Debra A. Pierson

Owner/CEO, Pierson Computing Connection, Inc.

When Pierson Computing Connection, Inc., configured and delivered netbooks to 34,000 students in the devastated city of Detroit, Pierson saw it as an opportunity to help transform a generation of children “that was basically forgotten.”

“To go into these schools and see teachers buying ink cartridges for these old inkjet printers – dedicated teachers – and then to hand technology to them was pretty exciting,” says PCCi founder Debra Pierson.

Pierson founded PCCi in 1993, taking advantage of a buyout from IBM to put her personal standards of excellence into practice. Her husband, Jeff, was – and remains – instrumental in supporting the venture and their family of two daughters; one a cyber schooled high school sophomore playing lacrosse for Cumberland Valley School District, and the other a Hofstra University freshman studying industrial engineering.

Today, PCCi employs nearly 50 people and specializes in infrastructure installations, project management and project staffing. Pierson chairs the Greater Pennsylvania Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, and PCCi is a founder’s circle supporter of Dress for Success South Central PA.

What is the role of technology in education?

Teachers are the key, even with technology. Back when we went to school, the teacher was lecturing, and we were off in space somewhere. This generation of kids, they’ve grown up with a LeapPad in their cribs. Imagine the engagement of those kids in a classroom with no electronics, and then put in an electronic whiteboard where they can manipulate images and formulas and see the change immediately. The change in engagement is incredible.

So it’s a tool?

It is a tool, and teachers can use it well. It’s just like computers and televisions. They can be used as a tool, or they can be used as a babysitter, or they can not be used at all, and there’s a balance to it.

What other jobs are you doing?

We’re doing work in wireless technology. Schools are considering letting students bring their own devices, and adding to their networks adds complexity to security and management, plus the amount of space required on a wireless network. We’re also doing wireless work for the state, because clients are asking for wireless access.

When you started, did you ever envision all this?

I really didn’t. It was one foot in front of the other. Five years ago, we weren’t doing any work outside of Pennsylvania, but we expanded from Maine to South Carolina and west to Michigan by expanding our vision – opening our minds to saying yes instead of no. Now, our new strategic plan expanded our vision to be a global company with focus on the eastern United States. No sooner did we do that than we got a call asking if we could do a wireless site survey in Canada. It’s amazing how, when you expand your vision and start looking, opportunities arise.

I’m passionate about helping those who are having difficulty getting on their own feet, rather than getting handouts forever.

What kind of corporate philosophy have you tried to instill?

I try to treat my employees the way I would want to be treated. If I enjoy a benefit, how can my employees have this benefit, like being able to take off time for a kid’s concert, or having flexible work schedules to meet the needs of a sick child? Our corporate culture is also committed to excellence for our customers. For instance, when we install a board and projector in a classroom, there’s a lot of cardboard. One customer recently said that no one else they’ve dealt with puts the cardboard in the cardboard dumpster. Therefore, their IT staff cleans up after installers. Their IT staff is too highly paid and has too much going on to deal with cardboard.

What are your daughters learning from seeing this growth?

It’s interesting, because both have written essays about this. Elizabeth wrote one last year about how she now recognizes that the sacrifices we made and the hard work that I do is worth it. Both have worked here, and my 19-year-old was able to put CNC (computer numerical controlled) machine operator on her resume, from working at my husband’s machine shop. Now, she has her first internship at a manufacturing plant in Hanover. A couple of departments actually fought over her.

I see dog toys on the floor. You have an office dog?

That’s Annie, our miniature schnauzer. I didn’t bring her today because I’m out and about all afternoon and then go to an evening event. She’s really sweet. Everybody loves to have her here.

How has PCCi gotten involved in civic affairs?

We have four full-time team members who have or had family members with dementia. My director of project operations, her dad just died recently of dementia, and the last month she was off pretty much full time to be with her mother, who had done several years of almost 24/7 caregiving. It’s a cause I’m passionate about because we have young onset in my family. My maternal grandmother and her twin sister, and two aunts and an uncle have died from the disease, all in their 50s.

What is your goal in your Alzheimer’s work?

People who work for the Alzheimer’s Association want to put themselves out of a job. My lifetime goal is to eradicate the disease. At this point, it’s the only leading cause of death that has no cure or any medicine that halts the progress. The biggest thing I work on besides raising money and awareness is government funding. As a nation, we spent $1 billion on AIDS research and less than $200 million on Alzheimer’s research. We need to move some money from diseases that we’ve essentially covered to a disease that’s going to cripple us as a nation. We spend more money every two days on Medicare for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients than we do annually on research to fix it. But it really is a silent disease. Caregivers spend 24 hours a day taking care of someone. They’re not going to get on the phone to their congressman saying give us more money. And when they’re done caring, they want to spend time with their kids and grandkids.

How did you get involved with Dress for Success?

I’m passionate about helping those who are having difficulty getting on their own feet, rather than getting handouts forever. It’s important to help women turn their lives around by providing them with what they need. Dress for Success does more than the interview suits. They provide training and help to keep jobs. I’m passionate about increasing the value of women in our community. It’s helping them get and retain jobs. Jobs are our economy. The more jobs we have people in, the better our community.

How do you define the value of women?

Almost everything I do is about that. We carved out a part-time project for a wonderfully skilled project manager after she had left to start a family because that’s an investment in her value. This whole thing of stay-at-home moms versus working moms – that’s a bunch of crap. Everybody makes choices based on their financial circumstances, their values. I would not have been a good stay-at-home mom. Many women work in volunteer positions who wouldn’t have the time if they were in careers. The choices are right for everybody at the time they make them. Everybody should have the freedom to make those choices.