Dee Childs is a student of philosophy. As a young woman, she had a “strong sense of adventure, grit, and a little bit of rebelliousness” about her.
“I ran away from home when I was eighteen, and I moved to England to study philosophy, Roman and Briton archaeology, and art—you know, primarily the humanities. I never dreamed that I would be in IT; that was the furthest thing from my mind!” Childs recalls with a laugh.
After pivoting toward an interest in programming and landing roles at several universities, Childs is now at Texas A&M University, leading cybersecurity efforts and multicloud strategies as vice president of IT and chief information officer.
Cracking the Career Code
Though her studies in philosophy fulfilled a personal interest, Childs found it difficult to start a career after college. “It turns out, I was absolutely I was unemployable,” she says with a laugh. Childs then cycled through an assortment of odd jobs. “I went and picked apples in Wisconsin, I cleaned people’s swimming pools, I worked for some lawyers, I sold vegetables out of a truck,” Childs lists. “I even had my own one-person dairy farm.”
Then, one day, a friend of Childs called her up with a proposition. The friend was starting her own business and required a secretary. Childs obliged and began that job, which led to responsibilities that required getting familiar with a computer. Intrigued, Childs found herself faced with custom codes and a need to understand them in order to be able to troubleshoot or problem-solve.
“Very quickly, I was able to pick up and understand this code. It just felt logical to me,” she explains. “One day, I picked up a manual and said, ‘I bet I could write one of these programs,’ and I could. I could make the computer sing and dance for me.”
Her newfound interest in programming led her to return to school and pursue information technology as a career. When Childs graduated for the second time, she didn’t have the same trouble getting hired as before.
“Pretty soon after I was offered a job and became the first female in a teeny IT office that was part of a biomedical firm,” she says.
This was the beginning of a career that complemented her aforementioned sense of adventure and combined her first love, philosophy, with her later interest in technology.
“I think that has been part of the key to success in my career: a bit of fearlessness and a bit of that philosophy that says everything is founded on asking questions and discovering solutions,” she reflects.
Childs built her information technology expertise within the higher education space with roles at Indiana University, Louisiana State University, and the University of Alabama–Huntsville before landing her current role at Texas A&M about three years ago.
As VP of IT and chief information officer, Dee is focused on carrying out “the respectful mission at the university, which is to care deeply about people’s privacy and what that means to them.” When it comes down to it, Childs is in charge of cybersecurity efforts and multicloud strategies for the university, and to Childs, this aforementioned mission “extends into protecting the intellectual data assets of the university.”
For example, when the university conducts medical research or research on water quality or agriculture, the intention of the university is to use this research in a beneficial way.
“If the wrong people have access to our research, it limits our impact,” Childs explains. “This isn’t always particularly at the front of people’s minds, but we have to protect these precious intellectual properties, and that’s why cybersecurity is so important.”
“If I see something as an obstacle for other women within this field, I feel as if I can offer myself to provide guidance and advice.”
In addition to heading the university’s cybersecurity efforts, Childs is also focused on initiatives such as Aggie Cloud and Next Generation Aggie. “The idea with Aggie Cloud is to provide an excellent shared service for the campus composed of virtual servers and storage environments,” she says. “The benefit of that environment is that we can achieve those higher levels of privacy and cybersecurity.”
Childs’s leadership of Texas A&M’s cybersecurity efforts draws praise from Palo Alto Networks’ Mary Lou Prevost. “She has assembled a highly competent and capable team and empowered them to make her cybersecurity vision a reality,” says Prevost, vice president of SLED for the western region of the US at Palo Alto. “Her passion for mentoring the next generation of leaders is unmatched.”
Within a male-dominated field like IT, Childs is an advocate for mentoring women working in the IT function. “I try to be empathetic with other women, and I want them to be successful in whatever way that is meaningful to them,” she explains, “but if I see something as an obstacle for other women within this field, I feel as if I can offer myself to provide guidance and advice.
“The beautiful thing about this, beyond helping women in my field,” she continues, “is I have developed lifelong relationships.”
This past year, Childs started a mentorship program for IT professionals at Texas A&M. “I love seeing people make meaningful connections,” she says. “It’s wonderful to be a part of it.”