Headshot of Michael VanPutte

What do the Canadian rock band Rush, Woody Hayes and the U.S. military have in common? They all played an influential role in shaping Michael VanPutte’s career as a security professional, entrepreneur, and now as a member of Ohio State’s teaching faculty.

VanPutte (BSBA ’88) shares his full-circle journey and why a simple piece of advice he received early in his career can lead to self-improvement — and a better world.

Any recent accomplishments or accolades you've received?

I founded a highly successful defense contracting firm and oversaw research on the security of various technologies, such as the U.S. electrical power grid and spacecraft. Prior to this, I served 20 years as an Army officer, ultimately becoming a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, where I led pioneering research in cybersecurity and warfare. In this capacity, I was privileged to brief both the White House and Congress.

With over 30 published papers, eight keynote addresses and three authored books, I was invited to speak at the TEDxOhioStateUniversity in March 2023, where I discussed the fallacy of information security. Throughout my journey, I have been blessed with exceptional mentors who have provided me with wonderful opportunities. And to think, this crazy career began at The Ohio State University.

Since graduating from Ohio State, what are you most proud of?

Michael VanPutte leading combat engineers during the Gulf War.
Michael VanPutte leading combat engineers during the Gulf War.

I was a member of the Army ROTC Buckeye Battalion while studying at Ohio State. Upon graduation and commissioning, I was fortunate to serve my country in various leadership roles, including as a combat engineer officer after completing U.S. Army Ranger School. In this capacity, I led the first group of responders to Charleston, South Carolina, in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo. I also led combat engineers during the Gulf War and a team of military firefighters to assist in extinguishing forest fires in Idaho. However, I think I’m most proud of my children, Ashley and Brianne. 

How has Fisher prepared you or made a difference in your career?

Fisher's rigorous academic program and skill-building equipped me to pursue and obtain a Master of Science from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a PhD in computer science from the Naval Postgraduate School.

As an information security professional, I recognize that comprehending an organization's business is just as crucial as understanding its technology. The education I received from Fisher has been instrumental in enabling me to thrive as a security professional, entrepreneur and writer.

Now for some favorites...

Favorite Ohio State memories?

Michael VanPutte and his wife, Linda, at Chichen Itza.
Michael VanPutte and his wife, Linda, at Chichen Itza.

Undoubtedly, my favorite memories revolve around my wife, Linda. We first met at Ohio State and were college sweethearts. She is also an Ohio State alumna, having graduated in social work. Our time at the university centered on classes, studying, working and football games. We were married in Columbus and will celebrate our 40th anniversary in 2024.

The second most impactful Buckeye moment took place in March 1987. Woody Hayes asked to address the ROTC cadets in Converse Hall. He spoke to us, as he frequently did, about his time as a Naval officer, as a coach and what it means to be a leader. It was clear he truly loved The Ohio State University and being a Buckeye. Tragically, he passed away that afternoon.

What advice would you give to a current student or a new Fisher graduate?

Throughout your career, make an effort to cultivate mentors. I’ve been fortunate to have people support and guide me, even when I wasn’t aware of it. This starts with giving your all to everything you do. People are inclined to assist those who demonstrate a strong work ethic. Be open to seeking help, and then make a conscious effort to pay forward by assisting others.

What’s the most interesting fact about you that isn’t on your resume or LinkedIn profile?

I write fiction including action-thrillers and science fiction. Also, I’m taking Spring semester off to take a 274-day cruise around the world, visiting all seven continents, 152 ports and 62 countries.

Thanks to Fisher and Ohio State’s extensive network of alumni and friends...

No matter where I go, I’m close to other Buckeyes. Around the country and around the world you are never far from fellow Buckeyes, which makes you feel a little more at home. For example, for a while we lived in Clearwater, Florida, which has the largest Buckeye alumni club outside of Columbus.

What motivates you to action personally?

Michael VanPutte and his wife Linda outside The Shoe.
Michael VanPutte and his wife, Linda, outside The Shoe.

In 2022, after 24 moves and living in 11 different states, my wife and I returned to Columbus and Ohio State, where I am now a senior lecturer in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Being part of the Ohio State faculty and having the opportunity to teach and mentor the next generation of Buckeyes is an incredibly gratifying experience.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received? Why was it so meaningful?

One of my first bosses gave me simple but powerful advice that has stuck with me: "Get up every morning and do the right thing."

It's often tempting to take the easy way out by ignoring mistakes, letting things slide or not speaking up. But as the band Rush says, "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." By passively letting things slide, you're essentially agreeing with the status quo.

We all have a responsibility to stand up for what is right, even when it's hard. Every time we choose to do the right thing instead of the easy thing, we're reinforcing our identity and becoming better individuals.

"The education I received from Fisher has been instrumental in enabling me to thrive as a security professional, entrepreneur and writer."

Michael VanPutte BSBA '88