INTERVIEW: Creating a vibrant Black at UC community – key takeaways from Van Williams’ fireside chat with Charron Andrus, UC Berkeley

Van Williams Fireside Chat with Charron Andrus: Key Takeaways

By Jackie Brown and Laurel Skurko. “We have moved ‘UC Tech’ from being a conference to being a community,” explains Van Williams, the vice president (VP) of Information Technology (IT) and chief information officer (CIO) for the University of California system, and the leader of the UC Tech Community of 10,000 tech employees at the University of California.

Williams met recently with the UC Tech community to review his priorities and vision for this community during a fireside chat facilitated by Charron Andrus, associate chief information security officer (ACISO), UC Berkeley, co-founder of the Black Leadership Alliance Council at the University of California (BLAC@UC) and Co-Chair of University of California Womxn in Technology. The program was co-sponsored by BLAC@UC and the UC Tech community.

This engaging session provided a unique opportunity to understand the University of California’s priorities, from both a diversity and technology perspective. Specifically, it revealed what defines the tech experience for employees at the university, especially those from underrepresented communities, and laid out Williams’ plan for these communities.

The fireside chat summary, below, is based on a recorded interview with Van Williams, conducted by Charron Andrus. 

Watch this segment of the interview on Williams’ vision for creating a vibrant Black at UC community and more. Williams speaks to his priorities for ensuring underrepresented communities are welcomed and how its four benefits will provide employees with the resources they need to thrive in an increasingly complex technology ecosystem.

Meet Van Williams

Since 2021, Van Williams, VP of Information Technology and chief information officer (CIO) of the University of California, has overseen the tech operations of a $45 billion enterprise spanning 10 campuses, six healthcare systems, and three national labs, among a total of 22 locations. In his role as UC’s CIO, Williams is the system’s IT leader and chief strategist. He collaborates with campus and health CIOs and other leaders across the UC system. Williams manages the UC Office of the President’s IT strategy, which includes enhancing information security, developing data analytics infrastructure, supporting online and hybrid education, and advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

Before joining the UC Office of President, Williams served as the vice chancellor for information technology and strategic initiatives at UC Santa Cruz and as the campus’s Cyber Risk Executive. During his tenure, he managed UC Santa Cruz’s $800 million technology organization, leading a team of 250 professionals. Williams modernized campus systems and fortified the university’s cybersecurity which benefited UC Santa Cruz’s 19,000+ student population. 

Prior to his roles at the University of California, Williams accumulated over 15 years of experience at New York University (NYU), holding various senior positions, including CIO for NYU’s Stern School of Business. He earned an MBA in Finance, Entrepreneurship, and Marketing from Stern and a bachelor’s degree from NYU, majoring in classical civilization and minoring in chemistry. Williams’ professional journey reflects his appreciation for interdisciplinary studies, from liberal arts and business to science and technology. 

Technology priorities, starting with cyber security

When starting work at the UC Office of the President in 2021, Williams met with President Micheal V. Drake, MD to understand the UC Office of the President’s priorities. During the fireside chat, Williams humorously recalled: “Priority number one was cyber security. Priority number two was cyber security. Priority number three, you guessed it – cyber security.” This statement emphasizes the critical role of cyber security in the university’s overarching mission. Williams has been a member of University of California’s AI council for two years. After the invention of ChatGPT, Williams noted that 30-40% of his current conversations revolve around aspects of AI, including procurement, compliance, and scalability. Williams recognizes the importance of effective governance. For example, during the chat, Williams shared how he collaborates with chief financial officers to align risk management within the higher education system.

The definition of the UC Tech community and Williams’ vision for its growth 

Williams shared the transformation of UC Tech from an annual conference to a thriving community over the past several decades. Says Williams,

 “We have moved ‘UC Tech’ from being a conference to being a community.” 

Van Williams, VP Information Technology and chief information officer (CIO) of the University of California

He explains the value of this community in terms of the number of people who are a part of it, and what it provides them. Williams is proud that the UC Tech community provides an organization structure, where knowledge can be exchanged, professional development opportunities, and visibility and networking in the form of a recognition awards program, among other venues. Read more about 2023’s UC Tech Awards in this article, entitled, 2023 UC Tech Awards winners: Celebrating technical excellence, grounded in a commitment to caring.

UC Tech community value to its members

  1. An organizational structure –  a growing number of people with diverse backgrounds and expertise 
  2. Knowledge – a place to learn and exchange information
  3. Visibility – a place to be seen and recognized for your contributions
  4. Career support – a place to have opportunities to reach one’s professional aspirations 

Williams underscored that he and his CIO colleagues (aka CIO Council) across the system are committed to ensuring that the UC Tech community is an inclusive one and that it grows to include an increasingly diverse base. Williams discussed plans to enhance the experience of underrepresented groups including women, black professionals, people of color, LGBTQIA+, veterans, and other marginalized groups. His vision is to make UC Tech a space where all employees feel recognized and valued for their contributions.

The role of the Black@UC Community and others in welcoming all underrepresented groups to participate in UC Tech

As UC Tech continues to evolve, Williams expressed his dedication to reaching a broader audience within the UC system. He addressed the challenge of awareness, noting that many individuals, especially those from underrepresented groups, may not be familiar with UC Tech. Williams plans to expand outreach, leverage resources, and offer support to the community to ensure a representative and reflective talent within the UC system. 

Watch the entire recording of the fireside chat here

Speaker

Van Williams
Vice President of Information Technology Services (IT) and Chief Information Officer (CIO)
UC Office of the President

Host

Charron Andrus
Charron Andrus
Associate Chief Information Security Officer
UC Berkeley

Authors

Jackie Brown
Jackie Brown
Marketing and Communications Intern
UC Office of the President
Laurel Skurko, Marketing & Communications, IT Services, UC Office of the President
Laurel Skurko
Marketing & Communications
UC Office of the President