Alumni Spotlight: Pat Purves

Pat Purves was a member of TLI’s “Covid Class”, graduating from our ST program in 2021. He is an expert in M&A IT integration currently working for Optum, and serves as a helicopter pilot in the Army National Guard. He talked to us about why he chose TLI, what it was like going through the ST program, and how things have been going post graduation.

Q: Hi Pat! Tell me a little bit about your background, where you grew up, and where you did your undergrad work.

A: I grew up with my dad who worked at Radio Shack through the heyday of selling computers in the eighties and the nineties. As a kid growing up in that era, I had every latest and greatest computer model sitting in my house because my dad was out there selling them. And so I got involved in computers really early and knew that's what I wanted to focus by my career on. By the age of 14 I had already started working, and I got to dabble in a lot of different things because I wanted to see what I wanted to do. And when you start that early, you get a lot of opportunities to experience new things.

Q: You ended up working on the IT infrastructure for your own school district, correct?

A: Yes. In high school, I had an opportunity through an apprenticeship program to work for the school’s IT department. I did that for a number of years and then eventually took a position with the University of Wisconsin - Stout, located in the same town. They obviously have deep connections between the two educational institutions. I was able to make some connections on the infrastructure side and got hired by the university.

I figured I could roll that into an acceptance into the school. So I started attending school there at Stout while working and got my undergrad degree. I originally thought that I was going to go into education. I wanted to be a technology teacher. They discouraged me from that path, saying computers weren’t where the future was.

I graduated with a degree in business, fully intending to use my IT background. During school, I decided to double down on my military career. I joined ROTC, took a commission with the Army and so I left IT and went on to fly helicopters for about four or five years. Not necessarily full-time, but with the National Guard in Wisconsin. And it was along that path I reunited with a friend, and fellow TLIer, that pointed me to an opportunity in IT with Optum.

Q: Did you attend any of the info sessions? How did you research TLI?

A: I am more traditionally on the project management side of the house. At the time was working on a security-related project running a team of PMs who were implementing security projects.

That piqued my interest and convinced me to check it out. Two friends from my Stout days were in the program and had great things to say.

I did weigh an MBA versus the ST degree and landed on the technical management side. Also, to be honest, the ST schedule was better for my family.

Q: What parts of the program did you feel were particularly valuable?

A: I’ve thought a lot about this. Breaking down problems to make them manageable, I'm going to say academically was a big thing that I took away from the program, but it's not something that I set out to do.

For me the academic reading and research, plus making connections, purely to learn more about things was pretty cool. Making some connections through what you’re reading -- it sounds stupid when you say it out loud, but when you're reading a book, you never say to yourself, I should just reach out to the author and ask them why they wrote this and what that means to them. My TLI experience taught me that you can do just that and the responses were amazing.

Q: How did being part of our Covid class affect your experience and your expectations?

A: One big advantage for me personally was the remote aspect. When class started, I was deployed on the other side of the world. Covid allowed me to start the program earlier than I had originally planned. That remote aspect was also a disadvantage. I wanted to attend a program in person to network and make connections. Sadly, I have yet to meet everyone in our cohort in person.

Q: Has being in the program changed what you're doing or changed how you view what
you're doing?

A: Day-to-day? Not so much. I integrate businesses as part of the acquisition process. It’s a niche field and for better or worse, I'm going to stick it out like the integration component. From a technology perspective, I have shifted more out of the security realm directly and spend more time on the business side of the house. My capstone helped pinpoint focus for me is that for our business it’s not integration for integration’s sake. It's integration for strategic purposes.

Q: Do you keep in touch with the students or instructors from your cohort?

A: Yes, we do stay in touch that way. In fact, I just got a text message from my small group the other day as somebody was just saying, “Hey, thanks for being there through the program” after two years, that just kind of clicked for them. So we definitely keep in contact.

You also make connections just by having the ST attached to your name. There are only a handful of schools that offer programs like this. Though it’s expanding rapidly, I still run into people who say, “Hey, you have an ST in your signature. Where'd you get that degree?”

Keeping in touch with faculty is great as well. I was really keeping in contact with Steve Webster until he retired. And then Chip [Laingen], I always enjoy getting together with him at the different TLI events.

Q: You and Chip are both helicopter pilots, is that right?

A: We both flew Blackhawks in some variant. Yeah, we always digress into military talk.

Q: Is the company you work for supportive of people who go through the program?

A: They are. There’s quite a few people here at Optum that have attended TLI over the years. I am always surprised to find others through local events or conferences. My leadership team was very supportive of my attendance, even those MOT classes in the middle of Wednesday afternoon. For anyone looking at the program from Optum, I know they adjusted how much they're willing to put towards education post Covid. Combined with the changes at TLI it is
much more manageable.

Q: If someone comes to you and they're considering the ST program at TLI, what would
you say to them?

A: I have coached a number of folks that have approached me on this one. I tell them, where do you want to go in your career? What are the long-term goals? If somebody wants to be technical and really dive into technology, if they want to be security heavy for the rest of their life, that's ST. That's the specialty that TLI brings and the connections that you're going to make.

Quite often, people haven't thought about what they want their career to look like. Not just in the next three years, but in the next 10, 15 years. I don’t necessarily steer them in one direction, but I encourage them to start thinking through and making those decisions of what do they want to do longer term and how TLI can help make that happen.