Careers: Interviews
Chairman of the Network Professional Association - the Leading Organization for Network Computing Professionals

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with James Belasco, Chairman of board of directors for the Network Professional Association (NPA), the global voice of the networking industry and international advocate for the network computing professional.

James has served as Chairman for a number of years providing leadership and vision to the non-profit organization. Prior to this, he was the president of the San Diego Chapter of the Network Professional Association.

Leadership and community involvement began as the student representative to the Poway YMCA in 1970. James served as a member of Parish Counsel for St. Charles Catholic Church (1991-93). He continues as a musician having been a member of the San Diego Opera Chorus (1985-90) and 25 years as a soloist and performer.

James is a founding member of Culminis and is currently Treasurer on the Board of Directors. Microsoft has acknowledged his support of the technical community with the title of Microsoft Valued Professional (2003-04).

Earl Walls Associates (February 1991 - present) employs James as Director of Administration and Technology responsible for computer network, telecommunications, facilities, human resources and staff support administration. Extended duties include service as chair for the Employee Stock Ownership Plan Administrative Committee, a lead member of the negotiation team for ownership change.

Network and Computer training began at Penultimate Systems Inc. (March 1986 - August 1990); James served as manager of the systems/LAN service department providing client service and repair for the Penultimate Legal Systems, an office automation solution. He was promoted to Software Test Failure Analyst to qualify software for performance, function, installation and configuration on Novell NetWare, Banyan Vines, Tiara LanWare, generic network and single station systems. Moreover, James was an instructor for ABC Technical Schools Inc. (May 1989 - May 1990) specializing in AutoCAD and computer instruction for mechanical, electro-mechanical and architectural draftsmen. In addition, James has certification as a Novell Certified Network Engineer.

Discussion:

Q: Jim, as a top-ranking computing professional and with your busy schedule, it’s a real pleasure to have you come in and share your valuable insights with the audience. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

A: I am honored. I see myself as pretty ordinary doing ordinary things, as busy as anyone else - I think the way most network professionals see themselves. Yet, each of us has some unique aspects and experiences worthy of sharing.

Q: Your list of accomplishments is impressive highlighted by years of service to the industry. Which ones standout most and share your foremost lessons learned?

A: At first, I think of my professional career but then I truly recognize that nothing comes without God, faith and family. I am so fortunate to have these. They enable everything that I may accomplish. God and faith lead to strength, vision, planning and compassion. My marriage to Barbara is a leading highlight of my life.

In my early years in computing, working with folks at Penultimate was a joy. We had a great product, top notch programming team and earnest people. While its time has come and gone, I gave up support of its last network just last year - 15 years after it was installed. It is super to work with a solution which required such minimal support but gave a full complement of features.

I am very fortunate to have had extended employment positions in the network computing industry. As a result, I can see the fruits of my efforts as well as the failures. My greatest level of professional experience is with administration of small to medium business operations. It is always a constant battle to balance the good IT practices to user behavior. Earl Walls Associates is internationally recognized for our designs of research facilities. My contribution was to integrate architecture, networks and specialized business practices through the network wire before it was easy. I am very happy to say that our corporate network is robust, cost effective, and meets the expectations of the users. I follow a few simple guides: communicate a reasonable vision, have flexibility and expect to make changes, listen carefully for user expectations, and most importantly provide gentle guides. I think of it as a path of least resistance leading to good IT practices.

Q: As chairman for the NPA, can you describe your vision and mission for the organization?  

A: The vision is simple – represent the best standards and ethics of the network computing professional. What this means is to provide the daily benefits and opportunities one gets from being associated with a special interest group, then go to the next level. NPA can be the voice of the professional in matters of government, standards and practice, provide ratification of the individual’s professional stature to the public eye, work to establish better work environments, and promote education and the balance of personal and professional life. When one is member of the ranks of the NPA, you are joining the vision to be the best you can be as a network computing professional and a person – an example for others. NPA represents the highest standards of personal and professional honesty and ethics.

Q: What are the major rewards in belonging to the organization and what have you gained from your years of service?

A: Initially the professional joins NPA for the tangible items – free stuff, food, discounts and the inside track to some area of technology. Over the years these things become nice but not so important. As we climb the career ladder most of these things are available for a multitude of sources. Relationships and contacts, recognition, a bit of fun, and some influence in the direction of our industry are more significant. What I find are people interested in so much more than “work”. These people enjoy doing good deeds for others. We want others to be the best they can be, and then provide guidance and direction for the next person. We volunteer for the sake of the community, to enrich with our own personal contribution.

Q: How do you hope to shape the organization in the next 2, 3, and 5 years?

A:  My goal for the upcoming years is to raise the visibility of our fine organization, to work on the vision of representation, and to provide recognition to the unique individuals contributing to our industry. In the short term this will be the establishment of new local chapters to build people networks, and volunteer resources to precipate the greater steps of knowledge sharing and publishing or bring career building opportunities to the member. A major component in these next years will be maturation of the NPA Awards for Professionalism and the return of the Certified Network Professional (CNP) certification.

Q: Do you have any major upcoming programs and initiatives that we should watch for?

A: NPA wants to grow many new local chapters and we recognize the dedication required to be a leader. A fresh incentive/reward program has been initiated. It is a perfect time to jump right in.

Also, in 2005, I look to the reemergence of publications by the NPA. With support of our eloquent member-writers and some advertising support, we will see the new NPA newsletter grow and develop. Where is it going? I hope to being a journal accompanied by various small publications for the network professional.

Q: What prompted the NPA to provide the Annual Awards for Professionalism in partnership with NetWorld+Interop and in cooperation with Network Computing?

A: Pick up a paper or magazine, who do you see being given recognition? Products, companies and the high echelons of the corporate pyramid are what you see. What is missing is the recognition for the professionals working the seams holding our computer network driven society together. Wow, that is the typical NPA member.

With the help of major publishers Fritz Nelson at Network Computing and John Gallant at Network World, NPA launched the first Awards for Professionalism in 2002, a perfect fit with the highly sought after industry awards at NetWorld+Interop. The fourth event is nearing. Each year we look to refining the event to be more representative of the network professional and provide the right mix of recognition and education for all who attend.

NPA truly appreciates the support we receive for the Awards. In 2004, Microsoft, National Seminars Group, and Pearson Technology Group, among others, were additional valued contributors. The response from the award recipients is of so much appreciation. A little recognition goes a long way.

Q: Where do you see the networking industry heading in the short, medium, and long term?

A: This industry is not going away. Quite to the contrary, the manual skill sets change but the networking professional will still be the person matching and mating sometimes divergent solutions to build the most suited networks for corporations. Business constantly looks for an advantage in the market place. Thus there is a constant movement towards change. Perhaps in some sectors there will be fewer staff and more consulting positions. But tides ebb and wane. There are advantages to both sides and resulting jobs for the network professional.

Q: What are the job prospects for the future?

A: Let’s see… there was the millennium bug, now security is hot, email is about to fizzle due to spamming pressures, have to sell more devices to perpetuate the development cycle. We will see another step to reconnect inter-corporate communications. Of course an ironic thing is what less connected parts of the world will be doing. Are the real opportunities coming in the less developed areas of the world? The lowest common denominator still exists and not everyone in this world could read a postal letter if it reached them.

Q: What advice would you give to businesses?

A: Hire the person of integrity having a reasonable technical and communication skill set, compassion, and a history of good decision making. A loyal team working for the good of the company with an eye to the welfare of the hired staff breeds a healthy corporate family.

Q: What are hottest areas of interest to IT professionals?

A: These would be my top picks:

Area 1: Seasoned professionals are looking for information management systems. This means more cost effective storage and continuity solutions. With the volume of stored data growing exponentially the need is for better information retention management solutions, and data mining.

Area 2: We are struggling to balance privacy, security and access. Very much rules based and in the eye of the public – lots of opportunities here.

Area 3: Marketing and advertising, drive industry and this requires access to clients and companies. Will IM be the next email? I am looking for a skip ahead toward a better solution. The power of the sales person is in many ways the power of the contact management process. Business struggles to provide better solutions, allowing for the individual personality and the corporate need to manage and group information.

Q: Describe your current work with Earl Walls Associates.

A: My position is to facilitate the creativity of others and try to do so by providing a managed framework when I began through computer networking, and now through full facility and employee benefits management. The reality is, I watch and listen, then do what is necessary to benefit the company and work environment. With this outlook I perform many mundane tasks. I take the complexities of the computer network to the backroom to give the users a better experience.

Q: As a highly respected senior executive, what are your top tips for effective leadership?

A: 1) Take God as your CEO.

2) Delegate by providing a framework and the resources to succeed.

3) Take responsibility, make amends promptly.

4) Allow other to be human.

5) Define, assign, and measure then begin again.

6) Know when someone else is a better fit and give them the choice.

Q: Can you comment on your “other” life as musician and performer?

A: Foremost vocalist, music is my passion. There is nothing more pleasurable than working with musicians who require the top of your game. The results are immediate and penetrating. Music is meditation and prayer. It lends to the organizing of the day. It is something to look forward to and to fondly remember.

Final:
Jim, as a leading international top-ranked IT professional and senior executive, thank you again for sharing your valuable insights and wisdom with our audience.

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