Growing up, alumnus Charlie Sander (B.S. Electrical Engineering 1978) was fascinated with electronic devices. After spending much of his adolescence taking apart radios and televisions, it seemed only fitting he would go on to pursue a degree in electrical engineering from The University of Texas at Austin.

Now, after a successful career in industry holding prominent positions of leadership, he has moved on to a new chapter as co-owner of ManagedMethods, a security software company focused on helping K-12 schools strengthen their cloud-based systems and applications.

We sat down with Charlie to hear his thoughts on the rapidly changing tech industry, the future of remote education, his passion for philanthropy and why he’s proud to be a Texas Engineer.

How does ManagedMethods’ software work, and what is your overall business model working with K-12 schools?

To understand what we do, you first have to understand the cloud. Many organizations use one of the larger cloud applications, such as Google or Microsoft, to house email, data, document creation, colleague interaction and messaging, and video conferencing. Essentially, everything happens within this cloud platform. Because everything is in one central location, security is paramount. It is the responsibility of the cloud platforms to keep hackers out of their infrastructure, but the organization is also responsible for securing its own data and preventing hacks or data leaks. This is where ManagedMethods comes in. We are a security software company where the software is our service, so people subscribe to our service. We partner with organizations, in particular K-12 schools, to help them secure their data and keep their infrastructure free of security breaches. And, since our prime focus is schools, there’s a lot of mischief that can occur with the students that we also must be aware of. They may have inappropriate content housed in files, or there could be bullying, or kids sending signals they might want to hurt themselves. So, we have an added safety element of monitoring possible risks as we help to ensure schools are living up to their side of the security equation.

What led you to become interested in helping K-12 schools, as opposed to government agencies, companies or organizations, understand and control their use of cloud applications?

Back in 2014 when I began to notice the digital transformation of computing and applications moving to the cloud, I recognized there was going to be an incredible opportunity to help companies, institutions, government organizations — whomever — secure their cloud usage. But, as any good business owner knows, there’s power in focus, and if we were going to be successful, we needed to tailor our focus and our product to primarily serve one target market segment. When we asked the question, ‘who or what will be in the greatest need of what we do?’ schools, particularly K-12 schools, immediately stood out. They had adopted these big cloud platforms, but had very limited dollars and IT staff to be able to properly oversee the platforms, and they were, in many cases, in great need for what we could deliver them.

Personally, I wanted to do something that had an impact on kids, teachers and all of the people who are real heroes. Our entire staff felt really good about using leading-edge technology to help makes schools a safer place for administrators, teachers and students.

In such a rapidly paced industry like IT, how do you stay ahead of changing trends and technological developments while still keeping your company relevant to current customer and consumer needs?

To say this past year alone was a challenge would be an understatement, as our school customers suddenly had to figure out how to deliver their learning content remotely. It required years of transformation to happen in a matter of months! Suddenly, what was important from a security point of view changed. In many ways, nobody was prepared for just how rapidly technology had to adapt to the fully remote environment demanded by the pandemic, but we went through rapid, accelerated product development cycles to ensure we were anticipating the needs our schools would have months down the line. It propelled our company; we had our best performance by far during the pandemic. You really have to listen to your customers and prospective customers. What are their pains and what are they going through? And you have to be able to react really quickly, because, as we all witnessed, the world changes so fast.

The coronavirus pandemic brought with it a surge in virtual learning as parents, teachers and students tried to remain safely distant. As we prepare for a post-pandemic world, what unique challenges do you predict schools will face in the coming months and years as virtual learning continues to evolve?

Education is never going to be the same. I think we are starting to prove that education is possible without all of the kids having to be on premise in every class, every day. There is certainly much to be said about the necessity of social interactions, but the possibilities of remote learning have opened up a whole new world of education. And I think that’s going to continue. I think we’ll see more innovative ways of delivering content as time progresses. It’s going to be an interesting world. State-of-the-art technology has finally come to the education world, and that’s really exciting.

How do you measure success for yourself? And, why is it important for you to invest in the next generation of engineering leaders?

I love technology, and I love being able to put a team of people together to take an idea from absolutely nothing to something that makes an impact on the world. That’s what really drives me. To gauge success, I always ask a few questions: ‘Have I made an impact not only on our customers, but also the people on the team? Have I changed their life in some positive way?’

Equally, it’s important for me to give back to an institution that was responsible for giving me my success. I think an engineering education is probably one of the best educations you could ever get, whether you ever work one day as an engineer or not. It prepares people for the critical thinking involved in any career, and we need more people like that as our future leaders.

by Maddie Schulte