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Avoiding the Short Cuts: Building a Professional Career in Learning

Xavier Dillahunt, 2012 i3 Scholar

Xavier Dillahunt, 2012 i3 alumni, was a member of the self-described Dreamteam during his tenure as an i3 Scholar. Now he spends his days consulting on technology and business projects at Accenture in Charlotte, North Carolina. Xavier’s career path, however, is anything but a straight line.

Xavier was born and raised in the small country town of New Bern, North Carolina (population 30,000). New Bern is located in Eastern Carolina, a short drive to the beaches, and is not exactly a town known for being a feeder population for prestigious research universities. Nevertheless, Xavier would go on to major in economics at North Carolina A&T University before making his way to i3. During undergrad, Xavier says, “I was thinking about what I was going to do with my life. I knew I wanted to be involved in business, but I had a feeling that technical experience was also important.” When he heard about i3 in the fall of 2011, Xavier says he realized the program would provide “a jump start into the technical realm.” He adds with a laugh, “I really wanted to bridge the gap between business management – the corporate fat-cats – and the technical geeks.”

When asked about some of his most inspiring memories at i3, Xavier immediately talks about a workshop on robotics and building. “I remember a session where we discussed robots and simulations, and they were talking about designing games and virtual environments. And I was like, ‘oh wow,’ this stuff is really cool.” Like so many of his i3 peers, Xavier had never been exposed to the many fields in the information sciences. After leaving Pittsburgh, Xavier worked with his research team, the Dreamteam, to investigate how and why online videos go viral. Xavier even took the Dreamteam on the road to Berlin, Germany, to present his work at iConference 2013.

After completing i3, Xavier was convinced a graduate degree was the right next step. He picked up and headed north to the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned his Master of Science in Information Science, with a focus on human centered computing. Xavier, ever the charismatic professional, even did some recruiting for i3 at conferences while he completed his MSIS. He continues to be active in the i3 alumni association and attended the 2016 Alumni Reunion in July.

Xavier used his newly acquired technical skills to land a consulting job at Accenture. He now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and continues to expand his skills into new technical areas. Xavier describes a pretty exciting, interesting, and fulfilling job. “We get a new boss every project, unless you stay with the same client.” He just started a new project, which also means a new team of people to work with. With the benefit of change, however, also come challenges. “You have to be able to work with everyone. As projects wrap up, it is my responsibility to find the next one.” He explains how that part of the job can be a little nerve wracking at times. “That is where good business sense comes into play. You do get time on the bench, where Accenture still provides a paycheck while consultants identify the next project.” Although the steady paycheck is reassuring, Xavier says, “I don’t like being on the bench because I am not learning anything. I came here to learn.”

Along with changing projects and personnel, Xavier prides himself on getting to try new roles. “I was in project management on my last project, and now I am in SAP consulting.” He adds, “The great benefit of consulting is not having to stick to just one job. You have the opportunity to learn whatever you want to learn. There’s always a new skill to develop and master.” Xavier expresses a lot of thanks to i3 in helping him land his job. “i3 was pretty much a life saver!” It’s a feeling a lot of i3 scholars and alumni can relate to. Xavier encourages anyone interested in a consulting lifestyle to reach out to him for a helping hand.

When he isn’t flying all over the country for work, Xavier enjoys his favorite hobbies of fishing, hunting, and the occasional video game. “I can go buy fish with all sorts of preservatives and other stuff, or I can go to the lake and get it fresh. I know it’s a country hobby but that’s where I come from.”

Lastly, Xavier gives the advice he would have given to himself when he was in i3. “Don’t be afraid to dive into the hard technical stuff early on. Experienced professionals are expecting you to be learning those skills in undergrad. If you shy away from it and wait until later in life, a lot more will be expected of you. Take this time to actually learn, because if you take short cuts, people can tell.”