IT group members hang on to celebrate 60th

| Sunday, May 13, 2012, 12:30 a.m.

In the midst of flourishing times for the information technology sector in the Pittsburgh region, a local organization dedicated to those who work in the industry in 2005 briefly considered packing it in.

This week, the Pittsburgh chapter of the Association of Information Technology Professionals celebrates its 60th anniversary with a soiree at Rivers Casino.

"It's exciting and a good organization to belong to," said Patricia "Pat" McMurray, a retired instructor at Kaplan Career Center and former AITP chapter president who joined the group in 1978 when it was known as one of its former incarnations -- the Data Processing Management Association. "There's a sense of pride in belonging."

What now is known is AITP was born in Chicago in 1951 as the National Machine Accountants Association. Pittsburgh started a chapter the next year, joining 22 others in cities such as Houston, Columbus and Minnesota's Twin Cities as original members.

That same year, 1952, Thomas J. Watson Jr. ascended to president of IBM Corp. and transformed it into a global corporation and leading technology company.

In 1955, Mellon Bank became the first financial institution to install a mainframe computer, and in the 1960s became the first to automate its retail branches with terminals at teller stations.

Today, Mellon is part of Bank of New York Mellon Corp. and Western Pennsylvania has transitioned from the steel capital of the world to home to more than 1,600 information technology companies providing hardware, software and telecommunications services with 27,000 employees, according to the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

One of the area's biggest technology successes was landing Google Inc., which opened an office in Pittsburgh in 2007 and could eventually employ as many as 500 people at its Bakery Square location in East Liberty.

The Technology Council turns 30 next year, and CEO Audrey Russo calls it amazing that organizations like AITP have been here twice that long.

"I love that these kinds of legacies exist," Russo said.

While IT jobs have grown exponentially, membership in the local AITP chapter has dropped significantly.

Membership peaked around 400 in the 1970s and 80s. Today, it stands around 28, with members ranging in age from 21 to 75.

"We're still going, and we get new people at every meeting," said chapter President Stan Hoffman. "Hopefully, young people will start to take over. We need to figure out how to get into other businesses with technology, and we will start to grow again. Nearly every company is involved with technology."

When he became president in 2005, Hoffman and fellow board members discussed suspending chapter operations. They decided not to.

Instead, they rededicated themselves to providing educational opportunities for members and others interested in technology.

"If you don't learn something in technology every day, there is something wrong," said Hoffman, who serves as project manager for Babcock Lumber Co. in Swissvale. "Technology is changing so much there is always something to learn."

The local chapter long has been involved as sort of a mentor for other chapters throughout its region, which includes West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina, said AITP member McMurray of Carrick. The chapter helped start one in Johnstown several years ago, which is headed by Hoffman's son, Matt.

In 2006, the group started a charity golf tournament and has raised more than $20,000 to provide scholarships for information technology students attending schools in the region.

The decision not to go on hiatus paid off in 2009, when the local organization was named the national association's 2008 Outstanding Chapter and was presented "The Cup" prize.

"Like the Stanley Cup, we held the award for a year," McMurray said, "and literally took it from company to company."

On Wednesday, members will gather at Rivers Casino for an anniversary event -- which members hope will be replicated someday.

"Pittsburgh has quite a bit of technology here," said Nancy See, vice president of the local chapter and systems administrator for TMI LLC in Robinson. "We're becoming a hub."

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