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The road to success: Tech leaders tell all

Paul Heltzel | March 29, 2016
To get to the top of the org chart, you'll need more than basic dev skills. Today's head honchos offer their wisdom on getting ahead

Shake things up, says HP’s Nigro, and look beyond the project you’re working on to develop a wider view of the company, its customers, and your market.

JR Rivers, CTO, Cumulus Networks
“Education in the absence of a well-understood goal is a waste of time. Traditional education can’t teach you to be a great leader in isolation, but it can arm you with a set of tools to draw upon.” -- JR Rivers, CTO, Cumulus Networks

“Get out of the cube or the lab and talk with your customers to understand their needs and their perceptions of the industry landscape,” Nigro says. The more you understand about your customers, competitors, technology trends, and the industry at large, the more effective you will be as you take on additional leadership responsibility.

Will you need an MBA?

More often than not the tech leads we asked emphasized that heading a company doesn’t require grad school. Instead, on-the-job experience and building relationships were the most often-cited ways to prepare for running the whole show.

David Chang, co-founder and senior vice president of solutions development, Actifio
“The most important thing is finding the right vehicle or the right company to gain that hands-on experience.” -- David Chang, co-founder and senior vice president of solutions development, Actifio

“Education in the absence of a well-understood goal is a waste of time,” says JR Rivers, CTO of Cumulus Networks. “Traditional education can’t teach you to be a great leader in isolation, but it can arm you with a set of tools to draw upon.”

And pursuing a degree for the sake of the degree can be a trap.

“I know a lot of people that have MBAs on their resume and they end up in middle-management positions, but I also know a lot of great technical leaders that didn’t even get close to an MBA,” Rivers says. “Learn the tools that will positively impact business outcomes -- however you need to learn them.”

David Chang, co-founder and senior vice president of solutions development at Actifio, isn’t a big fan of the MBA route either.

Gina Murphy, COO, TriCore Solutions
“Take advantage of on-the-job training, know what is being offered by universities, user groups, associations, and partners in your industry and leverage a vast array of learning opportunities.” -- Gina Murphy, COO, TriCore Solutions

“I think in many ways people in this line of business possess the skill sets already in terms of the basic accounting and technology, and for things you don’t know, you’re able to figure out,” Chang says. “The most important thing is finding the right vehicle or the right company to gain that hands-on experience. For example, if you can work at a young startup where you are flying the plane and changing the engine at the same time, you’ll learn a lot from those firsthand challenges and work experiences as opposed to relying on theory.”

 

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