Alumni who inspire: Brandon Downey
The Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources the Alumni Who Inspire! Program recognizes alumni for their dedication to their professions, our college and West Virginia University.
Q&A conversation with Brandon Downey
Photos by Isis Moore
"We are very excited to recognize our distinguished alumnus Brandon Downey through our Alumni Who Inspire program," said Cerasela Zoica Dinu, associate dean for student, faculty and staff engagement and coordinator of the program.
The program launched in Fall 2023 to recognize Statler College alumni who demonstrate Mountaineer values, and their achievements as a means to inspire future generations of engineers and computer scientists.
Brandon Downey is the President and CEO of Trilogy Innovations, a minority-owned software and systems engineering firm headquartered in Bridgeport, West Virginia. Graduating with bachelor’s degrees in computer engineering and computer science and a master’s degree in software engineering, Downey spent his career architecting and implementing complex technical solutions for state and federal government agencies, academic institutions and commercial entities ranging from small to large corporations.
Q: Who was an influence in your life?
A: As far as family influences, I grew up in a strong, Black household that lacked a male figure but was blessed with strong, Black women. Among those strong women was my mother, who fueled my inspiration and motivation to make the most of my collegiate opportunity and to apply myself to my fullest potential.
Q: Why did you choose the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources?
A: I enrolled at WVU as a pre-med student in 1996 with aspirations of becoming a doctor, more specifically a surgeon. Growing up in Charles Town, West Virginia, in the 1980s and 1990s, I always gravitated toward the sciences, more specifically, biology and chemistry. Throughout high school, I received multiple accolades in science and mathematics, which culminated into an internship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, West Virginia. There I learned experimentation, research, and, above all, patience. Experimentation requires persistence, especially when trying to prove a hypothesis. At this time computers were very cost prohibitive but, due to the type of research that was being performed, they were pivotal in gaining an understanding of the intricacies of genetic sequencing. The exposure of leveraging computers and software to aid in taming complex ideas had a very profound effect on me, even though that true impact would not be known for years to come.
Q: How did you explore your intellectual and academic interests while at WVU/Statler College?
A: My intellectual and academic interests blossomed while attending WVU/Statler College. At that point in my life, my sense of belonging was non-existent. As an introvert, I spent a large portion of my life isolated in my bedroom trying to make sense of myself and the role I was going to play in my life. Confusion and frustration were everyday emotions. To curtail them, I did the only thing I could and knew how to do at that time — I used academics as a coping mechanism and a distraction.
Growing up in West Virginia, I was not exposed to diversity, other than my family. Throughout primary, middle, and high school years, I was the only child of color in my classrooms 99% of the time. This led to a very skewed perception of myself that took years to unlock. However, WVU represents 115 nations from around the world. From the first day I stepped foot on campus, I made friends from other countries and participated in various student-led organizations and events. It was not until I was exposed to other cultures and other like-minded people that I finally started to understand “me,” which revealed significant potential and exposed life-altering opportunities.
Q: Who was your biggest inspiration as a student and now as a professional?
A: My mother is my biggest source of motivation and inspiration, both then and now. We use the term “sacrifice” too loosely today to describe situations and circumstances. True sacrifice is to surrender one’s own interests to help others advance. I came into my mother’s life when she was 18 years old. As you can imagine, my birth meant that her dreams and aspirations were put on hold or to be never realized. She would never know what it meant to create a curriculum to foster young minds as a teacher. Instead, she found out that working 3 jobs to support her two children meant long hours standing on your feet as a cashier, walking miles on a daily basis as a waitress, or spending more time in a car than she ever did sitting at the dinner table with her family. Even though she is now retired after spending 35 years with the federal government, her sacrifices are still felt and are as real to me today as they were decades ago.
As I push forward and encounter challenges and hardships in my life, I often think about her. I think about her perseverance and willingness to push forward knowing that her life and the dreams she had for herself would never be realized. Therefore, giving up in the presence of hardship would be the ultimate disrespect. Whether it was losing my scholarship after a tumultuous freshmen year, defending my system designs as an architect, or presenting to a board of directors, my mother’s sacrifices allow me to put things into perspective and realize that my manifestation of what I believe is hard pales in comparison to her reality.
Q: Tell us about your professional journey from a software and systems architect to now President/CEO?
A: Transitioning from a software and systems architect to the President and CEO of a technology company is a significant career evolution that involved various challenges and learning opportunities. As an architect, I focused on designing robust, scalable, and efficient solutions. This role required deep technical knowledge, a keen eye for detail, and the ability to foresee potential issues. While working with developers, testers, and other stakeholders, I honed my skills in team collaboration and project management. However, this stage in my professional career was solely technical with limited exposure to broader business strategies.
My transition began with taking on more responsibilities, specifically learning about different aspects of the business, including finance and marketing, which were previously peripheral to my previous role. One of the first challenges I faced was shifting from a technical mindset to a leadership mindset. This meant less focus on technical details and more on guiding teams, making strategic decisions, and understanding technical trends. I had to develop a broader vision for the company's technology approach and align it with business goals. This required a balance between technical feasibility and customer demands.
Now as President and CEO, I’ve once again shifted to strategic decision-making which includes resource allocation, target markets, positioning the company against competitors, fostering a positive corporate culture and leading a diverse team. This involves not only managing the business but also inspiring and motivating a larger workforce.
The journey from a software and systems architect to the President and CEO of a technology company was marked by a significant expansion in scope, responsibilities, and skills. It involved a shift from technical problem-solving to strategic thinking, people management, and understanding the broader market and business landscape. While challenging, this transition offered a unique opportunity to impact the company, local community, and the industry on a much larger scale.
Q: What are the 3 top tips that you would give to students who want to follow in your footsteps?
- As a student, engage in projects that challenge you and expose you to various trends and advancements. The tech industry evolves rapidly, so lifelong learning is crucial. I recommend following blogs, participate in online forums and join communities or meetups. Also, practical experience in real-world projects is invaluable, so seeking internships or part-time roles will help you understand the nuances of technology and business beyond theoretical knowledge.
- Take on leadership roles in student organizations, volunteer groups or team projects. These experiences will help develop essential leadership qualities like decision-making, team management, and effective communication. Thirdly, build a professional network early. Attend industry conferences, seminars and networking events to connect with professionals in your field for they can provide insights, mentorship and opportunities that are invaluable for career growth. Also, seek mentors who have walked the path you aspire to follow. Their guidance, advice, and feedback can be instrumental in helping you make informed career decisions and avoid common pitfalls.
- Be open to change and willing to step out of your comfort zone while learning to handle setbacks and failures positively. They are inevitable but can be valuable learning mechanisms. This is necessary to develop resilience which will help you navigate the challenges of climbing the corporate ladder.
By focusing on these three areas, students can lay a strong foundation for a successful career. Remember, this journey requires patience, hard work, and a willingness to continuously learn and grow.
Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit
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