Alumni Spotlight is an ongoing blog series that features interviews with a variety of Darlington alumni about their careers and the impact their Darlington experience had on their lives.
This week, I am excited to share a Q&A with Michael McAlpin ('94).
Michael and his wife Autumn live in California with their four children. They were recently in Rome for the Rome International Film Festival where their film, "Miss Arizona", was featured in the festival. The film shines a light on homelessness in a thought provoking and humorous way and a portion of the proceeds from the screening benefited the William S. Davies Homeless Shelter and the Ruth and Naomi Project.
Were you a day or boarding student?
I was a day student.
Where did you grow up?
I am a product of the people and culture of Rome. I grew up and was raised in the same house in Horseleg, went through Leadership Rome, and learned to play basketball and soccer at the YMCA.
Where did you go to college?
I started at University of Georgia and finished at Brigham Young University with a business degree in information systems.
Why is Darlington important to you?
Darlington allowed me to learn at my pace and to be challenged beyond the curriculum. As a student my teachers pushed me to challenge my limits and forced me to think creatively.
What is your best memory from your time at Darlington?
Ok, I can have fun with this one. My best memory might be the AP Physics teacher who brought in radioactive isotopes she buried and dug up once a year to show her class. Subsequently she always could find four leaf clovers. It might also be our '94 basketball team going to the state final four tournament. It could also be a chapel service where Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, told us that c-students rule the world. He had some very interesting points about being well rounded but the look on the faces of the faculty behind him was priceless.
Which teacher(s) had a positive influence on your life?
My love for art and architecture is a direct result of my humanities class, world cultures from my history classes, but no person had more of an impact on my life and the man I would become more than Jim Van Es. He was a man I feared, idolized, respected, and wanted to be. He taught me strength of character and that I could do anything if I was willing to put in the effort. He taught me to finish what I started and that the payoff for doing something difficult is more rewarding than any kind of quick success.
Mr. Van Es started as my middle school principal, and as a class clown I spent a lot of one-on-one office time with him. I took his algebra class in eighth grade and I may still have a record for longest test taken at 7 hours for a 20 question final. He stayed with me until I finished and would not give me any hints but encouraged me to keep at it. I finished the year with an A but it pushed me well beyond what I thought I could do.
Mr Van Es later became my high school basketball coach. I loved basketball and he taught us to be a team, to support each other, and that strength came from supporting each other. I was a six foot sixth grader and a 6’1" senior. I started in the post and by my senior year I was a guard. I kept shifting positions because everyone caught up and passed me for the height positions. I had to apply the same hard work I learned in his algebra class just to make the team. I will never forget when coach came up to me in the old gym and told me I would be starting in my first game senior year and that he was proud of how hard I worked. I did not hold the position all year because the bench seemed to really miss me when I was gone. However, all of my later success can be directly attributed to Coach Van Es teaching me to push myself harder and further than I thought possible.
How did your time at Darlington prepare you for college and the professional world?
I found that college was much easier than high school. Darlington taught me to think for myself, how to take notes, how to study, how to take tests. The professional world is all about working with others. Corporations are collections of diverse people and backgrounds working together to accomplish a list of ever-changing tasks and being able to adapt and learn quickly was my key to success in the early days. Much of that came from the curriculum and environment of Darlington.
What was your career path after graduating from Darlington?
I started my professional career at Accenture on technical consulting projects for companies which included Disney, Verizon, and Chase. I had a business degree but I stayed very technical managing hardware and systems. I took these skills to DirecTV as a 27-year-old senior manager running all of their critical business systems which included their call center and billing systems. We crossed over one billion dollars a day in billing while I was in this role. I made a few other moves but in 2010 I quit my job to start a software company during a recession. Having the core belief that I could do anything was instilled in me during my Darlington days and gave me the confidence to work 20 hour days for the next three years to turn my company into the industry's leading and most innovative system. I have since sold that company, started two others, and now sit on the boards of a number of companies. I now get to choose my roles and what interests me and I still love challenges and building solutions.
What do you like most about the career you have chosen?
Technology is a career that keeps you learning. Moore's law has a computing growth curve that doubles every 18 months. I have never been able to sit back and rely on my expertise because by the time I know something well, it has changed. So as a recommendation to students, I would say “know yourself.” Some careers need deep specialization around complex and challenging topics. Others change so quickly that analytical thought and rapid assimilation of complex topics are needed. If you're the kind of person who sees a button and has to press it or can’t sleep after starting a puzzle, then technology may be right for you.
You are working in filmmaking, can you tell me a little more about your role?
Film has never been my core business but rather a way to work with my wife, Autumn. She is an accomplished author and columnist and about ten years ago got into film and screenwriting. Producing and directing were natural extensions as a way to support the vision and execution of an idea. My roles have been as a supportive husband hearing ideas, reading scripts, and then as an executive producer financing and managing the business aspects of the film. “Miss Arizona” is the second feature film where Autumn and I have worked together.
What do you hope for the future of Darlington and its students?
The world is changing. In the same way that the combustion engine, telephone, and light bulb changed a generation, we are experiencing daily changes with as great an impact. Driverless cars, buses, and drone transportation are five years away from mass adoption. Artificial intelligence systems will answer our calls, prepare our food, help us do homework. Robots will carry our luggage, help us move, fight our fires, and get our cats out of trees. As this next wave of technical evolution occurs, Darlington and its students will excel with an emphasis on creativity and original thought. The impossible will be possible for the next generation. We can drink soda from self driving recliners like in Disney’s "WALL-E" or we can create agricultural systems for cultivating growth on Mars after taking a SpaceX rocket. Our future will be limited by our own imagination. So dream big, foster creativity, and let the impossible inspire you.