The Daily Record: Of schools, hackers and Baltimore’s future

By Tom Baden

How to transform schools. Where data hackers lurk. The secret to attracting top talent to your company. Why rebranding Baltimore’s image is a challenge. The importance of collaboration.

Three of the region’s most successful entrepreneurs — Karl M. Gumtow, CEO of CyberPoint, the cybersecurity firm; Todd Marks, the CEO of technology innovator Mindgrub; and David Warnock, senior partner at the private equity firm Camden Partners — offered a free-wheeling assessment of these and other topics at a forum sponsored earlier this month by the Greater Baltimore Committee.

Did we say free-wheeling? Here are some of the more provocative nuggets:

The perils of cybersecurity

The well-documented hacking episodes involving Target and other major private companies certainly have awakened most in the business community to the need for stronger data security, Gumtow said. But businesses have too often been oblivious to the unique security issues posed by shifting much of their data operations to the cloud, he said, where servers share information from a variety of companies. As a result, no matter how strong your own walls and safeguards are, you’re vulnerable.

“When you go into the cloud, you’re not going in alone,” Gumtow said.

Marks pointed out that a better term would be remote hosting on someone else’s servers. “It kills me they call it the cloud,” he said.

The new frontier for cybersecurity operations is less about reactively responding to data breaches and more about providing an aggressive, surgically precise way to build protection, Gumtow said.

Improving schools

All three men agreed that, in Marks’ words, “Education is just ripe for disruption right now.”

Warnock, a founder and trustee of the Green Street Academy in Baltimore, said the effective use of technology in education has barely been tapped. Imagine, he said, a school building that has only teachers — the best in the business — whose lessons are transmitted to classrooms across the entire city.

“The confluence of technology and the ways kids learn is transformational,” Warnock said.

Marks spoke of the energy unleased when technology is better integrated into real learning. As an example, he mentioned his company’s sponsorship of “Code in the Schools’ 2nd Annual Game Jam,” an event held earlier this month at which more than 80 middle and high school students spent 12 hours creating original video games, with their work then judged by software engineers.

How to hire the best people

That’s simple, but also hard, Marks and Gumtow said.

Talent attracts talent, Gumtow said. Establishing a foundation of creative and collaborative employees feeds a cycle of good hires. “Have talent, and talent keeps coming,” he said.

Marks cautioned that the physical environment of the workplace is increasingly important to employees. Drop ceilings, partitioned cubicles and commercial carpeting aren’t going to cut it anymore, but a workplace where employees have light and space and the room to share their enthusiasms will.

“If you build that culture, they will come,” he said.

Net neutrality

The concept that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally is an important one, Gumtow and Marks said. But both were critical of President Obama’s request to federal regulators that they begin the process of exploring what government rules should be applied to the Internet.

“The rich will get richer under regulation,” Gumtow maintained. “Let competition play out. Let it run its course.”

Baltimore’s future

The city is poised for bigger and better things — but with some very big ifs attached, the three said.

Marks said it’s critical for the region to keep homegrown talent. “We need to make sure our young professionals … stick around,” he said.

Local business, political and education leaders need to foster the right climate, Gumtow said. “We need to create the environment of cooperation, not competition,” he said.

Warnock pointed out that companies that have grown and flourished in Baltimore tend to lead to the creation of other successful companies, often spin-offs created by their previous employees. He pointed to T. Rowe Price, where he previously had been a senior executive, as an example.

“There’s no substitute for successful companies,” he said.

Finally, Warnock said, the community needs to shed what he called a “culture of low expectations” where Baltimore’s real problems dwarf its successes.

He noted that a recent survey conducted by his family foundation asked respondents how they would describe Baltimore. Some mentioned the Baltimore Ravens, less than two years removed from a Super Bowl title. Others brought up “The Wire,” the seminal television drama set in Baltimore that depicts the intractable problems of violent crime, feckless leaders and institutions too corrupt or feeble to help their citizens.

By a margin of 7-1, Warnock said, “The Wire” was chosen over the Ravens.

Source: The Daily Record

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