By Brendon Phuong and Laurel Skurko. Chris Brandt, winner of the UC Tech Sustained Impact Golden Award and Chief Information Officer (CIO) at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM), recently shared his remarkable career journey and tech inventions with the UC Tech Blog News team.
The interview transcript, below, was edited for clarity and based on a recorded interview with Brandt.
Career highlights: sowing the seeds of invention
After receiving his BS in Animal Science from UC Davis, Brandt graduated from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine as a veterinarian in 2001 and embarked on a unique path of teaching himself software development. This interest eventually led him to the creation of educational software for mobile devices and the successful pursuit of a master’s degree in Medical Informatics at UC Davis. In early 2020, Brandt assumed the role of CIO at the School of Veterinary Medicine where he aspires to leverage his passion for technology to make a meaningful difference in the realms of education, healthcare, and the lives of students.
Brandt’s early discovery and passion for coding
My passion for computers ignited when I received my first one, an Apple II Plus clone, back in the 1980s. I initially used it for gaming, but it quickly evolved into a deep interest in computers and what they could do. During college [at UC Davis], I attempted to minor in computer science, but I couldn’t get into the core classes past C++. When an opportunity arose during vet school to work with my classmates on a digital veterinary “nerd book” for use on a Palm Pilot or Pocket PC, I taught myself basic HTML and web design. After I completed my DVM, I continued by diving into dynamic web programming. This new skill set allowed me to develop systems that simplified the process of gathering clinical information from our faculty members to share back with the students.
How great mentors helped Brandt excel at UC Davis
The most significant turning point in my career occurred while I was still a senior veterinary student, when Dr. Jan Ilkiw, the Associate Dean for Academic Programs, offered me a job working for the SVM to continue the development of mobile veterinary applications. While this wasn’t the path that I had planned to take when I started my veterinary education, I realized that this would be a perfect opportunity for me as it combined my two main passions, veterinary medicine and computers. Ilkiw became an outstanding mentor for me, guiding me through educational and political aspects within the university. Ray Tai (Director of IT for the SVM until 2013) was a great technical mentor, instilling the value of having interconnected systems that can feed data between each other. Randy Anderson (Director of IT for the SVM 2014-2020) brought an appreciation for the importance of project management and how to tackle seemingly impossible tasks by breaking them down into manageable chunks.
My ability to build meaningful relationships has been key to my success. It’s not just about completing transactions; it’s about understanding the why, where, and how together. In addition to connections within the SVM, relationships that I’ve built with Jeremy Phillips and Steve Pigg (IT directors for the College of Letters and Science and the College of Engineering respectively) have been incredibly rewarding. I learn new things from them every day, and the projects that we’ve worked on together have been more successful from those collaborations.
Brandt’s two-decade-vision for mobile accessible medical records
I started as a developer, became part of a development team, progressed to leading the development team, and now oversee operations as well, but I still have a developer’s mindset. I still make time for programming because it’s a creative outlet I can’t let go of.
One of my proudest programming achievements began around 2002 when I envisioned accessing electronic medical records (EMR) on mobile devices. I designed web pages to adapt the desktop format of those medical records to small screens on the Pocket PC. Although this early attempt was groundbreaking, it wasn’t sustainable due to layout changes in the medical records system and the limited prevalence of wirelessly connected mobile devices at the time.
In 2015, my team began refactoring the electronic medical record to use a more modern language. One of the goals of this rewrite was to have the pages work well on modern mobile devices, but it has been complicated to have the system work equally well on the desktop as on mobile. About a year ago, I decided to take it a step further and redesign specifically for modern mobile devices. Initially, my plan was to just complete the design and have the team make it actually work, but in order to accommodate the variability of the data in our system, I took the extra step and wired it up to the database. We now have a mobile-optimized version of our electronic medical record, making it more accessible and flexible for users as they move throughout the hospital. Notifications sent via SMS include links to the system and provide timely updates on patient arrivals, diagnostic results, and messages from our clients. We continue to receive positive feedback from our users.
Brandt’s appreciation for his co-workers and students
The favorite part of my job is the incredible interactions I experience daily. I have the privilege to work with world-class faculty who bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table. Working with faculty like Allison Zwingenberger, DVM and Krystal Reagan, DVM is a joy. They push me and my team to improve our systems as partners. What truly sets our team apart is our innovative spirit. We’re always eager to experiment with new technologies and ideas. The thrill of connecting the dots between different systems and finding ways to streamline processes is incredibly satisfying.
Our students also play a pivotal role. Witnessing their creativity and enthusiasm as they take the tools and resources we develop and use them in novel ways is inspiring. I still remember being a student and I want to make sure that we’re serving their needs as well as staff and faculty.
One aspect that makes our work particularly fulfilling is the support we receive from our administration. They recognize the importance of a strong IT organization and the value it brings to the institution. This allows us to explore new possibilities, integrate systems, and automate data collection, making everyone’s work easier and more efficient. This culture allows us to build tools that benefit our entire community, encompassing academic, administrative, research, and clinical projects.
Brandt’s management style – continuous learning
My management style is driven by a commitment to continuous learning. I am inspired by books by authors Cal Newport, David Allen, and John Maxwell, as well as training experiences such as the Leadership Challenge at UC Davis. I lead by example, instilling trust in my team and emphasizing work-life balance. To manage the complexities of my role, I use tools like a bullet journal and principles from “Getting Things Done” to prioritize tasks and stay organized. I also set aside time daily to complete tasks that require sustained, focused effort. I’m passionate about process improvement and enjoy streamlining tasks, automating processes, and reducing complexity in service delivery through technology and better workflows.
An appreciation for family and work-life balance
I’m originally from the San Fernando Valley in Southern California, but I’ve been in Davis and Sacramento for over half my life. I’ve been working at the school for about 23 years now. In my free time, I’m a big fan of movies and musicals, recently enjoying Les Misérables in San Francisco. I have a loving family and I am very grateful for my wonderful wife, our two children, and our dog Lula and cat Willow. I find my job enjoyable due to its flexibility, allowing me to balance essential tasks with creative problem-solving.
Chief Information Officer
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
Marketing & Communications Intern
UC Office of the President