WELCOME TO ITARKANSAS
Introducing a tech careers magazine for the Natural State
Senior Consulting Editor, ACDS
IT WAS WAY back in December 2019 that we first started talking about a magazine about tech careers in Arkansas. Some people from Arkansas Times were on the list to receive the ACDS newsletter, and that sparked the idea of combining their magazine expertise with ACDS’s tech expertise to produce a publication aimed at helping young Arkansans find their paths to rewarding IT careers here in their home state. It was, and is, a very good idea.
Even so, I was of two minds when I was asked to be editor of this magazine. I used to be a magazine editor, a vocation I mostly loved for some 25 years. But that was decades ago. I was even involved in a magazine startup, which I remember as very much a young person’s game—a blur of 18-hour days and seven-day weeks. As for my tech expertise, I can hardly work my TV when my wife isn’t home.
But I became enthusiastic about what this magazine could and should be when I met with a group of apprentices at First Orion, three men and one woman, all in their 20s. It was late January of 2020, and we sat around a table in FO’s lounge area. I had prepared a preliminary table of contents and a list of possible names for the magazine, all hammered out after several meetings between people from ACDS and Arkansas Times. I began by telling the First Orion apprentices about the concept of the magazine, and then I passed out the sample table of contents and watched them as they read. Very quickly, one young man said, “I wish this had been around when I was just getting out of school.”
They thought all the proposed articles seemed on target, but a couple were singled out. The one called “Tech for Good,” a piece about how technology can help the world rather than just making a profit for some company, is “massively important,” said one young man. “You should have pieces like this in every issue.” They wanted info on how to conduct themselves in an interview, as well as articles on “the unspoken rules in the workplace.” “Coming right out of school, we had no clue,” one said. They also liked a back-of-the-book department called “Unplugged”—again, “massively important” because the tech world can be such a grind. They wanted to see hard-working tech people like themselves recharging on the bike trails of Arkansas.
When it came to what to call the magazine, they liked several names. “But it shouldn’t just be a techy name,” said one young man. “It needs to be connected to Arkansas.”
That last point gets right to the heart of this magazine. For years, “tech” was something that happened someplace else, but that’s no longer the case. Technology cuts across all industries today, no matter where they’re located, and as the demand for tech talent has grown, Arkansas—under Governor Hutchinson’s leadership—has put a special emphasis on preparing this state’s population for these 21st century careers. ACDS itself was formed as a result of the Governor’s 2017 Blue Ribbon Commission on “advancing the economic competitiveness of data analytics and computing in Arkansas,” and ITARKANSAS Magazine—the name and the logo—is a small but further attempt to rejigger the self-image of a population more accustomed to seeing their home as “The Natural State.” “Rice, corn, soybeans, tech startups” went one early article subtitle that ultimately didn’t make it into the issue: “cash crops all.”
THREE THINGS YOU should know about ITARKANSAS: One, it’s an annual print publication that will be distributed to high schools and colleges throughout the state, thanks to East Initiative, a third member of the partnership. Two, an ongoing digital version of the magazine (ITArkansas.com) will be regularly updated and added to, so that the articles and information are always current. And three, this is essentially a magazine about people here in Arkansas.
It’s sometimes tempting to think of the tech talent demand and supply in terms of numbers: “In Arkansas, we have 10,000 tech jobs to fill and only 700 tech grads a year,” writes ACDS Executive Director Bill Yoder in his introductory piece in the issue, “Why a Career in Tech.” And in many ways it is a numbers game: What do we need to do to make the supply number match the demand number?
And yet we at ACDS and ITARKANSAS never forget that we’re talking about people here—about goals and aspirations, not to mention economics. That’s why Bill started his magazine piece by telling the inspiring story of Christina Eichelberger, an apprentice at Affirma. And that’s what I understood by meeting with the young apprentices at First Orion.
So in this debut issue of ITARKANSAS, you’ll find profiles galore—tech people talking about their work at such companies as Teslar Software, GlaxoSmithKline, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Hytrol, Arvest Bank, ForwARd Arkansas, and more. You’ll meet the entrepreneurs behind such home-grown startups as Movista, Apptegy, Idestini, and Matmon Internet. The idea is for all those young people just getting out of school and trying to find their career path to see people who look just like them who’ve done it—found great tech careers right here at home.
Our mandate is to give these young grads and soon-to-be grads the tools and the knowledge they need in order to find the route to success that’s exactly right for them. So we have articles on “Pursuing the Data Science Degree,” “The Two-Year Route,” and “The Apprenticeship Advantage” (written by our own Lonnie Emard). ACDS’ Marie Stacks compiled a feature called “What? Where? How Much?”—a dozen of the most prevalent jobs in Information Technology, along with average salaries, all in the context of a map of Arkansas showing the logos of companies that are actively engaged in apprenticeships or other programs with ACDS.
In the front of the magazine there’s a section called “Taste of Tech,” where we talk about trends in IT—tech buzzwords we’re going to be hearing in 2021 (do you know about “Internet of Behaviors”? You will.). In the back is a section called “Tips and Techniques,” which is exactly that—telling these young people how to burnish their resumés and prepare for job interviews. For that, we went straight to the experts—the members of the ACDS Talent Acquisition team, who know a thing or two about resumés and interviews.
Finally, harkening back to my meeting with the First Orion apprentices, we included tips and techniques of a softer, less practical matter. Senior Editor Dwain Hebda interviewed three young tech professionals about the ways they balance their intense on-the-job duties with the very real need to live a life. The result is a piece called “To Recharge, You Have to Unplug.” We close out the issue with a “department” called LIFE LESSONS, in which Tyson CTO Scott Spradley draws on the wisdom he’s gleaned from his many years in the tech industry to tell our young readers how to act and do and be once they’re actually in the working world. That piece is called “Throw No One Under the Bus (And Other Essential Career Advice).”
DID EVERYTHING WORK out as planned in this issue? Absolutely not, and who’s surprised by that? An old boss of mine used to tell people how he and I would “laugh in the midst of the worst calamities”—the cover story would fall out at the last minute, or the big-name writer I’d assigned for big money would turn in a piece of bottom-drawer drivel. But at the end of the day, it’s only a magazine. You might as well laugh. I found myself straining to remember that while trying to produce a magazine during the pandemic.
Yet “only a magazine” can still be something of great value when it finds a hungry and receptive audience, and we know there are young people all over this state who need the message and advice that ITArkansas delivers. As Lonnie Emard writes in his piece on apprenticeships, “While everyone is for producing more traditional four-year college tech graduates, a big piece of my heart goes out to those ‘non-traditional’ computer lovers throughout our state. I think about the high school kid in, say, Dumas, Arkansas, who loves her computer and is intrigued by the capability that sits behind the screen of her smartphone. But she can’t afford to go to college and doesn’t really know what she’s going to do with her life.
“There are passionate kids like that all over our state, and I don’t want to see them fall between the cracks. As someone who’s been working on this apprenticeship issue throughout this country for decades, I know that if we leave kids like that to fend for themselves, we’re going to end up with more failures than successes.”
This magazine is all about maximizing the chances for Arkansas’ young people to have a successful tech career here at home, and there are a lot of people to acknowledge for helping us get this far. Alan Leveritt of Arkansas Times came up with the idea, and ACDS’ Bill Yoder, Lonnie Emard, and Marie Stacks were involved all the way, along with AT’s Phyllis Britton, Katherine Allen, and Jordan Little. Alan Leveritt and Katherine Allen had the unenviable job of trying to make ad sales calls amid a pandemic, and many companies and groups from across the state responded. Meanwhile, on the editorial side, Dwain Hebda carried an outsized load, and AT Creative Director Mandy Keener made it all look great. And in one of those potentially calamitous moments, G.B. Cazes of The Emory Group stepped forward to solve the problem. Heartfelt thanks to all.