Tuesday, January 15, 2013

IT pros reveal the best career advice they ever received

IT pros reveal the best career advice they ever received

By Mary Brandel 
   In today's culture, advice on nearly any topic - relationships, health, career - is just a mouse click, touchscreen tap or Siri query away. There's even a Web site called shouldidoit.com that promises to help you make decisions in your daily life. But while you can get some good insights on the many expert and general discussion forums that pop up on the Web, there's often a sense that something is missing from that experience. Call it the human touch.
Indeed, no matter how deep your social network is, or how many devices you have to access the Web, nearly everyone can still recall life-changing advice that they obtained the old-fashioned way: straight from someone they knew.
We asked three top IT execs to share the most useful piece of career advice they've ever been given. Here's what they said:
Jason Clark
Jason Clark
Jason Clark, Chief Security and Strategy Officer for Websense

Advice: "If you are not putting your job on the line, you are not doing your job."
When I first started my security career, one of my early mentors stressed the importance of voicing my opinion. This especially applies in the security industry, where we have to stay ahead of the bad guys. It proved to be an important foundation for my career and has contributed to my continued success.
I was employed by a company that acquired part of another very large company. During the acquisition, I had to stand up to the other CIO when we disagreed on how to merge the two businesses from a security perspective. The other CIO wanted us to take a substantial amount of risk. I stood my ground. He said that my company needed the deal more than his company — and escalated the issue to my CEO.

Next thing I know, my CEO is talking to the other CEO, and both my CEO and CIO backed my strategy. I was initially worried that I rocked the boat. In the end, I was praised for standing my ground.
I learned that to do your job, you have to stand up for what you believe in -- even if it's an unpopular decision. Just make sure it's always aligned with your company's morals, needs and strategy.
David Buzzell
David Buzzell
David Buzzell, Director/CIO, The Sedona Group

Advice: "Understand your environment, company culture and who you are dealing with."
Something I've learned indirectly through several people in my career is that each company, environment and person has their own individual way in which they need to receive information. Depending on the company culture, what works in one company may not fit at all in the next.
So, when you're addressing a situation, you need to ensure you know who you're dealing with -- the project owner, steering committee, owner, representative of operations or technical leader -- and once you know that, make sure you engage them from their perspective and use that perspective to drive discussions and decisions.
Working from this personal perspective helps clarify the working relationship and instill a clearer sense of ownership and responsibility from all parties involved. This helps facilitate more timely actions or decisions with everyone involved.
This advice has really guided me in the career decisions I've made. Being a staffing company, we have licensees (similar to a franchise), and I opened up two of my own offices while maintaining my CIO position. A major benefit that I felt would come out of that was the hands-on experience of being a branch owner. By putting myself in their shoes, I have the perspective of an owner, operations department, technical department and end user. This has helped me guide my staff to drive discussions, decisions and proper implementations through the correct perspective.
Scott Blanchette
Scott Blanchette
Scott Blanchette, CIO, Vanguard Health

Advice: Understand the business you're in as well as anyone else on the senior leadership team.
I spent the first part of my career in the military, so my entre into the private sector as an IT consultant was a little later in life than most folks. I was very quickly advised, by another technologist, that to be an effective contributor at senior leadership meetings, I needed to be able to offer advice on how technology can help meet business objectives. This was quite a brilliant piece of information to me at the time, because I was under the impression that I was going to spend my career as a technologist.
It took some doing to be conversant on topics like economics. I was fortunate enough to find supportive mentors in business units outside of IT who were willing to help. I'd also advise people to pursue formal education in finance and economics.
Today, it's rare for me to talk about technology at senior leader meetings. We discuss revenue generation, attracting customers, developing excellent products and whether the business model is supportive of those objectives -- only then do I offer insight into the technology that supports those objectives.
There's another piece of advice that I have never forgotten, maybe because it was so completely understated but also came very early in my military career. A senior leader said to me, "Blanchette, you've got to be known for something." To this day, 25 years later, I remember that comment. If it came from a well-regarded author, it would be considered brilliant. It's always stuck with me -- when you reflect back on your career, you wonder what people will recognize you for -- or not.

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