whether to start a business but I believe that these are the three most important. Make sure that you can answer these three questions honestly before starting on the journey. Do you have an idea and passion for a new business? Let me know. You may find some supporters or customers among my blog readers.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at nigh

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Form Follows Function: Why Do We Need Wearables?

shutterstock_134823296I recently read an article titled: “Smartwatches: Wear Did It All Go Wrong” which laments the fact that these devices have not been adopted into the mainstream and offers some explanation as to why. The article boils it down to the fact that while the technology is available, the social or personal need for it does not exist yet. In other words, there is still a very thin market for them. In architecture, there is an adage that “form follows function” meaning the shape of an object or a building should follow its intended function. In the case of smart watches, it appears that we developed the form and the technology before fully understanding the need or the function. In other words, the “what” was developed before the “why.

Transplanting New Technology Into Old Forms

As humans, we have a habit of trying to superimpose new ideas and new technologies onto old forms. I think that if the form is familiar and widely accepted, then it’s easier to sell the old form with new functions. Think of the evolution, or lack thereof, of the computer keyboard. The keyboard we use today on our smartphone stems from the 1873 manual typewriter. There has been no significant change in style in 141 years! In the case of a smart watch, it is a combination of a smart phone and a wristwatch. The smart phone has its origins in the 1876 telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell. A person talks in one end and listens from the other. It became mobile and then other functions were added to simulate a personal digital assistant and then finally a full computer.

The wristwatch comes from the spring driven pocket watch of the sixteenth century; in the twentieth century, it became electronic with the advent of quartz crystals. Along the way, there were more functions added, such as timers and alarms and even an attempt to add a calculator, which had mixed results. The wristwatch also was made to simulate a personal digital assistant and now is attempting to become an extension or a replacement of the smartphone.

The Future

I believe that the smartwatch is the wrong answer to the right question. The question is: what will make our life better? It is time to stop extending the old forms to fit our modern lifestyle and needs. It is time to reinvent the form to fit our way of doing things. The technology is available now. It is time to think differently.

Thoughts

This blog post is a challenge to all to think of different ways to reinvent our outdated forms. We can do better than a nineteenth century keyboard. We can stop using sixteenth century metaphors such as wristwatches. Dick Tracy got his two-way wrist radio almost seventy years ago. Surely we can do better in 2014. Do you have an idea for a better form? Share it with me and together we can make the world a more elegant place.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at nigh.

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Tech Fueled Vacations

shutterstock_133219739In April, my wife and I spent a few days in New Jersey and New York. I reflected recently on how much technology I used to plan and execute the few days there. I booked our flights online, secured a place to stay through Airbnb, and downloaded apps, which gave me maps and schedules of the New Jersey and New York Metro system. I secured Broadway tickets online and got recommendations for places to eat. When we got lost, I just asked my phone to guide us to our destination. This doesn’t include the countless hours spent on Google Maps ahead of time trying to memorize the landscape. Here are some other tech solutions that may help you with your vacation this summer.

Route Planning

A friend recently turned me on to the Waze app, which is a community-powered mapping and navigation app that gives you real-time traffic information and road alerts. Waze was acquired by Google last year and is available as a free smart phone app. It can help you in planning and executing your road trip by alerting you to traffic delays, road closures, speed traps, and changes in traffic patterns. It is a great way to get real-time alerts from other Waze users.

The Nearest Gas

One of the largest costs of an automobile trip is gasoline. While Waze provides gas station locations and prices, I have relied on the GasBuddy app, which is available for the iPhone, Android, or Blackberry platforms. This is a community-based app that relies on user input to locate gas stations and post their prices. People who input gas prices are eligible for possible prizes.

Price Comparisons

There are many travel sites on the web, but Kayak searches those sites to determine the lowest price airlines, car rentals, hotels, and more. This is available as a web app for planning your vacation ahead of time or a mobile app for planning on the fly. Kayak is a good way to make your vacation bargain hunting more efficient.

Where to Eat

At the end of the day, we all need to eat, but when you are on an adventure, you may not know what is available or where. For some it may be as easy as looking up to see the ubiquitous golden arches. For others, however, it may not be that easy. For example, if you are gluten intolerant and you are traveling in a strange town or country, how do you find a place that will accommodate your dietary restrictions?  Not to worry. There is an app for you! Findmeglutenfree is a web and mobile app that will search by location for local gluten free options. Other apps cater to needs such as a kosher diet. There are so many options available that it is a matter of finding the right one for you.

Thoughts

With all of these options available, I wonder if vacation planning or the actual vacation itself is more stressful or less stressful. The ability to secure every last detail ahead of time or on the road takes an incredible amount of time. Is the payoff worth it? Whatever happened to a spontaneous road trip? Do those exist anymore? Tell me about your vacation this summer and the tech that you use. I would love to hear about it.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at nigh

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So We Held a Parade: How Shared Experiences Strengthen Organizations

Today’s post is written by Tim Williams, a 2000 AIM graduate, an adjunct instructor for the AIM Program, and COO of Sesame Communications. We asked Tim to share his thoughts on his experience on organizational culture and team building.

Like many organizations, we at Sesame Communications can sometimes find ourselves interpreting the best path to common goals differently depending upon the lens we have inherited based on our position in the organization. Usually a quick meeting with clarifying questions, scenarios, and use cases can align everyone and get us on the path towards a successful project.

Sometimes, though, it’s important to ensure an alignment of spirit as well as intellect. No matter how tight knit the group, a little time to connect as people and come together around shared experiences can be a foundational element in forming and building an organization’s culture.

New Orleans parade

Photo credit: Anthony Ricci / Shutterstock.com

This year, our company’s biggest sales event was in New Orleans. After a long day of training and preparation for the upcoming show, we needed to get our team of thirty-four people to a restaurant for a team dinner. We could have all made our way there separately and had the dinner be the shared experience, but that’s a memory that would fade quickly. Trying to create an enduring memory and a strong shared experience, we looked to take advantage of the unique opportunities presented by the venue of New Orleans…so, naturally, we held a parade.

Yes, a parade. Complete with motorcycle police escort, a band, Mardi Gras revelers, and beads. Oh, and me starting the parade as a surprise by riding the escalator into the hotel lobby while drumming out some marching cadences.

No one remembers the dinner, but everyone is still buzzing about the parade and the unifying, galvanizing effect it had on the team. We began the show the next day and delivered our best performance ever from that event—including a few new customers who stopped by because they had seen us marching down the street and figured that’s a company they want to work with.

When it comes to inspiring an organization and achieving stretch goals, clarity of expectations and quality tools are obviously critical, but never underestimate the cultural impact. A little dash of creativity mixed with equal parts spontaneity, fun, and participation can work wonders on anorganization’s psyche, approach, and results.

About Tim Williams

Tim Williams, a 2000 AIM graduate and adjunct professor in the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program, is COO of Sesame Communications. He combines his passion for technology with his love of organizational culture to lead Sesame to innovative patient management solutions in the dental space and to teach AIM courses touching on organizational development and business process engineering… all while maintaining the ability to lead a mean parade.

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A Terabyte of Storage Space: How Much is Too Much?

Over stuffed suburban garageI read an article a couple of weeks ago about Microsoft raising the Office 365 storage limit to one terabyte. Office 365 is a solution where the end user pays a monthly fee for the MS Office suite along with hosted storage on OneDrive. I really wonder how much storage is enough? Can I really generate and save enough Word, PowerPoint, or Excel files to fill one terabyte? I decided to dig into it further to see just what will fill 1,000 gigabytes.

Office Documents

It is estimated that 85,899,345 pages of Word documents would fill one terabyte. Now, if you can truly generate that much content, you have a serious archiving task on your hands. I am currently reading the book “John Adams” by David McCullough; it is approximately 650 pages long which means I could archive about 132,152 books of similar size. It has taken me nearly two months to read this book so it would take 66,076 months or 5,506 years to read my entire library. I cannot read that fast, nor do I have that much life left in me.

Music Files

Assuming that an average song takes up five megabytes, one terabyte could fit approximately 200,000 songs or 17,000 hours of music. How many songs do you have on your iTunes right now?

Movies

You could fit approximately 500 hours worth of movies on one terabyte. Assuming each movie is roughly 120 minutes long, that would be about 250 movies. I do know people who have that many movies in their library, so it is possible that they could build a database of movies to fill that space.

Pictures

You could fit approximately 310,000 photos in one terabyte. You could fit even more if you used a compression algorithm. How would you even catalog that many photos? By time, by subject, by category? Suddenly, we are facing big data issues in our personal lives, and we are going to need similar tools to be able to make sense of all of our potential data stores. With digital photography, it is possible to take a lot of photos without ever having to worry about development costs, so maybe 300,000 pictures is not out of the question.

Thoughts

With advances in technology, we have a lot of potential storage space available to us. Microsoft struck the opening salvo, but I expect Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and others to follow suit. One terabyte hard drives are not uncommon right now and even though we have the potential filespace, can we fill it responsibly? If we can fill it, do we have the skills and tools necessary to keep track of our digital belongings? Perhaps there is a new IT job category—personal archivist—created for those individuals drowning in their digital “stuff.” My point is that we need to take a step back and assess the data that we are keeping and ask ourselves: “Just because I can keep it all, do I need to? Do I have the skills and tools necessary to ever find what I am looking for?”

If we don’t need it and we can’t manage it, maybe it is time to clean out the digital garage. Do you need to clean out your digital garage? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Tips for Successful Online Students

Jon Dolan and Bart Sumner, 2013 AIM Program graduates

I read a report earlier this week titled “What We Can Learn from Unsuccessful Online Students.” However, I prefer to focus on the positive, so this week I would like to present tips from successful online students. This comes from my own experience as an online student as well as from teaching successful online students.

Time Management

I have found that the number one predictor of a successful online student is the ability to manage the twenty-four hours that they are given every day. Online students do not have to attend an onsite class in a physical building at a particular time, but they still need to set aside a discreet block of time to study. When students try to squeeze studies in between other activities, often that time is co-opted by other pressing or higher priority items. One has to be realistic about how many hours a week it takes to review lectures, participate in discussions, and complete assignments. Set aside enough time to produce quality work without being rushed by deadlines.

Priorities

Successful online students are skilled in balancing their schoolwork with other activities and responsibilities. School does not have to be the number one priority, but it should be in the top tier. Family, work, health, friends, and service are also possible high priorities, but a successful student realizes that each has their place and time. If family is high on the list, you may need to block out time for schoolwork after 10 p.m. when the house is quieter. If friends are of a significant importance, you may need to balance an active social calendar with schoolwork. If they are good friends, they will understand your priorities. Work to set aside the time for the things important to you and prioritize the things that must get done.

Support

Build a support network. It is difficult, if not impossible, to complete online studies in a vacuum. Engage your friends, family, a spouse, or colleagues. Help them understand why reaching this milestone is important to you and enlist their assistance in achieving your vision. Let them be invested in your success. Let your support network compensate for your weaknesses. Is your writing rusty? Find at least one—I often recommend two—proofreaders to catch mistakes and help polish your assignments. Are you not confident in your technical abilities? Approach your favorite tech person and offer something in return for helping you set up applications and infrastructure. Some of the best tech people I know will work for food. A well-cooked meal beats chips and energy bars any day. Create a support network and let them celebrate successes with you.

Ask Questions

Be humble enough to realize that you are not an expert on every subject. You are pursuing online education so that you can learn, grow, and become better at your chosen profession. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the instructor, the other students, or of your support network. No one will think you are dumb. You left that thinking back in high school. Colleagues, friends, and instructors genuinely want you to succeed and are there to help—all you need to do is ask.

Thoughts

Time management, discipline, a support network, and the ability to reach out for help are all success factors in online education. It will not necessarily be an easy journey, but it will definitely be rewarding as you grow in your new skills and accomplish important milestones such as graduation. Learning is life-long, and while milestones are important, it is equally important that you are continuously growing and learning. What are some of the factors that have made you successful? Let me know.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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A Photonic Life—Our Rapidly Increasing Computer Processing Speed

Abstract sine waves, numbers and design elements I have been thinking this last week about the current advances in technology and what they will mean for us in future computing systems and how we do computing. HP announced last week they are working on a new machine that is dubbed simply “The Machine.” While the moniker is not very inspiring, the technology is groundbreaking. HP is working on two different technologies they will build into The Machine, memristors and silicon photonics. These technologies will need an entirely new computer and operating system wrapped around them. I think that will present some opportunities for forward-thinking information technology professionals willing to blaze some trails.

Memristors

Memristors or “memory resistors” were first proposed by Leon Chua in 1971. This is basically a resistor that remembers its state when electricity is turned off. The first silicon based memristor was announced in 2012, though there is still much work to do to make them commercially viable. Their value is that you can use these as storage now and they can be right on the same board, or even the same chip, as the processing unit and can replace offline disk storage. The ability to access information in such close physical proximity to the processor will boost access speed exponentially. Instead of having dual core or quad core or eight-way core, you can now have a multicore processor.

Photonics

Photonics, or the process of transferring information via light, is not a new process but it is shrinking. Fiber optic cable allows us to easily transfer information and voice across the ocean and is increasingly used within buildings as well. It is faster than copper and requires less energy. What is new is the application of photonics. It is being shrunk now to the point of transferring information across a blade server and even between blade servers in the same rack across the backplane. With this miniaturization, it takes some very creative nano technologies to create the path for transferring those light pulses. This, combined with the new memristors, yield data access rates much faster than ever before. An added benefit is increased energy efficiency because copper paths tend to lose strength and need repeaters to refresh the data. Those repeaters add to the overall heat given off and energy consumed.

Thoughts

Part of the push to create faster computers and faster networking is because we are so data rich right now we cannot process it fast enough. We became data rich in the first place by building fast, low-cost computers and storage that allowed us to collect statistics on anything and everything. I am wondering now if the dog is wagging the tail, or is the tail wagging the dog? In all of this, through change comes opportunity. Today’s programs and operating systems are constrained by the current hardware. If the current hardware changes to the point that there is no delay in data access or processing, there will need to be new software, new applications, and a new operating system. I believe that infrastructure will need to be built from the ground up to maximize the capabilities of the new hardware. Is there anyone out there up for the challenge? Let me know your thoughts. We only have a few years before the future is here.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

 

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WANTED: More Cybercrime Sleuths

Internet theft - a gloved hand reaching through a laptop screen Last week, a report released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and McAfee suggested that “… likely annual cost to global economy from cybercrime is more than $400 billion. A conservative estimate would be $375 billion in losses, while the maximum could be as much as $575 billion.” This amount includes hard figures such as money stolen from a bank account or charged to a credit card. It also includes soft figures such as the loss of intellectual property, which is much harder to estimate. In any case, the estimated loss is more that the gross domestic product (GDP) of most countries. The good news is that IT solutions exist that will help reduce this figure.

How IT Is Battling Cyber Crime

IT is battling cybercrime in two ways. One is education of the public on safe computing and the other is through better IT security applications both for server and mobile platforms. Law enforcement agencies around the globe are starting to add more IT security specialists to their organizations. They realize that cybercrime is not a physical crime but a virtual one, although real money or property is lost. They often are not equipped to detect or enforce this type of crime so they are turning to IT specialists to provide that expertise. Credit card companies and banks are also working to devise new IT solutions to detect cybercrime before it happens. I have been issued a new credit card twice in the last few years because of activities that I did not initiate. The first was caught because there was activity at online stores that I do not or would not frequent and the security filters flagged that and notified me. The second time, it appeared that my physical card had been used within twenty minutes in Oregon and Texas. Again, that was flagged as an impossibility, so I was notified. These are examples of how IT can and does play a significant role in stopping cybercrime.

Career Opportunities as a Cyber Crime Fighter

As mentioned above, law enforcement such as the FBI and local agencies are increasing their force dedicated to cybercrime. They are looking for IT specialists in the area of IT security. They are looking for those individuals that have a degree in IT security such as Carnegie Mellon’s master’s degree in Information Security and Technology Management or certifications such as the CISSP or Certified Information Systems Security Professional. This additional training prepares you to take on the challenge of fighting cybercrime. There are growing opportunities for those who have skills in the IT security field. If your current skillset is becoming obsolete, this would be an emerging field that you should definitely consider.

Thoughts

Have you ever been a victim of cybercrime? Did you lose anything or was it detected before a loss occurred? Do you have people in your organization that are dedicated to monitoring and fighting cybercrime? Let me know your story. 

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

 

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