Alan Harbitter embodies a spirit that is common for Washington, DC–area alums: entrepreneurship, volunteerism, and a love of learning. Harbitter, a 2002 PhD recipient, has a personal focus and vision that as propelled him to the top of his career. Over the past three decades, he has used his executive and technical management experience to great success. His milestones include building his former company, PEC Solutions, with partners Dave Karlgaard and Paul Rice, into a multi-milliondollar, publicly traded company; and serving as founding chair of the Washington Area Chief Technology Officers’ Roundtable; chair of the University of Maryland College of Computer Mathematics and Natural Sciences (CMNS) Board of Visitors; and treasurer/trustee of The Arc Foundation of Northern Virginia (advocacy for the handicapped) and the Medical Care for Children Partnership Foundation.
Harbitter’s work with Mason and the CS department began well before his PhD program. While at the technology helm of PEC Solutions, he sought out relationships with area universities as a way to find top talent and access to research. “I got the best response from the engineering school and the CS department,” says Harbitter. “The department was eager to work with me and my company.” Over the years, Harbitter’s relationship with and support for the school have grown. He chaired the naming committee for the school, he served on the Advisory Council and the selection committee for the new dean, PEC Solutions endowed an undergraduate scholarship, and the Harbitter Family has endowed a scholarship and has included Mason in two charitable trusts. Additionally, his company provided jobs and internship opportunities to talented students.
However, Harbitter is never satisfied to rest on his laurels. At the time he and his partners were considering taking PEC Solutions public, he also began a PhD programat Mason. “There were ideas and concepts I wanted to explore,” says Harbitter. “I didn’t need the degree to further my career; I wanted the degree to see what I could learn.” He looks back on that time in his life as chaotic: writing his dissertation at the same time he was about to take his company public and raising three daughters. He laughs, saying that he didn’t know what he was thinking but that the experience of the degree was worth more than he could have imagined.
And while becoming Dr. Harbitter didn’t affect his company’s IPO, he says it did affect how his peers viewed him. He recalls times in his life where he needed to be the technology expert on many high-level problems: the smartest person in the room. Having the PhD was a credential that smoothed the path. Harbitter views education as a powerful tool, and Mason’s CS department as a place that lives up to the challenge of preparing students for a technology career—one that is constantly evolving and changing.
In 2005, Harbitter sold PEC Solutions to Nortel Networks Corporation, and he continued on for several years. Nortel filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009, and Harbitter is saddened by its demise but is quick to say that the division that grew out of PEC Solutions has survived and is now owned by Avaya. He has moved on as well. Today, Harbitter runs Harbitter Consulting, LLC, where he works with a hand-selected group of companies that are seeking strategy and planning advice to reach their goals.
Although his work as a business consultant seems far removed from his work as an information security expert, it’s not. Harbitter began his career with an interest in computer and software performance and finding solutions to keep systems running efficiently and securely. Today he is working with business executives to establish business performance and growth solutions. He is enjoying this second career and his ability to apply all that he has learned and achieved to his clients.