Each month, BN360, the young professional engagement and development program of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, sits down with one of its Spotlight Professionals to get to know them and to understand how they came to be where they are today. We recently talked with Jeff Rathmann, the BN360 Spotlight Professional for September 2019.
From his start as a Systems Engineer to his work with the U.S. Department of Defense and then to his current position as CEO of Silo City IT, Jeff has had an interesting and somewhat non-traditional career path. Read our interview below to learn just how Jeff’s passion for all things IT led him on the journey to starting and running his own company.
Q: Jeff, where did it all start?
Jeff: The simple answer, when my family got our first computer. I was in middle school. Right then and there I started on a tract of self-learning when it came to all things computer-related.
Q: Where did your journey lead after you discovered your interest in computer technology?
In high school, I had the opportunity to further pursue my interest in computers through the Potter Road program in Cisco networking. For me, this was a foundational experience in exactly what area of computer science I wanted to study. It had to be network security.
After high school, I continued my pursuit of computer science at St. Bonaventure University. It was at St. Bonaventure that I had the opportunity to not only learn, but to also teach. My areas of interest with network security and programming—not data science—were on the forefront of technology for the time. It was also at St. Bonaventure that I got exposure to entrepreneurialism through a tech lens. Beside studying computer science, I was heavily involved in SIFE, which is now ENACTUS. SIFE was a student-lead business focused organization focused on improving the quality of life for people in need. During my time at St. Bonaventure University my focus was primarily on programs to provide relief and improve the standard of living for people in the Bahamas. Engaging with SIFE taught me some of the most valuable skills of my young adulthood. Not only did I learn a lot from the other students and the people we worked with, but I also realized that through my own life experiences, I too had something to contribute.
When I finished college, I wanted to stay in the Buffalo Niagara region but jobs in IT were hard to find at the time. I am so pleased that isn’t the case today. For the next 10 years, I would call Maryland home as I pursued a career in network security supporting the Department of Defense and in other capacities. Today, I am proud to be back in Buffalo again, and grateful for the opportunity to return home and continue doing what I love.
Q: How has your family impacted your career path?
My dad worked at the same machine shop for 30 years, and he went on to buy that very shop. Started in 1897, the shop is still operating today! My dad’s own career path was an inspiration to me. He instilled values of entrepreneurialism at a young age and showed me that a path to self-proprietorship was possible. My parents worked hard to teach me the importance of volunteerism and to give me experience to develop practical skills. It was these very skills, coupled with a wealth of IT experience, that have allowed me to serve the underprivileged populations in the Bahamas in unique ways. Being in the tech field today means constant inundation of information. Now, I rely on my family to be the centralizer, to help me find a work-life balance (or try to at least), and I work hard to appreciate every moment I have with my wife and kids.
Q: What have been the greatest transitional moments in your career?
While in Maryland, I left a really large organization to join a small company that more closely aligned with my career interests and ambitions. It was with that small company that I spent several years traveling the world constantly learning new skills, building life-long relationships, and pursuing my career in network security. It was nerve-racking to make the transition and to have faith that it was the right next step in my career.
Conversely, after nearly constant travel for many years, it was also incredibly difficult to settle back into a more stationary role. The pace of work is completely different, and you have to re-align your expectations of productivity and success.
Life is a series of transitions. Things are and will constantly be changing. The best way to navigate transition is to stop, step back, and gain perspective. Experiences build on one another, and as you learn and grow, your path is influenced. In the moment, you can’t always see the A to B, but when you step back you can gain some clarity.
Q: What is the most valuable skill you have learned?
Many skills cannot be taught in a classroom; they must be learned from experiences. Some good, some bad. Curiosity and diligence have been two of the greatest aids in getting me to where I am today. You have to constantly be pushing yourself.
On a more practical level, being able to develop and foster connections is invaluable. Being a business owner now, I am constantly working through struggles and gaining understanding to do and be better. My connections have been invaluable in that process of growth and development.
This content was produced in collaboration between Buffalo Rising and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. The facts and opinions published in Buffalo Rising express solely the thoughts and opinions of our respective authors.