As Executive Director of Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work® Foundation, my passion to empower girls and boys to reach their full potentials in their family, work, and community lives has always caused me to be curious about the pivotal experiences that build people’s character and careers. As part of my series to explore career paths, I recently talked to Mark Schramm, Senior Account Manager at NetGyral International, based in the Washington, DC area about his career journey.

I particularly appreciated learning that in addition to excelling in his chosen field, he actually started out with an unrelated degree in radio and television, and still actively pursues his musical hobbies. He has a rich family life and gives generously of his time to community organizations. 

Throughout his career Mark has led teams in multifaceted IT fields including database application development, information systems management, and so much more.  He co-founded and eventually sold a web application design and development company he named Corporate Zen, and today he runs another IT consulting business.  A leader in his field, Mark has also been involved in supporting Habitat for Humanity and is an advisory board member for Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work® Foundation.  Here are ten things he told me about his journey.  I hope we can all benefit from the triumphs, missteps insights and humor that he shared.

What early experiences brought you to your specific career path?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree that was seemingly irrelevant to the Washington, DC job market in the early ‘90’s. So, I ended up working as a temp, and bounced from one minimum-wage gig to the next for a few months, subsisting on ramen noodles. My last temp job required me to repeatedly press the space bar on a keyboard to make printouts continue, an assignment that could have been done as well by a trained hamster. I took the documentation for writing spreadsheet macros home, read it, and then automated a month’s assignment to complete in three days. The company hired me, and it became very clear that IT held a lot more career promise than temping.

What is one of the most interesting experiences you’ve had during your career?

I ended up working in Hong Kong for a while to perform as a “white hat” hacker on a project. I was teamed with many other consultants from Britain whose extreme IT prowess was exceeded only by their capacity to “enjoy happy hour” after each workday. Keeping up on that job was challenging on more fronts than I’d anticipated, but I learned a lot working with them.

Missteps happen throughout everyone’s careers?  Have you learned from any?

I was taking a top employee with me on an international flight. We arrived late to the airport and of course the gate had been changed from what was published. We had to run the length of the airport and just barely made the flight, our dress shirts soaked with sweat. This was in simpler, pre-9/11 days when you could run through an airport without being tackled by NSA personnel. As we took our seats in the very back of the 747, I remarked to my employee, “That was perfect – no down time!” I could see the steam coming out of his ears, and English was not his first language. He composed himself enough to cry out in exasperation, “Oh, TOO MUCH!” That phrase was repeated in times after as comedic shorthand for outrageously poor planning. This experience was a visceral lesson and reminder that what can go wrong probably will, and that all planning must include buffer time to allow for that because you might not always be able to rely on good luck.

Philanthropy and outreach are important parts of your life. Can you share a meaningful project you are working on now or have in the past?

The Habitat for Humanity trips I participated in were transformative, and the distillation of what I took away from my involvement in them is gratitude. When people are born into privilege, unfortunately, it’s something they very often overlook as being a very fortuitous roll of the dice. The visceral experiences I had on my Habitat trips underscored how starkly different life can look when the dice roll a different way, as they do for many more people than we sometimes realize. Elevating my sense of gratitude after coming back from those trips was a beneficial attitude adjustment, as the attitude each of us holds inside is where much else in our lives flows from.

What five things you would tell your younger self to prepare for the future?

  1. Many of the things you’re worrying about when you’re young will be non-issues in adulthood.
  2. The value of self-discipline is something worth internalizing early, and independent from how you regard authority.
  3. Your “friends” may surprise you in ways both pleasant and unpleasant, so choose them wisely.
  4. Forming and holding a clear vision as to what you want to see happen in life is critical to having it show up.
  5. Take responsibility for your own learning. It is the single-most important skill you can cultivate.

Can you share some tips on how young people today can get ahead?

Seek out a mentor, ideally someone just a few years ahead of you on the same career path, both for gathering vicarious wisdom on how to move forward on a given career path and for expanding one’s personal network. Treat them to coffee and ask them to help you by sharing their expertise and wisdom. Learn vicariously from others wherever possible. Read and listen to books and podcasts on how to expand one’s personal network so that new opportunities are more likely to be close at hand.

Connecting one’s education with a future career path is the spirit of Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work® Day and something to which I’m very committed. Can you tell us how businesses, community leaders, educators, and parents can help our society educate children best?

Education may have changed a lot since I was in the system, but for me it left a big blind spot for how to find your footing in adult life. So, I think it would benefit kids most to learn from educators and parents about how competitive the adult world is, and how important it is for them to be able to sell themselves to find a good place in it. I also think it would be beneficial for adults in a kid’s life to be perspicacious on how different the world may look by the time a child is actually entering the work force in order to influence them to consider what skills will become needed and which are likely to be relegated.

Has a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to helped you in your career?

I liked The E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber, in which he helps the reader to introspect about what role in an organization best fits one’s own personality. A podcast I enjoy a lot is The Tim Ferris Show, in which the author/podcaster gathers useful insights from high-achievers and thought leaders.

If you could inspire “good news” what would be your headline and 3 talking points?

The good news that interests me is that there will be a convergence between capitalism and preservation of the Earth. Talking points:

  1. Good planets are hard to find!
  2. Science has little or nothing to do with people’s opinions, much less with politics.
  3. Money makes this world go ‘round, but there are now a growing number of ways to make green energy profitable.

How can people connect with you?