Pair of Hornet alumni head California Department of Technology

If you think dealing with technology issues at home or at the office is a big job, imagine doing it for the entire state of California.

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Amy Tong

Running the state’s Department of Technology – keeping computers and other technology up and running for more than 130 government agencies, as well as providing strategic guidance for California’s IT programs and policy – are two Sacramento State alumni: Amy Tong ’94 (Management Information Systems), MBA ’98, and Chris Cruz ’88 (Business Administration). Tong is the department director as well as the statewide chief information officer; Cruz serves as chief deputy director and deputy state CIO.

Both grew up in Sacramento – Tong immigrated to the United States from China with her family when she was 12 – and came to Sac State in large part because it offered an affordable, quality education close to home. Both also have spent nearly their entire careers working in the public sector and say they enjoy their current roles because of the ability to take a wide view of the state’s technology infrastructure and propose solutions to make it more efficient and effective.

Below, they answer a few questions about their time at Sac State and their current jobs with the Department of Technology.

Why did you decide to attend Sacramento State?

Cruz: It was an easy decision for me because, for one, my parents were helping me pay for college, and I found out that I could actually live at home. I also liked the fact that Sac State has a strong business administration program, and that’s where my degree is, in business administration and management. So I really enjoyed my time there, and the fact that it was easy for me to live at home and go to school.

Tong: I’m actually very, very similar. I was able to live at home, and I worked throughout college to help (pay for) my tuition as well as help my family. Staying close to my family was important, and Sac State has a great reputation. One other thing that attracted me was the difference between the Cal State and the (University of California) systems. My brother actually went to UC Davis, so we have this debate all day long at home that the UCs are more research-oriented and Cal State is more practical. I’m a practical person, so I liked the Cal State system.

When did you become interested in working in the IT field?

Tong: My major (management information systems) was in either its first or second year when I started at Sac State. It’s computer science but inside business administration, and that’s kind of the uniqueness that attracted me. How do you apply computer science into business?

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Chris Cruz

Cruz: I always had an understanding that I would get into the IT field, but I actually started in business and went through understanding policy and business before I transitioned into information technology, which I did at the midpoint of my state career. That served me well in terms of having the business sense to communicate technology to business folks, because it can be quite frustrating if you’re very technical in your approach and you’re not able to break things down into what I call “bricks and mortar” for them.

How has what you learned at Sac State helped you throughout your career?

Cruz: I graduated in 1989, and six months after, I applied for state jobs and was able to get a state position at the Department of Justice. Sac State gave me the foundation to get into an analytical position as opposed to starting in an entry-level position. It prepared me for what I would learn in business, the economics of things, looking at the fiscal perspective of how government works and operates, and being able to have that big-picture thinking.

Tong: After my bachelor’s degree, I came directly to work for the state, but I had the opportunity to work during the daytime and go to night school for my master’s. It really helped me appreciate more of what I learned in college and then immediately apply it to what I needed to do at work. That back-and-forth makes the whole learning experience much more meaningful. That’s one thing I really enjoyed about Sac State. Even through my bachelor’s degree, (for) a lot of the items that were taught in the classroom, my professors always talked about how they would apply to real-world experience.

What’s your favorite part about your job?

Tong: Problem solving. My favorite part is that we have a broad perspective and can realize that Department A has a solution that can be used for Department B. We’re in the unique position to facilitate a lot of this collaboration and look for ways to share resources and streamline efforts for the state as a whole. Having a more enterprise-wide view, a statewide view, a holistic view helps drive efficiency within government.

Cruz: Having the opportunity to come in and work with Amy and all the fine people here to help transform the way government works from a technology perspective. That has been something that I enjoy waking up in the morning and knowing, that we are making a difference as a technology organization, and that we’re making things more efficient and effective for government through strategic change, through a collaborative government. It’s not an army of one. It’s an army of many.

What’s your advice to current Sac State students?

Tong: Get a job while you’re going to school. That work experience is invaluable. I know when we’re hiring, we always look for a good balance of education and practical on-the-job training.

Cruz: Learn that life is a privilege and not an entitlement. When you come into a job, a degree doesn’t guarantee a certain amount of success. What it does is get your foot into the door, but what you do after that, you’ve got to earn and work hard.

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Kraig Clark’s dream of starting his own business began at Sac State

Sacramento State alumnus Kraig Clark accepts his Distinguished Service Award, during the annual Distinguished Alumni Awards event held in April. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

While at Sacramento State, Kraig Clark ’91 (Accountancy) and his roommate Steve Schroeder ’93 (Business Administration) already were dreaming about the company they one day would start.

“Half of the time we were supposed to be studying, we were talking about different businesses and what might work from a scaling perspective.  A lot of our discussions were related to building a company that could scale.” Clark says. “I don’t think we knew exactly what we were going to start, we just knew we were going to start.”

In 1997 they founded CoreLogic, a data analytics firm for the mortgage banking industry, which they grew into a multimillion-dollar business that eventually resulted in a profitable merger. Today, Clark is the co-founder of JLM Energy, an energy technology firm, and eScreenLogic, an environmental consulting firm.

Clark sees his work as an entrepreneur as being similar to that of a contractor who takes an empty lot of land and turns it into a building, shopping center, office, or something else that becomes used and enjoyed by others.

“You start with nothing, you have a concept and an idea,” he says. “I like building things, “things” meaning companies. You bring a collection of people together, you have a strategy and a concept, and you see if you can turn that into something that’s scalable or livable.”

His current companies merge his lifelong passion for entrepreneurship with another of his interests, sustainability, something he was able to foster while a student at what now is one of the nation’s “greenest” campuses.

“At Sac State, I remember Earth Day, and I had a solar cooker that I experimented with,” Clark says. “In the back of my mind, it was always something that I wanted to explore and the opportunity presented itself and I jumped in with JLM Energy and eScreenLogic.”

Clark, who grew up in Lodi, transferred to Sacramento State in 1989 from Delta College in Stockton and decided to major in accountancy, believing it would give him a solid financial foundation he could use to start his first business. The fact that his courses actually were taught by faculty members, and not teaching student assistants, he says, was a huge benefit to attending, as was a curriculum designed to prepare him for the working world.

His first job after graduation was working in the finance department of a Suisun City-based aerospace company. He eventually became the assistant controller, but left after 4½ years to pursue his longtime dream of starting his own business, which became CoreLogic.

In 2011, he and business partner Farid Dibachi founded JLM because they saw an opportunity to make their mark in the burgeoning renewable energy industry. One year later, they branched into energy storage, meaning they were ahead of the game when Tesla CEO Elon Musk made his own, much-publicized foray into the technology in 2015.

“We were like, ‘Great!’ ” Clark says. “It really helped cut down the time that it took to educate the client. He educated the public, and we were already selling our systems.”

Starting and running his own businesses, however, never has been easy – “There are challenges all the time,” he says – but one thing Clark says that Sacramento State does well is teach students how to be resourceful. He also is pleased that students now can major in entrepreneurship and encourages anyone who wants to follow his career path to be patient, break the rules, and not be afraid to fail.

“If you’re not failing, you’re not trying,” he says. “You have to go through a lot of intelligent trial and error. You’re not going to get there if you don’t try and work hard and put your whole focus into what you’re trying to achieve.”

Clark was one of seven Sacramento State alumni to be honored at the Distinguished Alumni Awards, held last month. He received a Distinguished Service Award, given to University graduates who have achieved prominence in their chosen field and brought distinction to Sac State and/or the community through their accomplishments.

Alumnus Garry Maisel to receive President’s Medal at Commencement

Garry Maisel, seen above at an event held this month in his honor, will receive the President’s Medal for Distinguished Service.

When Garry Maisel ’80 (Business Administration) graduated from Sacramento State, he was named the most outstanding undergraduate in finance. It was the first in a long line of honors for Maisel, and at Commencement on Saturday, May 20, he’ll receive another: the President’s Medal for Distinguished Service.

Maisel is the president and CEO of Western Health Advantage, an organization dedicated to improving health care access and affordability, as well as a member of the University Foundation at Sacramento State’s board of directors and the co-chair of the Campaign Leadership Committee.

The President’s Medal for Distinguished Service is awarded at Spring Commencement ceremonies to recognize outstanding service to Sacramento State. The medal is not awarded every year and is reserved for individuals who have made the highest, and most positive, impact on the University.

Maisel also received a Distinguished Service Award from Sacramento State in 2013.

“One of the first lessons I learned at Sac State was, no matter which career field you’re in, it’s your interpersonal communication skills that can set you apart,” he told Sacramento State in 2014. “Occasionally I talk to students and I always stress that you need to be a good communicator in how you interact and deal with people.”

Founded in 1996 by Maisel, Western Health Advantage provides customer service to more than 135,000 members in Northern California and has a current annual revenue of $750 million. The company is regularly featured in the Sacramento Business Journal’s annual list of the top 50 fastest-growing companies.

Maisel personally and professionally supports a number of local organizations, including chairing the board of the B Street Theater and the Health Plan Alliance. He also currently serves or has prior service on several boards, including Women Escaping a Violent Environment (WEAVE), the California Association of Health Plans, the Mercy Foundation, the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, the American Heart Association, the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council, and Valley Vision.

His many honors include the 2015 Humanitarian of the Year Award from UCP Sacramento, the 2014 Executive Leadership Award from Community Link Capital Region, the 2011 Individual Arts Leadership Award from the Sacramento Arts and Business Council, and the 2010 Sacramento Metro Chamber Businessman of the Year.

At Sacramento State, Western Health Advantage has a room named at the University’s Center for Health Professions as a result of its contributions to the Campaign for Nursing.

For more information about Spring Commencement, visit csus.edu/commencement.