Keith Sturgill ('86)
Retired Chief Information Officer
Eastman Chemical Company
Class of ’86
I grew up in Wise, Virginia, a small town in the coal country of southwest Virginia. As I was graduating high school, I was trying to decide what I wanted to do. My dad gave me two pieces of advice: 1. Get a degree 2. Get a degree in something that will allow you to get a job after graduation.
After minimal research, I thought computer science sounded like a reasonable choice. In the early 80s, computers were not commonplace. I made the decision to major in computer science without having actually touched a computer. I know, hard to believe.
Fast forward a few years and I used what I learned in Blacksburg to eventually assume the position of Global Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Eastman Chemical Company. I never really aspired to be the chief information officer of a Fortune 250 company - it just happened. I was blessed to be in the right place at the right time. In the first half of my career, I aspired to be the best technical person in my field. Anything that I viewed as not supporting that goal, I resisted strongly. I was not open to other, broadening opportunities. One day in late 1999, my boss at the time chose to take early retirement and I was asked to fill in as the manager of the group for a short period of time. I agreed and the next seven years were a whirlwind! I was changing jobs every few months until I was named CIO in July of 2007. This is not a path I would recommend to anybody. The responsibilities of the CIO continually grew during my tenure as the role of technology grew within industry. After 11 years in this position and 32 years at Eastman, I chose to move to the next chapter of my life - retirement.
Since then, my wife Linda and I have continued to live in Kingsport, Tennessee, and we both love to travel and experience the outdoors.
How did the department equip you for the ‘real world’?
Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science taught me to think critically and to solve problems by looking at an issue from different perspectives. I gained the confidence that even though I might not know the answer right off the bat, I could eventually figure things out. I also learned about accountability and the values of hard work and taking personal responsibility for results. I also participated in the co-op program which was a great decision for me as it gave me real world experience as well as helping me fine tune what I wanted to do in that first professional job. I learned as much about what I didn’t want to do as I did about what I wanted to do.
Being a Virginia Tech alumnus means…
Virginia Tech is a great university with a strong brand. I am proud to call myself an alumnus.
Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) means something - it’s not just a slogan. I feel challenged to make a difference in the world.
My fondest memory of my time in the department is…
My freshman year at Virginia Tech was challenging from an academic perspective. I had never worked harder in my life. A defining moment of my life occurred on the Drillfield in the winter, with the temperature near 0 and wind blowing 1,000 mph at 2 am. I was going to the computer lab to work on an assignment. I stopped and remember thinking, I’m actually paying to do this! It’s cold, windy, and I’m tired. I had a choice to make: Would I continue to make my way across the Drillfield or would I turn around back to my dorm room and figure out something else to do with my life? Thankfully I continued across the Drillfield to the computer lab. It was in that moment that I committed to getting this degree, no matter what!
My favorite place I’ve traveled is…
The South Island of New Zealand. My wife and I were able to walk the Milford Track in 2016. Absolutely stunning! Followed closely by Alaska, then snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park. My wife and I love the great outdoors.
My advice for future leaders in computer science is...
- Stay Curious: Be a proactive learner and be open to new and broadening experiences.
- Deeply understand the organization you work for: Understand the uniqueness of how your company makes money and how technology can enhance how your organization serves the market place.
- Don’t shy away from senior leadership opportunities: Just because you are technically excellent, doesn’t mean you can't make an excellent people leader as well.