Going the distance for career growth

Amy Harding Jessup, a supervisory computer specialist with the U.S. Army's V Corps in Heidelberg, Germany, graduated last month from the National Defense University's Chief Information Officer program—the first student ever to do so after completing all classes online.

The certificate course, sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based university, is conducted in eight one-week sessions, and students are given four years to complete it. Taking the course, Jessup said, has helped her step out of the trees and see the forest.

"You always seem to be focused on your own little piece, your own little day-to-day operations, how you make the stuff that you have today work. You don't do any looking into the future, you don't do any strategic planning, you don't base your investments on what it's going to get you two or three days down the road," Jessup said. "You do what you've got to do today because there's just so much going on around you that you don't have time to look at the long term."

The online classes "are focused on the long-term, big picture vision, and it makes you get your eyes out of your little narrow focus and look at the broad spectrum," she said.

Jessup began her online classes in January 1999, which required her to carve six to eight hours a week out of her schedule, despite having what she describes as a fast-paced, 24-hour-a-day job. Because she is based in Germany, Jessup said she couldn't have taken the course if it were not offered via the Internet.

The Dec. 8 graduation ceremony at the National Defense University's Information Resources Management College was unique on several fronts: Besides graduating its first online student, the college also recognized its largest-ever graduating class of information technology professionals and the first graduates from the Information Systems Security program.

The graduates of the CIO course are part of a community that is becoming a "powerful force" in the federal government, said Robert Childs, director of the Information Resources Management College.

"Working in the CIO community today is an adventure, to say the least. You can see more, do more, learn more and be accused of more than probably any other job," Childs said.

Jessup said she has already begun to put into practice much of what she learned. She has set up a system for measuring V Corps' effectiveness in such areas as operating a help desk and network downtime, implemented long-term strategic planning and ensured that V Corps networks are able to share data with networks owned by the other military services.

Jessup said she wears two hats—chief of the garrison operations division and senior information management adviser. The first job requires her to supervise a team of administrators and managers responsible for running the daily network operations for V Corps headquarters, which includes a staff of about 1,400 people commanded by a lieutenant general.

The second job requires her to establish corpswide telecommunications policies and evaluate IT upgrades to ensure commonality across the corps, including units stationed in Kosovo.

Her first career was in the resource management field, and her first job in Germany was as comptroller in the information management office for the U.S. Army Europe. Jessup became the resident computer expert largely by being self-taught and partly through the good fortune of having supervisors willing to send her to advanced computer courses. She eventually earned a master's degree in information systems management and cast off her comptroller career for a network administrator job. That eventually led to her current position.

Her next career, however, will likely be as a businesswoman.

"Where I want to be is running my own IT company," she said.

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Hobbies: Playing piano and hiking, though not at the same time, and

photography, for which she has earned several awards.

Place of birth: Chambersburg, Pa.

Heroes: Madeleine Albright, whom Jessup says "sets the standards for

what women can do," and photographer Ansel Adams.

Favorite books: Technology books, such as "Growing Up Digital" and "Database

Nation," as well as "how-to" photography books, fantasy by David Eddings

and the Harry Potter series, which she recommends to friends who "take life

way too seriously."

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