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Veteran, alumnus Rob Hanigan talks launching CIS career at Dropbox

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Hanigan with his Rhodesian Ridgeback, Mostly

Texas native Rob Hanigan grew up in a military family and lived in Egypt until he graduated from high school. His dad, a West Point graduate, spent 20 years in the military. His brother also served in the Air Force and his sister in the Army. Hanigan opted not to enroll in college and instead moved to Los Angeles to work in the film industry. Then, the 9/11 terror attacks happened.

Hanigan figured out a career in film wasn’t for him, and with his history growing up in the Middle East, felt he could bring something unique to the military. “The Marine Corps had a waiting list at that point,” he says. “It hit the patriotist button for a lot of people.”

He did three combat tours in Iraq between 2003 and 2007 and was recruited out of the Marines by a defense contractor he worked with while on active duty. That job took Hanigan to Hawaii for a couple of years and then to Afghanistan for three. By 2011, Hanigan was ready to go back to school. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I had a technical background and that was a good start.”

He moved to Texas to be closer to his family and attended a community college before applying to four-year universities. Hanigan’s dad spotted an article in the Houston Chronicle about TU’s prestigious Cyber Corps program. “I was almost finished with my applications when my dad sent me the article,” he says. He contacted the program’s director, Professor Sujeet Shenoi, and drove to Tulsa to meet with him. While on campus, Hanigan happened upon a prospective student tour and ended up connecting with TU Director of Veteran Affairs Cindy Watts who talked to him about TU’s Yellow Ribbon program.

“I was set on Stanford or Georgetown and my secondary schools were Hawaii Pacific and University of Hawaii — all had tech programs with doorways back into government service,” Hanigan says. “Then I met with Cindy and the Yellow Ribbon program is what closed the deal for me.” Under the program, an extension of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, eligible veterans can earn a TU degree at no cost. Hanigan explains, “I could go to school, not have to work and leave with no debt.”

After his first semester, Hanigan felt the Cyber Corps program was too heavily focused on the technical side and his heart wasn’t in it. He was contemplating leaving when he learned about TU’s computer information systems major from a student presentation. Assistant Professor of CIS Sal Aurigemma had just arrived at TU and is a fellow veteran. “I met with Sal and Lori [Leonard] and knew the only mistake I had made was not knowing about CIS.” Leonard looked at Hanigan’s credits and worked out a plan that would allow him to finish as quickly as possible. “The plan worked perfectly and I was able to finish within the time I wanted.” He adds, “I loved the program. I was one of those rare students who woke up every day excited to go to school. Being at TU was a dream; it was amazing.”

Hanigan with his fiancée, Lauren, just after their engagement in Iceland

Hanigan also met his fiancée while attending TU, which ultimately influenced his decision to move to Austin. He had a great job offer lined up at an energy company in Oklahoma but instead took his chances on finding a job in Austin. “I put my nose to the grindstone and looked for opportunities with tech companies,” he says, “and I got lucky that Dropbox was going through a growth phase at the time.”

Within a week of applying he had his first interview, followed by an offer. He started as a success manager assisting enterprise customers post-sale. “I was an advocate for and liaison to those accounts and it was the perfect job for someone with a CIS degree. You have to understand the business side, dealing with contracts, sales strategies and account management, but also be able to deal with the technical side.”

Hanigan recalls a meeting in which he was one of the only people who understood tech stack and network communications, thanks to his telecom class. “Professor Aurigemma did his best to make the material interesting, and I still refer back to the textbook when I deal with network troubleshooting, writing an email or instructions to someone to make sure I’m getting acronyms correct.”

He changed roles in early 2017 and is now one of six members of the technical architecture team. Hanigan still works with large, complex accounts. “I meet with company leaders to help them deploy Dropbox. I’m also a strategist, helping companies optimize workflows and collaborate more efficiently.”

Hanigan describes the office atmosphere as similar to what’s portrayed in the movies: people riding scooters and skateboards around the building, chef-prepared meals and an endless supply of snacks. Hanigan says that while those fun extras are nice to have, it’s not what keeps him there.

“I’m working with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” he says. “It’s a little intimidating at first, but everyone is more than eager to help you.” Hanigan also notes the opportunity to demonstrate leadership within a startup environment: “If you find something that’s broken and no one else has encountered that problem, you can figure it out and tell others how to fix it.”

Ultimately, the job has proved a perfect fit for him. “Every day is different. It’s kind of cliché to say, but I like to solve problems and puzzles that aren’t binary. It’s interesting and challenging work.”

Hanigan says TU’s CIS degree absolutely prepared him for his roles at Dropbox. “I can draw direct correlations from my CIS and business classes to every part of my day. Understanding what our customers are dealing with is something I learned about in each of my classes.” He also praises the faculty members who served not only as professors, but also mentors. “I knew my professors and knew them well. They were always willing to help; even come in on the weekends. Above all else, I’m just grateful for the faculty I worked with. They are unbelievable.”