Ep 54: Rita Barrios: Managing Massive Projects a Byte at A Time


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Diva Tech Talk interviewed Dr. Rita Barrios, Chair for the Department of CyberSecurity and Information Systems, and Associate Professor, at the University of Detroit, Mercy (http://www.udmercy.edu/) graduating approximately 150 trained technology professionals each year.

Rita said: “My Dad was always my biggest supporter.” The 7th child of 8 siblings in her “very strict” family, Rita admitted that she was “a little on the geeky side” in her high school years. She entered the Detroit College of Business, specializing in accounting, but dropped it in favor of a technology major. She got married, and gave birth to a daughter during her senior year of college. Rita’s several internships during that senior year (when her daughter was 6 months old) were at the Grand Trunk Western Railroad (gtw.railfan.net/), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Canadian National Railway (https://www.cn.ca/). After graduation, she became a full-time employee as a junior programmer.

Grand Trunk’s IT department was eventually bought by Compuware (www.compuware.com). Rita was promoted from junior programmer to project manager (“a huge leap”). Her first large challenge was a two-year international EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) project among three cross-border entities, automating the manifest for U.S. Customs to enable trains to cross borders without stopping. She credited her immediate management for empowering this next career phase. “Anything we needed, they made sure we had.” The secret to the success of that project was digging into the details rather than becoming overwhelmed by the totality of the undertaking. “I took it a bite (byte) at a time!”

Rita’s next step was as a Compuware contractor to Ford Credit (https://www.ford.com/finance) to maintain their legacy information systems, going from programmer to senior DBA. Rita also obtained her Masters of Science in Information Systems, Software Assurance at the University of Detroit, Mercy; then later completed her PhD in information science, with a focus on security assurance and cybersecurity at Nova Southeastern University (http://www.nova.edu/). “An opportunity came where I could move to academia,” Rita said. “ That’s how I landed at Detroit, Mercy.” Additionally, she received certifications from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg University, School of Public Health in data specialization, and a certificate in criminal justice and law enforcement from the FBI Detroit Citizens Academy.

A single mom for 14 years, Rita is justifiably proud of her two children. “I have a daughter, now working on her PhD in Material Engineering. And I have a son, going into digital media and graphics arts.” Rita is also excited about her own cybersecurity field. “We teach is how to do investigations, how to do digital forensics/hacking. We partner with the Criminal Justice Program because you cannot have a crime without some digital piece to it, these days, and look at it from the criminal point of view. We also partner with the law school, talking about cyberlaw. “

Rita’s specialty has spun off into a side business. She runs an IT training and education consultancy, RitaBarr LLC (www.ritabarr.com) specializing in corporate IT training, and also partners with Mackinac Investigators on digital forensics investigations. “At some point, I would like to grow the business.” Ever-ambitious, Rita is also looking forward to moving to the “business side” of academia, at some point.

Along the way, Rita said that “I have always been the only female in the room.” As an example, “I presented research at the Department of Defense to a bunch of military people, who were all guys. Coming up through IT, I was the only female, but I have never felt like the only female. I was never discriminated against.” This feeling changed though “when I went to the University.” There she experienced “over-talking, interruption, all of it. I have been told by my colleagues that I better ‘know my place, young lady, ’ ” she lamented. Rita recommended her approach to deal with this negative phenomenon. “I am very professional. I go into a very robotic mode, very stoic. I lay out the facts with no emotion. I plan to say.“

Rita’s focused leadership lessons/advice currently include:

  • “Spend time to get to know people. Find out their strengths, and where they belong.”
  • “Bring the best people around you; then get out of their way.”
  • “If you think about it --- that the project’s too big --- you will not achieve what you want to achieve. So, whatever comes, just take it in.”
  • “Stay flexible. There is nothing you can’t overcome; nothing is impossible.”

And summing up: “There are no shortcuts.” For Rita, success is always about hard work.

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72 episodes available. A new episode about every 18 days averaging 33 mins duration .