The best career advice AIU Alumnus David Maxwell ever received was at his first information technology (IT) job. An older colleague told him, "Do what you love, and the money will follow."
Two decades of specialized IT experience later, David has happily navigated his way around the industry and risen to the top. "You have to like what you do. If you're not into what you're doing, it's not going to matter to you," he says.
This approach has served him well. Recently, David was named leader of the Information Security Practice for Columbia Advisory Group (CAG), a well-respected IT consulting firm based in Dallas. It's a role he says he wouldn't have gotten without his Master of Information Technology degree (MIT) with a concentration in information assurance and security from AIU. "Because the role works with higher education, you had to have a master's degree in-field. It was a requirement," he says. "The recruiter said, 'You gotta have that piece.'"
In his role, David leads the company's cyber security and cyber threat assessment team. He works with various clients, many of which are from the higher education industry, where master's degrees are prevalent. "Having a master's degree gives you enough clout and respect when you're working with professors and doctorates."
One habit that has helped David excel in his professional and educational careers is observing trends in the IT field. Armed with an associate's degree in computer applications from Tarrant County College and a bachelor's in management from Northwood University, he began his IT career at Justin Boot Company as a programmer analyst and network administrator. Timing was on his side as the Internet started making its way into companies, and those with IT backgrounds were in demand. David moved on to the Dallas Morning News, where he launched its website, managed online development and met with customers to sell internet space. "The Internet trend was going up. I realized I could write my own ticket."
He evaluated where he thought the IT industry was headed next, and his answer was healthcare. Soon, David was working at Alcon, a global medical company. "I started as their Internet manager. They didn't know how the Internet was going to fit into their business, but it didn't take them long to realize they wanted it." He was there for 16 years and rose to the Global IT Head of Information Governance and Management Security.
During his time with Alcon, a nationwide tragedy encouraged him to pursue his master's degree. "When 9/11 happened, I looked at that and thought, 'We're going to see a big influx of security.' It changed my whole perspective," he says. "I debated between an MBA and a MIT. I went with an MIT, because I thought people who know how to keep [others] protected will matter."
With a job and family, David needed a school that would fit his schedule. "I chose AIU because it was more convenient for me. I was part of the early years of online education," he says. "There were students who were soldiers over in Kuwait during the war, and we would talk to them during the online chats. It was really quite interesting."
While many would be overwhelmed with a full-time job, part-time school and a family, David says, "You just have to make the time. If you invest in yourself, invest in the quality of what you're doing. ... AIU was the right choice for me—no doubt."
He proudly attained his MIT in 2004 and would encourage others to pursue their master's as well, though when you get it, he says, depends on you. "I have two daughters in college right now and would give them separate advice [on pursuing their graduate degree]. One requires a master's degree for the field she wants. ... If you know where you want to go and you know you'll need it—get it, don't stop," he says. "My other daughter isn't sure. ... If you're not sure where you're headed, take a couple years, work some jobs, then get your master's—and actually do it.
"You'll get the biggest return on investing in yourself, and education is one of the best investments you can make," he says. "There are things I know I couldn't have gotten without [my AIU master's degree]. It just opened doors for me."
David Maxwell is a certified information security manager (CISM), certified information security auditor (CISA), and certified information system security professional (CISSP) who resides in Texas with his wife. For fun, he takes cooking classes at a local junior college. His talent for cooking is greatly appreciated by the men with whom he goes adventure camping. Looking for additional inspiration? Read more alumni success stories.