Irene Dec Irene Dec
Vice President, Information Systems
The Prudential Insurance Company of America

Irene Dec, vice president, Information Systems, joined Prudential in 1981 in Information Systems. Currently, Dec is Prudential's Year 2000 Program Manager, leading Prudential's Year 2000 Company-wide Program Office, which includes all Prudential systems, infrastructure, and external relationships with clients and business partners.

In 1998 Dec was named one of "25 IT People to Watch" by ComputerWorld and selected as one of 26 "Intriguing Woman of New Jersey Business" by Business News. Dec was also one of the first three honorees inducted into the Year 2000 Hall of Fame (sponsored by SPG Conferences & Expositions and the Society for Information Management). She was also profiled in the 1999 Women in Science and Technology Month, sponsored by Women in Technology International. Dec has presented at over sixty Year 2000 conferences and seminars and consulted with other major U.S. companies and government agencies. She has been quoted in publications and technical magazines including Beyond Computing, CIO, ComputerWorld, InformationWeek, PC Week, and Year/2000 Journal. She has appeared on ABC's World News Tonight and on CNN News discussing Year 2000 issues.

Dec received her BS and MS in mathematics from Montclair State University, New Jersey. Before joining Prudential, her previous work experiences included teaching mathematics, both at a high school and at a college level. Dec is a member of the World Future Society, Project Management Institute, ACM Association for Computing Machinery, NAFE National Association for Female Executives, and IEEE Association for Computing.

1. What was your first job in technology?
I started my career in technology at Prudential as a COBOL programmer. However, my first job was as an educator. I taught mathematics at both high school and college levels.

2. Who has been your most significant mentor? Why?
Grace Murray Hopper is a person that I very much admire. Hopper made significant contributions to the field of computer programming: she conceptualized the notion of code libraries, developed the first compiler, and was instrumental in developing COBOL. But besides her influence in the world of technology, Hopper was absolutely committed to young people. She often remarked that youth are our future, and considered that her most important job was educating young people.

Albert Einstein is also someone that I respect highly. He once said, "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." This is an excellent description of how Prudential managed the Year 2000 project. We not only addressed being "Y2K ready," but also looked long-term for implementing processes and obtaining strategic opportunities.

3. What has been your greatest challenge and what strategies did you use to overcome obstacles?
My greatest challenge was managing the company-wide Year 2000 project for Prudential. Year 2000 was the largest and most challenging project that Information Technology has ever faced.

Year 2000 remediation presented many challenges that had to be addressed. When the project was begun at Prudential with strong executive support, I set up a central program office to manage the project across Prudential's several lines of business in order to ensure a consistent approach and methodology. One of the early challenges was getting an accurate profile of the application, infrastructure, and business partner inventories. Processes were put in place to gather this information, assess Year 2000 readiness, implement project plans, and track progress against plan through the use of rigorous metrics. Contingency plans had to be identified, coordinated, and prepared in case systems experienced Year 2000 problems. A Year 2000 Global Control Center was established within Prudential's existing Operations and Control Center to serve as the single point of contact for reporting all Year 2000 problems and driving them to resolution. Tight project management, timely resolution of problems, and rigorous metrics to track progress against plan helped Prudential's Year 2000 program to achieve its goals.

4. Who has been the most influential person in your life? Why?
My parents are the most influential people in my life. They taught me the value of hard work and accomplishment. Both my parents considered learning and education very important. My parents had come from Poland after World War II. As a first generation American student, I was encouraged to study harder and learn more. My father often told me to "learn something new every day." Because of their example, I believe that if you go after your dreams, you can accomplish whatever you set out to do.

5. What lessons have you learned that would be valuable to women beginning their careers in technology?
I advise women to take advantage of the opportunities that Information Technology offers and will continue to offer in the global market. There are excellent opportunities for women today in the fields of science and technology; their skills are needed. It is important for women thinking about a technology career to develop their math and science skills. They need to believe in themselves, in their qualifications and capabilities, and then they need to go after their dreams. The world of technology and the ability to enable successful business through technology require "brain power," which implies that women, who represent approximately fifty percent of the population, must be equally represented as technology leaders and resources.

6. What new technology do you believe will have the most positive impact on the world in the next 20 years? The most negative impact?
I think that the most positive impact will be made by e-commerce. Technologies that enable Internet and mobile computing services for customers, that allow them to gather research information, trade securities online, receive insurance quotes, check their credit card balances, find a home, and manage their retirement accounts will change the way business is conducted throughout the world.

The most negative impact will be caused by a lack of security in technological environments. New strategies and rigorous standards are required.

Over the next ten or twenty years, I expect to see a concentrated and mandatory approach toward application development methodology and processes. I suspect that Information Engineering will achieve the engineering discipline required to enable business success.

On a lighter note:

1. If you could have dinner with any 2 people (living or not), who would they be?

Grace Murray Hopper

2. What was the last book you read? What books do you love to recommend?
I tend to read philosophy, science, and business books. I recently finished reading Dava Sobel's book, "Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time." It's the story of an eighteenth-century clock maker, John Harrison, who worked out a solution to the problem of determining longitude at sea. He built the first successful chronometer and continued improving his invention throughout his life.

3. If you were to choose a different profession, what would it be?
I would return to teaching. I am deeply committed to education and working with students. I enjoy helping other people learn the skills they need to carry them through life. Young people today need good mentors, who understand the world of business from the inside, who can challenge them to be their best by helping them identify their skills and talents and develop them for competition in the global marketplace.

4. What is your definition of success?
Success is:
Personally: Being happy and peaceful in mind and spirit.
Business: Implementing and driving business directions at near "the speed of light."

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