A Day in the Life of an Undergraduate CEO

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! It’s 7 a.m. and junior computer science major Christian Johnson turns off his alarm. But he’s not headed to an 8 a.m. class; instead, he’s beginning his day as co-founder and CEO of Maplegrove Partners. Johnson established the company as a high school student in Buffalo, N.Y., to provide IT and consulting services to small businesses. Since then, he has expanded the business to include web hosting and networking services.

Christian JohnsonOnce out of bed, Johnson remotely logs into his clients’ systems to resolve small problems and sort through an inbox full of emails.

“My calendar is pretty much laid out to every half hour throughout the week,” Johnson says. “It’s very fast paced, and it’s very exciting.”

At noon, Johnson heads to class, which he credits with expanding his technical skills. As one of the first students to enroll in the university’s Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students (ACES), a living-learning honors program supported by the Northrop Grumman Foundation, Johnson embraced the unique opportunity to influence his learning experience.

“I was really privileged to work with students and have a major role in shaping what the ACES program looked like,” says Johnson, who served for two years as the program’s board president. “ACES is having a big impact on training a talented pipeline of security specialists.”

When his classes are over around 4 p.m., Johnson may go see a client—not as CEO of Maplegrove Partners, but as a cyber software engineer at Northrop Grumman Corp. or a growth hacker at Gallup. Through ACES, Johnson met and interacted with the CEO of Northrop Grumman, and after an ACES kickoff event in 2014 the company offered Johnson a position. How does Johnson manage it all?

“I use a lot of remote systems because I am working with so many different companies throughout the day,” he says. “It doesn’t really matter where I am. If you give me a keyboard and an Internet connection I can do my work.”

At 6:30 p.m., Johnson sits down with friends in the dining hall for dinner. In addition, once or twice a month he co-hosts Cyber Frontiers, a podcast he launched in 2014. Johnson branched off from co-hosting another podcast called Home Gadget Geeks to discuss hot topics in cybersecurity and “big data” on Cyber Frontiers—from the Ashley Madison Leak to the pros and cons of Windows 10 software.

With a busy schedule and hectic lifestyle, Johnson unwinds by challenging a friend to a game of chess or playing concert violin. And he lives by a refreshingly simple motto.

“Always make your bed in the morning,” he says. “Then, if nothing else goes well during the day, at least you have done that right.”

Written by Rachael Romano

This article was published in the Spring 2016 issue of Odyssey magazine. To read other stories from that issue, please visit go.umd.edu/odyssey.

About the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences

The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 8,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college's 10 departments and six interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $250 million.