10 Tech Pros Who Push Their Downtime to the Limits

As if IT leadership isn't challenging enough, some tech pros choose not to kick back when the day is done. Here's how flying a stunt plane or birthing a llama can make you a better leader.

Joe Tait
Photo courtesy Joe Tait

Fresh perspective

With pressure on IT managers as great as it's ever been, you can't blame tech leaders for wanting nothing more than to head to the couch after a long day.

Then there are those who take a unique approach, pursuing something completely different in their off hours with the same sense of passion and zeal that they bring to their jobs.

Read on to discover how rescuing donkeys, scaling Pikes Peak or racing cars can sharpen your management skills, then click the Comments tab to share your own downtime pursuits. 

Jim Rapkoch
Courtesy photo

Jim Rapkoch

Executive staff, IT strategic planning
Missile Defense AgencyU.S. Department of Defense

Years in IT: 13

Downtime pursuits: Rapkoch started his tech career in 2001 after 23 years as an Army officer. But he didn't leave that military discipline behind: He's an avid fly fisherman, biker, hiker and runner whose race credits include the L.A. Marathon, the Boston Marathon, the Pikes Peak Ascent (13.32 miles up the mountain) and the Pikes Peak Marathon (up and down).

The takeaway: "The marathon lifestyle of training and planning applies to work as well. You have to have a vision and a strategy. And you have to bring a sense of enthusiasm and excitement to everything you do."

James T. Wilkes
Courtesy photo

James T. Wilkes

Chair, Computer Science Department, Appalachian State University 

Years in IT: 27

Downtime pursuits: Wilkes, his wife and their eight children tend to their 65-acre property, Faith Mountain Farm, in Creston, N.C., and the various business lines it produces. They grow vegetables, raise chickens and pigs, and run a bakery. Wilkes is also a beekeeper; he developed a hive-management Web application, Hive Tracks, that now has 10,000-plus registered users.

The takeaway: Wilkes recently gave a TED talk about the connection between beekeeping and computing. "Beekeeping is an inherently observational activity," he says. "I realized that technology could help me make good decisions and make my bees healthier." 

Joe Tait
Courtesy photo

Joe Tait

CIO at a New England-based company he asked not to name

Years in IT: 30+

Downtime pursuits: For Tait, getting away from the office means whitewater rafting down aggressive rapids or scuba diving alongside sharks. On a recent trip to Florida, he flew a World War II-era airplane and performed stunts like the barrel roll. Tait, a member of the Society for Information Management (SIM), says work and personal responsibilities keep him from making these adventures a regular part of his routine, but he fits them in when he can. "It recharges me."

Lesson learned: "Anything you do as a group like whitewater rafting, you have to learn to work in unison. There's just a good feeling of doing it right."

Mark Endry
Courtesy photo

Mark Endry

Senior vice president and Americas CIO, Arcadis 

Years in IT: 35

Downtime pursuits: When Endry moved to Colorado 15 years ago, he and his wife bought a 200-acre ranch where they now care for six donkeys, two dogs and a cat. Endry took in three draft horses, three goats, two llamas and an alpaca for a few weeks when last year's wildfires displaced them, and he volunteers at the Longhopes Donkey Shelter. "You can get out and get dirty and spend time with life and not just work," he says.

The takeaway: "At Arcadis, we're focused on health and safety. When I'm working around big animals or working on my Bobcat, I use that same safety thinking."

William Morris
Courtesy photo

William Morris

Hospitalist and associate CIO, Cleveland Clinic 

Years in IT: 8

Downtime pursuits: Morris, an M.D. and the No. 2 IT person at the Cleveland Clinic, jokes that 100% of his work is taken up by tech and another 50% by medicine. But he still finds time to run long-distance races and publish a book, mHealth: Global Opportunities and Challenges. Morris also drums with the rock band Skin and Bones.

The takeaway: "As a drummer, you're the backbone, so you've got to listen. It's the same thing with IT. You don't plow ahead -- you have to listen -- and you have to learn to laugh at yourself."

John Halamka
Courtesy photo

John Halamka

CIO, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center 

Years in IT: 33

Downtime pursuits: Two years ago, Halamka realized that his job as a healthcare CIO included an unhealthy amount of time spent indoors. As an antidote, he and his wife bought Unity Farm in Sherborn, Mass., which gets him outside raising bees, fixing heavy machinery and even delivering baby llamas.

The takeaway: Halamka likes to joke (as he does in this video) that he specializes in "Obamacare and llama care." He blogs with equal passion about healthcare policy and his farm, both of which he regards as part of "living life to its fullest."

Jim DiMarzio
Courtesy photo

Jim DiMarzio

CIO, Mazda North American Operations 

Years in IT: 33

Downtime pursuits: As a car company exec, it's not too surprising that DiMarzio races cars. He says the adrenaline rush attracts him to racing and has been a car enthusiast since he was a teen. He started in the sport about five years ago as part of a racecar crew and got behind the wheel a few years later. Now, he spends weekends during the summer race season working crew or racing his 1990 Miata.

The takeaway: "[Auto racing] reminds me that there are team members that do the grunt work every day and that I have to take care of them -- they're an integral part of the operation."

Gino Pokluda
Courtesy photo

Gino Pokluda

Manager of IT service management, Presbyterian Health Plan 

Years in IT: 32

Downtime pursuits: Pokluda is an ultra-marathoner, competing in races that exceed the standard 26.2 miles. At one point he was running about 25 miles a day, putting in upwards of 30 hours each week. "Running is just ingrained in my life, like eating and sleeping. When you do something so long, you just make time for it," says Pokluda, who also writes and has had two short stories published.

The takeaway: "There are times where you might want to run 20 miles and you can't. It teaches you how to accept failure and how to learn from it. It's a valuable lesson in IT," he says.

Rhonda Winter
Courtesy photo

Rhonda Winter

CIO, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Years in IT: 33

Downtime pursuits: Winter spends her non-work hours with her American thoroughbred horse, training along with her husband for eventing, an equestrian triathlon that combines dressage, cross-country and show jumping. Winter took up the sport in her 20s after buying a horse. Now, she says, it helps balance her life.

The takeaway: Eventing requires "a balance of priorities -- time and resources -- as well as nurturing, training, building a relationship and full-on delivery," Winter says. These skills apply to work and family as well as the sport, she says.

Stacey Jenkins
Courtesy photo

Stacey Jenkins

Cofounder, Tamberra Online Solutions

Years in IT: 18

Downtime pursuits: After working in IT as a project manager and senior developer, Jenkins last year started her own Web application development firm -- in part so she could have time for pursuits that include playing baritone in the all-female Tampa Bay Sax Quartet, tap dancing and following her lifelong fascination with space. Here, Jenkins attends the Adult Space Academy at The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The takeaway: "Be it with music, tap or NASA, going into a group of new people -- people who are more experienced than I am -- has taught me to have confidence. It taught me to put some of my anxiety aside."

More Computerworld slideshows

What's your downtime pursuit?

Click the Comments tab to tell us how you shake off the office in your free time.

Then check out these other great slideshows:

Getting fit this summer? Here's an app place to start

Beach reads for techies 2014

8 CIO moms share tales and tips from the IT trenches

10 'geek dads' share tales and tips from the IT trenches