John Birch (’88)

The co-founder of Virtual Service Operations (VSO), John Birch (’92) recently returned to Thomas Aquinas College’s California campus to offer students advice about careers in IT — and how to leverage their Catholic liberal education in that pursuit.

Mr. Birch’s first encounter with Euclid’s Elements as a student was, he recalled, a pivotal moment for his professional development. “Those distinctions become enormously important in the world,” he said. “Few people know how to actually think clearly and concisely.” He brought those indispensable Euclidean habits to IT — though his was a circuitous route to the industry.

Mr. Birch described migrating from job to job in his early years, surviving among the detritus left by the “dot-com” bubble burst of the late 1990s. Eventually, however, he found his way, becoming first the CEO of a British consulting firm, and ultimately co-founding VSO in 2017 with friend and colleague Steven O’Keefe.

In all this time, Mr. Birch found that his early encounter with Euclid, and the alacrity of mind which subsequent studies solidified, continued to serve him well — in both his professional life and beyond. He recounted demonstrating a Euclidean proposition for a waitress to convince her that at least some things could be known with certainty — which proved the beginning of a long correspondence and ended with her conversion to Christianity. That experience reinforced Mr. Birch’s conviction that “there is such thing as objective truth, and it needs clarity.”

The ability to clarify obscure truths is essential to Mr. Birch’s industry, which explains why he so often hires TAC alumni. VSO provides technical solutions and online engineering to numerous partner companies, including Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, and other corporate giants. The heart of the work involves sifting, analyzing, and classifying great seas of data. “Data is king,” Mr. Birch said. “The world runs on it.” For students who spend four years answering complex questions in the classroom and studying thinkers such as Antoine Lavoisier and Euclid, interpreting data comes naturally. “This is what you have, what you are bringing to a business: thought.”

Students surveying the job market may feel that a liberal arts degree seems anemic in the robust company of specialized degrees and advanced certifications, but Mr. Birch encouraged them to dismiss those trepidations. Certifications, after all, mean little without principles or the habit of independent thought. “These are the things that are the most valuable,” he assured them, leaving students infected by his enthusiasm.

The audience listens