July 2023 Alumni Spotlights: Terry Phillips (NAHS ’56) & David Neel (FCHS ’81) / Tammie Boling Neel (FCHS ’83)

July 2023 Alumni Spotlights: Terry Phillips (NAHS ’56) & David Neel (FCHS ’81) / Tammie Boling Neel (FCHS ’83)

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Welcome to our “careers in computing” issue. This month, we’re profiling one New Albany grad and two from Floyd Central (husband and wife). The path that each took might not appear to have much in common… and yet, each made a living doing things that were fundamentally similar. Generally, it always involved having both hands on a keyboard, seeking solutions and “figuring it out” where there was frequently no road map.

Our world has seen wave after wave of giant changes in computers and related technology. It has all spanned some six or seven decades now and impacted life in nearly every country on earth. It begs the question: “what IS a career in computing?” Computers have transformed so much of the work world… in industry, in communications, in commerce and in services to all of us. You might ask “who DOESN’T have a career today that relies on computing with computers, mobile phones and the internet?” And yet, some people were at the cutting edge… long before many of us took our first jobs.

We salute their pioneering steps. You might marvel at how far we have come… when you contemplate where they started.

Introduction and profiles contributed by Rex Bickers, FCHS ‘70

The origin of Terry Phillips’ story is yet another first-ever occurrence for this newsletter. This month’s profile began last fall when Terry sent us a message himself. He was motivated by our November 2022 issue, featuring Stanley Brown, NAHS ’62. In the introduction to Stanley’s profile, we included a photo from the early years of WNAS.

It brought back special memories to Terry. In that “Veterans’ Day” issue, our goal was to highlight the student WNAS experiences in the 1950s, as well as the newly offered ”shop” classes, called electronics. Both things were valuable for eighteen-year-olds joining the Navy. Terry graduated six years before Stanley, so some things were clearly different, but there were some similarities. The electronics classes didn’t exist yet, but Terry did earn a third-class Radio Telephone Operator License. In his senior year, he operated the WNAS radio transmitter.  Like Stanley, he joined the Navy straight out of high school. He served in active duty from 1956 to 1959, followed by three years at Purdue in the reserves. By 1964, he had earned a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering (or “E.E.”).

His Purdue years began a brush with greatness that lasted three decades. He began work on a master’s degree in E.E., awarded in 1966. It meant joining professors who essentially invented satellite mapping. He became part of the team that founded Purdue’s “Laboratory for Agricultural Remote Sensing” (LARS), supported by grants from NASA and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Its work was based on data from the first U.S. (1960) weather satellite. LARS was later renamed the Laboratory for Applications in Remote Sensing, reflecting broader objectives. Purdue went on to lead a collaborative effort eventually known as Landsat, combining the necessary signal acquisition, computer programming and graphic displays.

Terry recalls a crucial LARS event at the Marshall Space Flight Center (also called “NASA Huntsville”). The LARS director was supposed to give an important talk. Conflicts led him to send Terry instead. A buzz went around. Many Marshall staff didn’t fully grasp what Purdue was doing. Terry was very surprised when they delayed his presentation for two whole hours… so that “a certain VIP” could hear it. That person turned out to be Wernher von Braun! He wanted to learn just what remote sensing could do.

Terry had other vital roles at LARS. He connected the first video (television) monitor to a computer for use in Landsat data analysis. He also helped design a computer network to teach people how to use Landsat output.

By 1988, he transitioned to a broader responsibility, overseeing Purdue students’ uses of personal computers, campus-wide. Over the next decade, he worked in the Continuing Education business office, and he earned his CPA. In 2000, Terry left Purdue to work as a Personal Financial Advisor until he retired in 2007. Terry and his pharmacist/wife Lynne (also a Purdue grad) have just recently celebrated 60 years of marriage. The couple raised two children and currently have three grandchildren, ranging in ages from 16 to 23.

For David and Tammie Neel, any career that used computers felt very disconnected to the “old days” that Terry Phillips knew. The 70s were nearly over when personal computers brought the first big “high tech” wave. As the 80s played out, PCs were popping up everywhere, with instruction manuals that few people understood. The time was right to contemplate a career in computer services.

David’s Floyd Central years prepared him for a wrestling scholarship at Waldorf College in remote northern Iowa. He aspired to study computer science. After two years, he chose to come back to Indiana to finish his education and start finding (more) employment. He had already taken his first “IT job” in 1982, during his second year at Waldorf, at the “big neighbor” in town: Winnebago Industries. The state of computers was quite divided in the 80s with “data processing” in the world of “mainframes” and a new world of PCs emerging. Few people in business knew anything about using computers, chiefly in banking, accounting and financial services. David did succeed in a large (hospital) accounting department, but his interests were broader than that. He learned how to help those who felt paralyzed because they didn’t understand the technology they had.

David and Tammie married in 1990. They were soon busy working parents, dually forging a team approach to their career plans. Tammie cultivated a broad repertoire of computer skills used by business offices of that era: accounting, payroll, business-to-business communications and more. She would later complete a B.A. in Business Administration (with kids in middle school!). There was this new internet thing! David concentrated on the technical side of computing. It included the growing connections between users, routers and servers… from the LAN (local area network) of a small group to enterprise-wide configurations across the continent and later, across oceans. Together, they focused on identifying potential clients and assessing their big-picture requirements: especially network design, implementation and documentation of security compliance.

They formed their own company in 1997, called CyberTek Engineering. Its business customers had diverse and ever-shifting needs. A key decision was selling a change in the relationship to clients. CyberTek became a Managed Services Provider (MSP). Its business model worked for clients with or without in-house IT staff.

Nowadays, safeguarding systems require more than just preventing downtime. Attacks are REAL, and they no longer involve “only internal operations”. With an extra “S” for Security… today’s new acronym is MSSP. It’s now crucial: protect the data that belongs to the public, (the customers of the companies they serve).

CyberTek was at year 23 when the pandemic began. Adding new clients never stopped. A new client wanted David to meet people at Venza, a company offering similar services, but devoted almost entirely to the hospitality industry. Venza was impressed by CyberTek’s reputation in network security. By 2021, Venza agreed to purchase CyberTek, leaving it intact to function as a separate business unit. The CyberTek workforce has now more than doubled, though many work virtually from other locations.

Reflecting on 40 years of career experience, the Neels feel certain that their era will not hold a candle to the next big wave of change. It’s already begun with artificial intelligence taking root. Stay tuned for the stories of Floyd Central and New Albany grads from the 2020s and 2030s who will be at the center of these advances in the future!

Read the complete July 2023 Legacy Ledger. 

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