DOD 'change agent' heads west to Sun

DOD 'change agent' heads west to Sun

Former Defense systems director kept his government work interesting by enforcing common sense

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

Bill Vass, who once quit the private sector to become a self-described change agent inside the government, has reversed course back to the business world.

Vass left the Defense Department in July after seven years in technical posts. He said he might have stayed at the Pentagon another three years if his wife's job change hadn't led to a 3,000-mile relocation.

In August, he started work as vice president of information technology operations for Sun Microsystems Inc. in the heart of California's Silicon Valley.

Sun Microsystems vice president
Bill Vass says he's proud of his work on DOD's year 2000 effort.

Vass, whose last Defense job was as director of technical services for command, control, communications and intelligence in the office of the department's deputy chief information officer, noted one major difference between the Pentagon and Sun.

Instead of hearing, 'You can't do that,' Vass said he's more likely to hear, 'How can we do that?'
Texas beginnings

Vass has spent two decades in the technology world. He worked his way through Texas A&M University in a variety of programming jobs and graduated in 1984 with a double major in computer science and geology.

Before his DOD stint, Vass worked in the oil and defense contracting industries.

'As a contractor I'd watch the government do a lot of what I would consider stupid things,' he said. 'So I made a promise to myself that if I went to work for the government, any time I saw them doing something stupid, I would fight against it. That made my career pretty interesting.'

He started off in the Army as a systems analyst and was promoted to technical director at the Personnel Information Systems Directorate of the Total Army Personnel Command in Alexandria, Va.

Once he joined the deputy CIO's office at the Pentagon, he wore many hats. He was CIO for systems within the Pentagon and had a large hand in DOD's year 2000 effort.

Although Defense had to fix about 200 date-related glitches in its systems in the first week of 2000, nothing happened that affected the general public, Vass said. Plus, there was a side benefit: Defense CIOs learned how to work together.

He also worked on creating class libraries'sets of software routines used in object-oriented programming'for the Army. He spent much of his time migrating applications from mainframes to client-server architectures.

Secure job

Vass participated in enterprise software licensing, computer policy issues and implementing security technologies such as smart cards and public-key infrastructures.

Earlier this year, family circumstances changed his plans to stay at DOD for another three years. His wife accepted a job as chief executive officer of an IT company in the San Francisco area, and the two decided they didn't want to be a bicoastal couple.

Vass said he 'interviewed with a lot of great companies' in California before finding the post at Sun. Although it is a much smaller organization than DOD, it has 'about as much pressure as DOD, and you're working a lot of hours,' Vass said.

'The folks at Sun are extremely smart and extremely capable,' he added.

Vass suspects that some of the projects he championed while at Defense, especially IT organizational policy issues, will lose steam now that he's moved on.

For example, he and colleagues were creating a knowledge management tool for DOD's IT professionals, 'and I think that has lost focus since I've left,' he said.

Even so, Vass said he enjoyed working at DOD and was 'excited and honored to serve our troops. I didn't run away screaming to the first [employer] who gave me money.'

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