Catching Up with Alumni: John Decker
John Decker recently graduated from PNW’s Department of History & Philosophy. Following graduation, John entered the work force and has found quite a bit of success. Recently, John gave us an update on where he’s at in his journey and how PNW helped him.
When did you graduate and what was your degree in?
John: I graduated in May of 2017 with majors in history and political science.
Were you involved in any activities while at Purdue Northwest? If so, what were they?
John: As a student I was heavily involved on campus. My mentor, Professor Joe Bigott, really encouraged this. He always told our cohort how important it was not to be “passive consumers of education,” and I took that to heart. I was always looking for new opportunities for personal growth or to develop new skills.
I was an active officer in both the Phi Alpha Theta and Pi Sigma Alpha honor societies. I was part of PNW’s first delegation to Cuba. I was the first Student Research Fellow for PNW’s Center for Global Studies. I spent a summer in Southern Italy doing refugee work as an independent study. I held multiple part-time positions on campus.
I also spent a lot of time developing mentoring relationships with faculty outside of the classroom. It made for a busy schedule, but I walked away with an education I would put up against that of any small liberal arts college.
What did you want to do with your degree?
John: Honestly, I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree until the semester I graduated. At the time I was not overly concerned with figuring out what field I wanted to work in. For me, it was more about finding “my people” and the culture I wanted to be a part of.
I figured this out through a lot of trial and error. I used to go to a lot of networking events. I was fortunate to meet a lot of great people across a wide array of fields like public policy, academia, real-estate development, politics, marketing, and transportation. I eventually met one of Professor Bigott’s former students, Rich Wheeler, and it all came together. It still cracks me up how that realization just sort of clicked over a beer.
From that point on I knew I wanted to work in the FinTech & payments space. Once I identified who “my people” were, my issue became “how do I earn an opportunity to work with them.”
Where are you working now and what kind of position do you have?
John: I work for a company called CardConnect as an ISV Project Manager. CardConnect is a payment processing and technology company that is part of the First Data Corporation. I started working as an account manager in CardConnect’s Chicago office in early November 2017. My initial role was to help the sales team manage existing merchant accounts, but it quickly turned into a lot more than that.
I was always reading about the payments space and trying to take ownership of additional projects. The more I learned about our technology and the industry, the more I wanted to play a larger role in growing the business. CardConnect’s culture is super conducive to people like that.
After nine months as an account manager I transitioned to my current role as ISV Project Manager. Now I work on a variety of projects within our integrated payments channel. Most of my work is reports driven. I regularly meet with the various teams within the channel to work on pipeline specific reporting. My reporting projects tend to focus on areas like revenue forecasting, product roadmap development, data integrity, etc.
The rest of my work is made up of various business development projects. On a daily basis I get to work with so many different areas of our business. It has been an incredible learning experience for me so far.
Does your degree help with your job?
John: Yes, but not through any history or political science specific knowledge. The real value adds of my degree came in the form of soft skills and indelible life lessons I learned over the course of the program. History and political science just happened to be the best medium for me to learn those lessons.
My ability to write clearly, revise my own work, take criticism, speak publicly, and follow through on projects all grew out of experiences I had during my studies. That said, it takes more than just going to class to develop those skills. My advice to those reading this is to always go the extra mile. Students should develop mentoring relationships with faculty (that means actually going to office hours), participate in conferences, join honor societies, study abroad, get internships, go network, etc.
The reality is that education is one of the most unequal playing fields there is. Going the extra mile and investing time to better yourself is how you overcome that inequity. I am a true believer that the best students from any institution can compete with anyone, anywhere, anytime. You just have to put in the ground work.
Did you have any help from Purdue Northwest faculty or previous Purdue Northwest graduates in finding a job?
John: I did. My mentor, Professor Bigott, introduced me to one of his former students, Rich Wheeler, who hired me at CardConnect.
Have you found a network amongst Purdue Northwest graduates? Or, have you been able to help or assist any other Purdue Northwest graduates?
John: I actually just hired another student, Tyler Wells. He joined the team in early November as an account manager and is doing great things. My colleagues and I have also taken part in some networking events organized by Professor Rincker, Professor Ouyang, and Professor Choudhury.
Can you explain the importance of networking?
John: Networking is one of the most important things our students can do. It was incredibly important for me to meet professionals and figure out who my people were. I got my job through networking. Students should be active on LinkedIn, going to networking events, and seeing what alumni faculty can introduce them to.
Do you have plans to continue your education with post-graduate studies?
John: I do. I am currently looking at MBA programs and studying for the GMAT. I have my eyes on Wharton and Booth right now. Both are great programs and are located near CardConnect offices.
Thank you, John! We appreciate you taking the time to update us on your journey. We hope you have continued success. If you know of any PNW alumni for the Department of History & Philosophy who are having the same kind of success as John, please let us know!