The Download: Tracy Doaks, President and CEO, MCNC

Tracy Doaks is President & CEO of the RTP-based MCNC, the technology nonprofit focused on delivering high-performance internet and networking, cloud services, cybersecurity, and other essential technologies for communities throughout North Carolina. Prior to joining MCNC, Tracy was state chief information officer and secretary for the NC Department of Information Technology, where she led the state agency responsible for all IT procurement, state cybersecurity, operational services, broadband infrastructure, solutions division, data analytics center, and strategic IT planning.

  1. What is in your pockets?

These days during the pandemic, I actually have pockets because I’m not dressing up at home. I almost always have some kind of lip therapy, because I’m talking about what’s going on in the world. So, my lips will get dry. In my other pocket are usually vitamins that I need to take during the day.

  1. What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?

MCNC is about 40 years old. It started through the legislature and is now a self-sustaining nonprofit on its own. We have about 4,000 miles of infrastructure within the state, and 2,700 miles of fiber across the state. We utilize that in order to connect all of the K-12 schools so that they have the appropriate level of connectivity. We also connect community colleges and higher education.

That is called the North Carolina Research and Education Network, or NCREN, which a lot of people know us for. We now have a cybersecurity practice that sits on top of our network. That’s where we are today. The future may hold something very different, based on what we are seeing and recognizing right now.

The work we do is manage NCREN, as well as provide cybersecurity services. What we didn’t anticipate was the amount of growth. It’s been significant—the Zoom licenses, the bandwidth for some of the universities and community colleges, and the strong interest in our cybersecurity practice. It’s caused us to speed up how we are developing our cybersecurity practice because people are asking for it before we can get everything situated.

That plan was already developed before I got here. Now, it’s just execute, execute, execute. That’s exciting for me. We’re having daily conversations with the thought leaders across North Carolina about the rural connectivity issue. It’s a scary, scary thing to leave a generation of kids and people behind because they don’t have access to high-speed internet.

  1. What is your favorite coffee spot?

I’m going to sound so cliché right now: It’s Starbucks. And it’s just because I’m super-lazy, and I have the app. I can order it before I leave. I can pick it up. On the weekends, I used to cycle, when it wasn’t so cold. My first stop was Starbucks, before I would cycle for the day. Dark roast coffee, though. None of the fancy-schmancy stuff, just dark roast coffee with Stevia and cream.

  1. What keeps you up at night?

That’s an interesting question to ask an insomniac. My mind is always racing about ideas and problems to solve. Right now, it’s: Where does MCNC go next? How do we ensure that we are self-sustaining? This has been a successful company for 40 years. I’m at the helm now. So, how do I ensure that we survive—and thrive—through COVID? That does keep me up at night.

We’re in the middle of building our strategic plan. Talking to thought leaders. They’re giving us ideas, and it’s, “O.K., how do we shape this?” The whole vision is really important to me.

  1. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?

My favorite happy hour for the last few years has been the Wine Feed off of Glenwood. The Phillips who own that spot [Co-Owners Philip Rubin and Phillip Zucchino] used to be in a basement up the street. That was when I first met them. When they opened up the Wine Feed, I was thrilled because you could do wine tastings, not just order wine.  I invite my friends there before we go out for dinner. The Phillips have taught me so much about wine over the last decade. I love that place.

  1. What is next for you or your organization?

We are in the midst of building our strategic plan. But I can tell you right out of the gate, helping to solve this broadband issue across the state has got to be the No. 1  priority. Everyone is asking us about how we can contribute to that, how we can help that issue as it relates to telehealth, and to students and their families. We’re now investigating other services that may sit on top of our network in order to potentially provide service to those folks. There are a lot of students right now we’re leaving behind.

The second thing is cybersecurity. We’re building solutions and managed service. That is going to be one of the biggest things we do. We are staffing up right now. There are a few more services down the line that we’re investigating. My team has to watch me because I will want to do everything. They ground me. It’s really a great balance between who they are and who I am that will move us forward.

It’s hard to attract new companies if you don’t have connectivity. They’re going to want to know that you already have that. So, for us, it’s also economic development. It’s what can we do to help support that so more jobs can go to rural communities. I’m tremendously excited about the future of MCNC.

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About Brooks Malone 58 Articles
Brooks Malone is a NC CPA and Partner with Hughes Pittman & Gupton, LLP, and leads the Technology practice group. Brooks is also listed contributor to the National Fast Trac Tech Curriculum that was funded by the Kauffman Foundation. Brooks was named one of the 40 Under 40 in May 2005 by the TBJ, received the Outstanding service to Entrepreneurs Award in 2008 by CED, and named to the Leadership Raleigh Hall of Fame in October 2011. Brooks is a graduate of North Carolina State University and is active at American Underground and Raleigh Founded.