Today we feature an Information System specialist developing technology-based solutions for the Dekalb County School District in Georgia; using technology solutions to make school management easy and improving learning.
As a member of the underrepresented communities within the tech space, he shares with us the unique challenges the communities are facing, and what can be done to see more people of color take up STEM education and careers.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Gary Brantley, and I am the Chief Information Officer for DeKalb County School District. I’ve been employed by the school district for a 4 – 1/2 years. We currently support 137 buildings 16,000 employees and 103,000 students.
Projects include a switch and wireless upgrade for all schools, ERP project replacing the financial and HR system, learning management system to facilitate online learning, Data analytics tools to facilitate more robust reporting needs to help make both education and operating decisions.
Based on a challenge by Michael Thurmond, superintendent of the DeKalb County School District in 2014, you launched a mobile app for parents to bridge the gap between their highest- and lowest-performing schools. Can you tell us what inspired you to decide that mobile technology was the solution?
Every CIO is faced with the challenge of looking at the needs of the business and is tasked with finding ways to improve on those needs. Most times it’s not as clear-cut or transparent, so you really must understand the business and the space you’re operating in.
The initiative at that time was called “The Bridge”. I looked at several areas on how we could create that bridge with our community and this was just one example of how technology was used to support that. Mobile technology was the instrumental because we needed a way to push information to our community.
The community within DeKalb County is extremely diverse with close to 147 different languages spoken within our school district. Mobile technology was the key to help break that barrier and reach those parents and community stakeholders who didn’t have the ability to travel to onsite meetings.
What was the most difficult period in your Career life, and how did you deal with it?
Having to navigate through this career path without a true minority mentor has been extremely tough. There are obstacles that minorities have to overcome in this business that are extremely complicated. I questioned at one point if this was a career path I wanted to continue to follow.
In your experience, what do you think is severely lacking within the Tech Communities?
I think relevant experience and lack of diversity are missing. Technology awareness around careers isn’t talked about enough in our minority communities. When I speak to inner city students, most of them have no idea what a CIO is. They can’t begin to craft a career path because they have no idea jobs like this exist. I am happy to see that computer science classes are starting to hit some of our schools.
What are the most important things you have learnt from your work experience?
To listen to those who have come before you, value teamwork, eliminate pride, and that you can never stop learning. Learning the art of dealing with people is something that you can never take a break from when it comes to learning.
What is your career advice to college students studying technology?
Find a career path as early as you can and seek out experience around it. The earlier you are exposed to different methodologies surrounding your career path the better. When you hit a wall, it’s imperative that you push through it and believe in yourself and your abilities.