Remember those tough, weed-out courses that sometimes confront college freshman? Joshua Cork remembers one. It was offered in the engineering school, which is where he started at ASU before changing majors to Computer Information Systems (CIS). "I worked through the night on a really hard assignment," he recalls. The class required completion of weekly assignments; failing even one of them would disqualify students from continuing their engineering studies.

Among the things that kept Cork up all night, aside from the unfamiliarity of the material covered, were the pesky viruses that kept derailing his work in the campus computer commons. "When I got to class, the instructor looked at my work and said, "I’m sorry. That’s not this week’s assignment; it’s next week’s. I can’t accept it."

Cork took his seat, knowing he’d just been told he wouldn’t pass the class. But, as fate would have it, the professor’s classroom disc carried the same computer virus Cork had successfully battled the night before. Class would have been cancelled if Cork had let his teacher struggle with the bug alone.

"I didn’t," Cork says. "I had run into this problem a ton of times, and I knew I could fix it in two minutes." So he did. After class, the teacher pulled Cork aside and gave him more time to complete the assignment that actually was due. According to Cork, the most valuable lessons of the day had little to do with engineering. Instead, he learned to respond, not react, play nice and be of service.

Around the Department of Information Systems you’ll hear those behaviors described as "soft skills." They are among the core competencies taught in the undergraduate CIS program and in the master of science in information management (MSIM), and Cork is a graduate of both. These skills enable managers — especially IT managers — to create value for their companies and succeed in their careers. Cork’s early grasp of soft skills is part of what has made him a Rainmaker on and off the job.

Born to serve

It was a service-orientation — plus some very strong people skills — that enabled Cork to eventually get to Intel in the first place, after he’d moved from a job delivering computers for a big-box store to his first programming gig. "I got awesome customer service experiences from CompUSA," he says. "I also had technical know-how, which helped land my next job with a small development company."

Those two jobs helped Cork work his way through college. Even as a student, he knew the real-world exposure he was gaining would help him in the end so, joining forces with another student, he created a service component in DISC (Department of Information Systems Club). By then Cork was a CIS major. "We launched a program for consulting with non-profits," he explains. "It gave the organizations help with things like website development, and it gave students skills they could take into the workforce."

It’s not surprising Cork has strong people skills and service orientation. His father, grandfather and uncles all were entrepreneurs, he says. "I grew up watching my father running his business from home, people coming in and out of the home office," he recalls. In fact, one of the home businesses was the home itself. Cork’s parents turned their 8,000-square-foot house into a B&B inn. "My brother and I always had to have clean rooms — I mean spotless — and we’d get booted out of our rooms if there were paying customers who wanted them," he adds. "I’d sleep on the couch in the computer room."

Cork’s father was a computer expert — one who helped launch Novell back in the day — so the young Joshua started his technical tinkering very early. It’s a habit he’s never outgrown. So is entrepreneurship.

Today, when he’s not working at Intel, Cork writes multiple blogs and holds the title of Small Biz Creative Genius in his wife’s website-development business, CORIS Web Dev — freeing her to spend more time with the couples two children. Here, too, Cork’s service commitment shines through.

"We make websites for small businesses," he explains, adding that it’s his and Leann’s goal to give people a low-cost but high-quality web presence that will help a small business grow. And, free advice is part of the package. "A lot of companies will have a web site but not email capability, which makes the business seem less legitimate," he notes. "Data show that if the customer has a choice of three companies with email addresses like ‘JoesLandscaping@yahoo’ versus ‘Joe@JoesLandscaping.com’ the latter will get the call."

Cork uses his blogs to be helpful to others, too. For instance, one recent entry shined a spotlight on technology tools that can help students study more efficiently. Among them was a note-taking tool that records lectures and synchronizes computer-typed notes with the lecture audio, so that students can hover over a word, click the appropriate control, and hear the recording that corresponds to it.

Helping students is something Cork does often. He’s a regular classroom speaker at the W. P. Carey School and at DISC, where Intel often finds employees and interns. Cork keeps his ties alive with fellow alumni and their professors.

"The MSIM program provided its greatest value to me in networking with other professionals and academic leaders in the field," he said. It was (and continues to be) through those interactions and those relationships that we’ve built that I’ve been able both further my career and improve the business that I’m involved with here at Intel."

Understand what you analyze

It was during Cork’s own Intel internship that he encountered one more lesson he credits with shaping his business success. The lesson was "understand what you analyze," a directive that came by way of an inspirational poster.

"I took the lesson to heart," Cork says. "Because of this, I built relationships with people to help me understand the business. Because of this, I tried to understand the problems my boss faced daily so I could be ready with my take on a solution."

The MSIM helped him learn how to present his ideas once he understands the issues. "I learned a lot about communicating with executives in the MSIM program — about being succinct and to the point in my communication style where appropriate," Cork explained.

Although he doesn’t speak of service when he explains what "understand what you analyze" meant to him, he has, in the end, consistently applied his understanding to help his employer and co-workers thrive. The poster’s dictate was pivotal to his success.

"It was the first stepping stone that led me from wet-behind-the-ears intern to where I am now — a wet-behind-the-ears manager," he concludes.