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Advice From Two Tech Executives On How To Set The Right Trajectory For Your Career

Advice From Two Tech Executives On How To Set The Right Trajectory For Your Career

Young and ambitious technical professionals have the C-Suite in sight. They’re hungry for the increased compensation, responsibility, and authority that come with a CIO, CTO, or VP of technology role. To be successful in their goals, they need advice from seasoned technical professionals who have climbed the long arduous path from the bottom to the top.

This article has been written by two such professionals. Jaimie Cole is the VP of Technology at iCardiac, a relatively new biomedical research company, and Colin Rhodes is the CTO/CIO of eHealth Technologies, a midsize medical records clearinghouse located in Upstate New York. Both Jaimie and Colin have extensive experience in technology and have spent a combined fifty years in the industry.

While there is no prescription for how to get into the C-Suite, some basic approaches will significantly improve your chances of getting there. In this article, we’ll focus on five areas you should put into your five-year plan.

  • Building Relationships
  • Building Skills and Education
  • Building Great Teams
  • Building Great Strategy with Others
  • Contributing to the Community

Build Relationships

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    Many technical people find building strong professional relationships outside their immediate work environment to be a challenge. After all, if you spend your entire day with technical people, you’ll be immersed in their culture and world.

    Venturing out to see the rest of the company is equally important. Studies have shown that people with deep networks are promoted more frequently and are seen as higher achievers, largely because of their ability to build relationships.

    Deep relationships don’t consist of going out for lunch or knowing each other’s children’s names. The best relationships are built on mutual respect and trust forged in joint projects where you’ve had a chance to show you have each other’s back.

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    Strong performers work on both vertical and horizontal relationships and understand their peers’, managers’, and subordinates’ needs. When you look around you at the people you work with, ask yourself if they trust you and if you trust them. This is a good measure of where you stand in the organization, but be careful not to confuse trusting someone with liking them, as these are two different concepts. Trust is the confidence you have in someone’s competence and character. Competence is demonstrated by consistently delivering quality results in a timely manner. Character is demonstrated by making decisions with integrity, being inclusive, staying away from the politically correct solution that may be entirely incorrect. Be viewed as one that gets to the right answer independently, even though it may be counter to the prevailing political winds. But do it in a way that does not sacrifice anyone’s career or credibility—having each other’s back, so to speak.

    The further up the management chain that you go, the more relationships matter. This is especially true when dealing with outside suppliers. Remember, a true win is when you both can work together with as little friction as possible, anticipating each other’s moves, and helping each other get over the finish line.

    The easiest way to build relationships is to treat others with respect and dignity. Don’t bother stroking egos or playing games, just be authentic, real, and sometimes even a little vulnerable. Other people trust those who trust them enough to let them in, and all the bluster and bravado in the world can’t replace this simple act. One of the best ways to build rapport in your relationships is to schedule one-on-one conversations. Conversations are different when they are one-on-one versus in a larger group. You are more likely to get to know the character of the other person in these one-on-one meetings.

    Build Skills and Education

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      What’s your five-year plan for your education? You’re going to be working with some very bright people, and you’d better have a desire to engage in lifelong learning if you plan to keep up.

      There is a growing movement in tech against going out and taking an MBA to supplement your technical skills. Much of what you need to know can be learned on the job or through self-study. If you take online courses and show initiative by learning something new every day, that’s enough for me. People with these characteristics always do well.

      Remember to balance hard and soft skills. Great senior technical managers are multi-faceted. They write articulately, communicate with others, and can still configure machines, write code, and inspire the troops by showing they haven’t lost their edge. There is always an element of the generalist in such people, but they have deep pillars of supporting skills built over many years of hard work.

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      Research and explore seminars, webinars, lunch-and-learn sessions, local networking learning sessions that are offered over breakfast or lunch. Ask others what books they have read recently that have helped them look at their work or career from a new perspective.

      Build Great Teams

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        If you get the opportunity to build your own team, hire for attitude and train for skill. Enthusiasm, self-initiation, and self-motivation are difficult, if not impossible, skills to train. They are skills that should be intrinsic to you and to those that you hire. In Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, he talks about “getting the right people on the bus” and “getting the wrong people off the bus.” This is a key insight; people fit together in teams like jigsaw puzzles and no amount of pushing will fit the wrong piece into the open space.

        If you become the manager of the team, realize that it takes time to manage people. They need direction, objectives, coaching, and correction. Setting up tasks and expectations for your team takes time. Find an experienced manager outside of your direct reporting relationship and ask if they can be your mentor while you cut your teeth on this new responsibility. Experienced managers make it look easy—it’s not.

        Managing teams is hard because people are involved. Sometimes people are unpredictable. Sometimes you have to remove a great person who unfortunately is in the wrong role. This adds stress to your own job and responsibilities.

        Build Great Strategy with Others

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          There’s a reason why it often takes so long to become a general in the army; strategy is serious business and you are taking the lives of others into your hands when you play at it. If you choose right, your company bursts into flower, and if you choose wrong, well, the flower withers and dies.

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          Fortunately, you will rarely be developing strategy on your own. A well-developed technology strategy is a series of concepts that have been agreed to by the business owners, product line managers, and other constituents, including your own C-level team. It should show a logical progression from the current state to some desired future state in alignment with the goals and financial means of the corporation.

          Building great strategy is hard. It takes a team of executives who can bring different skills to the task, and a fine CEO who can articulate your strategy to investors and shareholders as part of the wider corporate plan. Sometimes you’ll be planning for growth and looking ahead, and other times your mission may to be consolidate your gains or decline gracefully for a period to regroup.

          If you are in an early-phase company, breakneck growth is usually the name of the game. You need to know your systems; how they scale, what might break, and what investments are critical. Budgets are tight and highly dependent on revenue coming in the door, so you may have to bide your time for that next big systems changeover. Plans are often short term and the desire for longer-term strategy is often low as the company pivots its way into a market. Don’t let that dissuade you from having something ready to go in your back pocket. You’ll need it eventually.

          Middle-phase companies turn to strategy development as a way to overcome some of the gaps left by the frenetic motion of the early phase. The investments needed to scale at this lifecycle point are larger, and the implementation of projects is considerably more complex. It takes considerable time, thought, and the cooperation of others to build out the strategy of a midsize firm. At this point in the company’s development, it might make most sense to outsource some of the implementation of the strategy, but be sure to stay closely involved.

          Contribute to Your Community

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            We all hear the phrase “giving back to community,” but how many busy managers have the time to do it? Here’s some great advice that you will never forget: make the time to support your local community. There are so many ways to give back.

            Volunteering gives you a chance to network with other people working in different fields and walks of life who you might not come across otherwise. Pick an activity out of your comfort zone that will stretch your skills, such as Habitat for Humanity, reading at the local library, or helping out at an animal shelter. You are only limited by your imagination!

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            Connect with alumni at the university you attended. Consider presenting yourself and your company in front of a group of students. Maybe think about being an adjunct professor or co-teaching with a professor already on staff. Many university departments look for industry advisers to be part of reviewing and designing curriculum for future students. Your perspective is valuable and can have significant impact on the academic environment.

            “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” — Benjamin Franklin

            Who are we?

            As the CIO and CTO at eHealth Technologies, Colin is responsible for an innovative organization focused on medical records and imaging in Health Information Exchanges. Colin is also an active published author who contributes to a wide range of periodicals including LifeHack.org, Western New York Physician, Corporate IT Magazine, and Autism Parenting Magazine on a regular basis. In 2015, he was rated number 44 on the top 100 HCIT list for his continuing contributions to social media (http://healthcareit.me) and the BlogSphere as @CTOAndITGuy.

            As VP of Technology at iCardiac Technologies, Jaimie leads the development of software and technology to help the pharmaceutical industry. He is a passionate proponent of agile/lean software development and rapid prototyping and design. He is also an adjunct lecturer at his alma mater, Rochester Institute of Technology, in the Computer Engineering department.

            Featured photo credit: PicJumbo via picjumbo.com

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            Last Updated on January 14, 2019

            7 Ways To Make Exercise Fun For Everyone

            7 Ways To Make Exercise Fun For Everyone

            From Atkins to Paleo to eating gluten-free despite not being one of the rare few people afflicted with celiac disease, fad diets are everywhere. It drives me crazy because I believe these diets do more harm than good. Your body is made up of a variety of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals, and losing weight healthily isn’t possible when you fill your body with unnecessary synthetic plastics, sugars, and powders. There’s no easy button in life.

            What you need to do is exercise, which isn’t very appealing to many people. Workouts take work, so there’s already a stigma involved in going to the gym. Starting a healthy workout regimen becomes easier when you make it fun. If you want to live long and prosper, get off the couch and try these methods to turn your workout into a playout.

            1. Take the scenic route.

            Walking is an easy way to transition to a healthy lifestyle, and it’s free. Not only do you burn calories (check out this calculator for how many calories you burn based on your weight), but you see the world in a different way. Hiking in nature is great if you have access to it, but don’t let living in an urban area deter you from walking.

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            Whenever I’m creatively stuck I get my head straight by walking a couple of miles. It’s also how I discover new paths, meet new people, and stumble upon hole-in-the-wall spots I never would have found otherwise. You could drive past the same place every day and never appreciate the beauty, nor even notice it’s there.

            2. Distract yourself.

            No matter what exercise routine you choose, use the time to meditate. You may wonder how marathon runners are able to put so many miles on their bodies. It’s because the pain from running that you avoid is something they’ve learned to harness to enter a transcendental state. If you’re aware of the benefits of meditation and exercise but don’t have time to do both, you can combine them, killing two birds with one healthy stone.

            3. Listen to music or podcasts.

            There are few experiences in life more pleasurable than turning up the music and drowning out the world around you. With so many podcasts and music apps available on your smartphone, you can easily find entertainment options perfectly suited to your personal tastes. Never worry what people may think of you when working out;instead, crank up the volume and get lost in your own world. You’ll be in shape before you know it.

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            4. Bring a friend.

            Some people can’t go anywhere alone. While I highly recommend dining out and seeing a movie in a theater alone, having company while exercising is very helpful. It allows you to pace yourself with someone else, and gives you a coach to motivate and push harder than you may have on your own.

            Many exercises are safer when done with a friend, and some sports can only be played with another person. Involving others in your goals can mean the difference between success and failure. Just remember to continue exercising if the other person flakes, or they’ll be in control of your health.

            5. Accessorize.

            There are accessories that can make exercise easier, and sometimes buying a new toy can add some much-needed fun to your routine. With apps like RunKeeper and Nike+, your smartphone is capable of tracking your vitals and progress. Wrist weights can add a new dimension to your workout, and, if you exercise at night, a headlamp can help you see what’s in front of you so you don’t trip.

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            For urban runners and power-walkers, one of the biggest obstacles is other people. It’s difficult to get in your meditative zone and enjoy your music when you constantly have to dodge people. To resolve this vexing issue, Runbell, a startup in Tokyo, has developed the runner’s version of the bicycle bell. With this lightweight brass bell warning people you’re approaching from behind, you’re free to maintain your transcendental state while continuing your workout. Head to their Kickstarter campaign to pledge your support.

            6. Compete.

            A little healthy competition can motivate you to push yourself further in your workout regimen. There are apps like Zombies, Run! which turns your run into a video game, and MyFitnessPal which allows you to connect with others in the exercise community. Whether you’re directly competing with a friend, an online community, or against your previous self, setting goals is the key to reaching them. Running with no destination can feel like an impossible task, and it’s easy to get distracted.

            7. Relax.

            The best part about exercising is how much you enjoy the downtime. If you think laying on your couch all day is enjoyable, it has nothing on that hour you spend as a couch potato after a rigorous workout. Jay-Z said it best, “in order to experience joy, you need pain.” The harder you push yourself while exercising, the better you’ll feel when you’re relaxing.

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            With that said, don’t relax too much, or it loses the effect. It’s okay to indulge every so often. Treat yourself to some junk food you’re craving, imbibe a drink here and there, and spend a day vegging out on your couch. Staying healthy doesn’t have to be torture. Just turn down when you can and dedicate some time to better the health of your body. You only get one.

            Featured photo credit: tpsdave via pixabay.com

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