April 4, 2010

The Power of Giving Back Alumni Spotlight – Derrick Mar

By Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity

The Chief Technology Officer at Varolii Corporation in Seattle, University of Washington alum Derrick Mar (’85) serves as a career mentor for current UW students interested in computer science and technology fields.

For a young DERRICK MAR, all it took was a high school field trip to the Pacific Science Center to solidify his future career goals. “There was a computer there that said ‘Hello Derrick.’ From there I looked into computer science and decided that’s what I wanted to do,” he recalls.

Now the Chief Technology Officer at Varolii Corporation in Seattle and boasting a 20-plus year career in the technology industry, it is evident that field trip was pretty significant for Mar. After graduating with the President’s Achievement Award in computer science from UW in 1985, he went on to earn his MBA from the University of California at Berkeley in 1991 and establish an outstanding career. Mar has led technical and product strategies for organizations such as Microsoft, FrontBridge Technologies, Entercept Security Technologies, IBM, TIBCO and Reuters.

In his position at Varolii Corporation, Mar is responsible for the company’s technology, engineering, operations and customer management functions. While at FrontBridge, he grew the engineering team by nearly 300 percent and supported an increase from 15 million to 300 million emails processed through the company’s data centers per day in less than 12 months.

When Mar looks back at what propelled him to success, he starts with his undergraduate experience at UW. Knowing he was going to be challenged by a difficult major, Mar used the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity (OMA&D) Instructional Center to stay ahead of the game as a freshman. Mar greatly benefited from mentoring he received, especially in terms of the guidance he was given for potential careers in computer science and what working in that particular field might be like. Towards the end of his undergraduate work, Mar then served as a tutor himself, mentoring other young freshmen who were in his same situation. Just a college student at the time, he was already able to recognize the power of giving back.

“Not only was it some additional income, it was a way for me to stay in touch with new freshmen coming through the door and be able to help them through their computer science and other engineering programs,” Mar said.

After his graduate work at Cal, Mar remained in the Bay Area for quite a few years, only to return to Seattle again in 2005. He has always wanted to continue to give back, and now in the area once again, he is making it a priority. Mar served as a career mentor for the OMA&D and UW Alumni Association’s Diversity Networking Reception, Jan. 27.

“Going back to UW and being able to talk to students who are deciding what they want to do with their career was rewarding because it’s a way to give back to the community,” Mar said. “I could see the spark in the student’s eye when I talked about my personal experience and what I went through in my career to get to where I am now. I enjoy that because I was able to show them what is possible. I went through a lot of tough times because of my personal situations and now looking back I say, wow, I did that. I couldn’t have done that without the support from the programs and the people at UW. I wish more folks could get the support I got when I was there and that is the reason I want to contribute my time when the opportunities arise.

Mar will also participate in the third of a three-part series of expert panel discussions hosted by OMA&D that bring diverse alumni and community members to campus to share their advice and experience with UW students. The spring panel, expected to be held sometime in April, will feature experts in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.”

Most likely a topic of discussion will include the National Science Foundation grant program called the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) that is focused on increasing the number of degrees earned by underrepresented minority students in science, technology, engineering and math majors. This is an issue that hits home with Mar for a few reasons. While the those industries will definitely benefit from having more minorities contributing to those fields, Mar thinks the impact will hold even more significance for the students themselves.

“I like to look at this opportunity from the other way around – how this will have an impact on the lives of the students,” he said. “It shows someone cares enough about their future and paving their way to help build a career in industries that typically do not hold much of a minority presence. For example, often times when I’m in a board meeting, I typically would be the only Asian in that meeting so the significance of this program is really changing the lives of the students to show them what is possible. Of course, at the end of the day we can have our cake and eat it too. What it means to the industry will be a better product by having people from different backgrounds – ethnic, economic and educational – contribute.”

It is evident the technology industry is already better for having a University of Washington alumnus like Derrick Mar contributing to his field and giving back to his community.

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