A nontraditional pathway. Dropping out of college, working for NASA, starting a company with Elon Musk’s brother Kimbal, and more— this Colonie Alum and class of ‘98 graduate Reg Harnish recently spent the afternoon with Mr. Casey’s technology 101 students sharing about his unique pathway to success.
“I’ve known Mr. Harnish since we were adolescents,” Casey said. “I wanted him to come to the classroom so that my students could see the potential of where their lives can go with the skills they are learning today. If they are passionate about what they are doing, they can take it as far as they want.”
Passion and life
There comes a time in life when passion comes into play and the influence of others can change the trajectory of your life. For Harnish, his passion began at a very young age.
In his conversation with CCHS tech students, Harnish shared how his interest in computers began through the influence of his grandfather. “My grandfather was the ‘OG’ of nerds,” Harnish said. “He was a television repairman and would give me access to the machines he was finished working on. At age 13, he gave me my first computer and that changed my life.”
With a computer and a dream, Harnish began working full time by the age of 18 writing code. “I was making more money than my parents while I attended RPI,” he said.
However, during Harnish’s sophomore year, he got kicked out.
“From there I went on to work for a top-secret federal agency that has the letters NSA in it,” Harnish said. “Yes, I worked for NASA, analyzing pixels. It was boring,” he shared with the students.
After that, Harnish moved to Raleigh followed by Santa Fe, where he worked at his first start-up.
He continued to pursue his passion for years working in the technology sector. Eventually, Harnish moved to NYC where he partnered with Kimbal Musk (Elon Musk’s brother) to create his first software company, FunkyTalk, a cloud-based video editing site.
“We couldn’t get the funding we needed,” he said. “So, we decided to call it quits and we sold the company.”What Harnish learned from that experience was that he could build a scalable profitable business. He moved back to Albany where he would power through to success. He served for years as the chief technology officer of Autotask. It was there that Harnish discovered the value of cybersecurity.
“In 2002, I went through a cybersecurity audit and there was nothing out there. No one was really doing cybersecurity at that time and I had a gut feeling that this was what I was meant to do and that cybersecurity was going to be the next big thing. In 2010, we started assembling an army to help businesses with cybersecurity and by 2011 GreyCastle Security was born.”
Harnish and his team turned GreyCastle into a multi-million dollar firm, with clients in every state across the nation.
Changing directions again; prioritizing social responsibility
In 2016, Harnish’s life changed when his daughter was born and he decided to step down as CEO of Graycastle. At the time, GreyCastle was doing business with large companies, financial institutions, healthcare, manufacturing, and more.
“With the Target Corporation breach in 2013, we realized that while large-scale companies were investing in cybersecurity, it was the small businesses that were the most vulnerable.”
The Target breach occurred through a third-party HVAC vendor, a small business with just 32 employees.
“According to recent data, 99.9% of all businesses are small businesses,” Harnish said. “Small businesses can’t afford cybersecurity and cybersecurity companies can’t afford to serve small businesses. That is how ObitalFire was born. We prioritize serving the underserved-small businesses.”
As founder and CEO of OrbitalFire, Harnish is responsible for the company’s vision, strategy, and growth.
Lasting words of wisdom
When asked about his pathway to success by CCHS tech students, Harnish credits communication as more important than core skills in the tech industry.
“We have to take complex concepts that the average person can understand and more importantly make decisions on,” he said. “Accessibility, translating, and communicating with our clients without the jargon is what makes us successful.”
Another skill that is important “is the ability to think critically,” he added. “I wish I had access to a class like this when I was in high school. These skills, coupled with confidence, believing in yourself, and knowing that you can and will outwork anyone else in the room. That is what will make you successful.”
Harnish has been practicing cybersecurity for nearly two decades. His experiences, skills, and perspectives have established him as a highly respected leader in the industry. He has been featured in Time Magazine, Forbes Magazine, The Washington Post, CBS Nightly News, CIO Magazine, Dark Reading, Software Magazine, ComputerWorld, InfoWorld, and countless other media outlets.
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