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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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            Colin Rhodes

            Chief Technology Officer

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            Last Updated on July 3, 2020

            How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

            How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

            Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life. To control your thoughts means to influence the way you live your life.

            Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affects your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality)

            I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive, and just a general waste of energy.

            You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

            Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Be someone who can control your thoughts—become the master of your mind.

            When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

            I currently have a few thoughts that are not of my choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

            Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

            Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in control of your thoughts.

            If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

            Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create unhealthy and unproductive thoughts.

            1. The Inner Critic

            This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

            • Other people’s words—many times your parents
            • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples’ expectations
            • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media
            • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

            The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance, and lack of self-love.

            Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is youwhy else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

            2. The Worrier

            This person lives in the future—in the world of “what ifs.”

            The Worrier is motivated by fear, which is often irrational and has no basis. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

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            3. The Reactor or Troublemaker

            This is the one that triggers anger, frustration, and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

            This person can be set off by words or feelings and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

            The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control. He is run by past programming that no longer serves you—if it ever did.

            4. The Sleep Depriver

            This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

            The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

            • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
            • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
            • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity, and generalized anxiety
            • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

            How can you control these squatters?

            How to Master Your Mind

            You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You can control your thoughts, but you must pay attention to them so you can identify “who” is running the show—this will determine which technique you will want to use.

            Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

            There are two ways to control your thoughts:

            • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
            • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

            This second option is what is known as peace of mind.

            The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go-to” thoughts in applicable situations.

            Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

            1. For the Inner Critic

            When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

            You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

            For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

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            You can also have a dialogue with yourself to discredit the ‘voice’ that created the thought—if you know whose voice it is:

            “Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

            If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready.

            This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

            • They rile up the Worrier.
            • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
            • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
            • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
            • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

            Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

            Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

            2. For the Worrier

            Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally, and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

            Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind, and creates anxiety in the body. This may make it more difficult for you to control your thoughts effectively.

            You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

            • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
            • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
            • Muscles tense

            Use the above-stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time, you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

            If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

            Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

            “Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

            Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense. Both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

            If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

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            Now, take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like! Do it until you feel that you’re close to being in control of your thoughts.

            Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

            For example: If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

            “I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place.

            Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

            Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

            “Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

            Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

            3. For the Troublemaker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

            Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers. But until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

            The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain.

            I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

            Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds—just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

            Breathe in through your nose:

            • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
            • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
            • Focus on your belly rising.

            Breathe out through your nose:

            • Feel your lungs emptying.
            • Focus on your belly falling.
            • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

            Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize. Now, you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior, and you’ll be more in control of your thoughts.

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            One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

            Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

            4. For the Sleep Depriver

            (They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher, and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

            I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

            Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

            1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
            2. Then I came up with a replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

            When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and thoughts, and I choose quiet.

            From the first time I tried this method, I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

            For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (closed, of course). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

            If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

            You can also use this technique any time you want to:

            • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon
            • Shut down your thinking
            • Calm your feelings
            • Simply focus on the present moment

            The Bottom Line

            Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or destructive purposes.

            You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable, and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

            Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. You can be in control of your thoughts. The choice is yours!

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            Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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