Charlie Howell '06
Director of Strategic Initiatives
See Professional Activities
How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey.
It’s honestly been an odd path — from business school dropout, to counseling school graduate, to a cyber security tech start-up — it’s tough to follow the connections unless you’re looking closely. The honest answer is that I got here by constantly saying yes to the next opportunity, even when it didn’t make sense to the outside world or when it left my resume looking a little sloppy. I just kept saying yes, and it’s been worth the experience each step of the way.
Was there a catalyzing experience that shaped your career?
Leaving business school in the fall of 2010 was a gamechanger for me. I remember sitting in a counselor’s office for the first time in my life, feeling like an utter failure, and having this counselor ask me, “Charlie, do you want to be here?” It was one of the first times in my life that I remember being asked what I truly wanted by someone who had nothing to gain from my answer. I sat back, and after what felt like an eternity, I said,“No, I don’t.” The best advice I can offer others is simply to spend as much time, energy, and money as you can to discover your own path. Read books, write, talk to friends and mentors, but, in the end, the only right path is the one that feels truest to you. Choose that path because, when you’re doing what you love, the money and the satisfaction will be a forgone conclusion.
When providing advice for professional development, what are some tools or resources one should consider?
Distinguishing between personal development and professional development makes it seem as though the two are disconnected — as though my personal life and my professional life belong to two different people. In reality, I don’t think we can disconnect the two. Each of us is only one person, and I think that we have to look at development in this way if we are to squeeze all we can from it.
That being said, my advice for self-development is to talk to as many people as possible: Men, woman, the addicted, the homeless, middle class wage earners, and the high-profile wealthy.
Talk to your office’s executive assistants (most of the time they know more than anyone else), seek out a mentor who you connect with on a deep level, and constantly ask questions. Only when we begin to understand people can we understand the problems they face, how to solve them, and where we best fit into the picture.
How would you recommend someone interested in the same career/vocation pursue a similar path?
Get in front of people over and over again. The best thing you can possibly do is to reach out to decision makers and ask for advice. You simply never know when a conversation is going to lead to a connection that leads to a job.
What are some challenges you face in your industry?
Honestly, the learning curve. Coming in without direct cyber security or privacy experience has meant that I’ve had to catch up in a hurry — I’ve had to learn a new lingo and how to communicate my message in a way that fits the industry. I have quite a few years of experience in writing, but with each new opportunity, I have to closely consider what message will best resonate with my audience.
What do you wish you would have known getting started in your field?
The breadth of the privacy problem. It’s incredible how far behind we are when it comes to protecting American’s privacy online. Seeing it up close and personal has made it clear to me that we need people who are thinking innovatively about privacy protection. In many ways, this is the next frontier.
How could Furman help with getting someone started?
Mentorship programs and internship opportunities in the technology industry.
How has your liberal arts background shaped your career path or supported your success?
My liberal arts education has given me the ability to think critically in a way that has allowed me to confidently enter into a number of different industries. From politics, to education, to counseling, to technology, I’ve been able to find common ground with my co-workers because I have the ability to look at complex problems from many different angles. Getting a liberal arts education set me up to enter any number of professions and do them well because I can think my way to solutions.
Any final advice for students or recent grads?
If you look at your career like it’s supposed to be a straight line from college to “success,” you’re always going to be disappointed. The only people who don’t struggle and fail are those who aren’t taking risks, being creative, and learning from their mistakes. We aren’t our parent’s generation — we’re not expected to find the perfect job out of college and stick with it forever. It’s going to be messy, so let it be messy. Focus on answering impossible questions instead. The world needs those types of people a lot more than it needs perfect résumé.