Friday, October 2, 2009

What you need to know on the road to becoming a technology executive

We had a wonderful plenary session on "what you need to know on the road to becoming a technology executive", with 5 hugely successful C*O level executives from facebook, Amazon, Xerox, Lockheed Martin, and Intuit. What I found interesting is that throughout the session, answers to many different questions eventually came back to one thing - having passion for what you do.

The moderator started by asking each panelist to go through their career paths briefly. What was interesting is that they all took quite different paths to arrive at the executive seat. Some stayed at the same company for a long time, some jumped from one to another, but all of them ended up successful. This just shows that there is not just one path to the top. Following the brief introduction, there were many thought-provoking questions & answers. Here are some notes:

Q: do you have any career planning advice?
A: have a good solid technical foundation. Good communication skill is also important, especially being able to explain technical information to non-technical audience. You need to be a good problem solver, able to multi-task, and prioritize and manage your time well. Also, don't think of it as a career path, more as a career obstacle course. You are more energized to solve the obstacles and know they are there to test you.

Q: is there going to be a job for new college grad in the next few years?
A: throughout the economic downturns, people who are talented and passionate are almost always employed. If you are excited and passionate about your path, love what you do, you will be successful. If you're only doing it because you think it's a good career path, you may have a harder time.

Q: did you ever stop feeling like you're invincible?
A: if you feel like you've lost your confidence, your invincibility, your determinism, regroup and maybe find another company that can re-energize you. If you get rejected from something, find out what you need to work on. Sometimes realize the position isn't what you really want anyway, and it may open up another door that is a better fit.

Q: people are working more and more nowadays, and this is sometimes given as a reason women leave the field. Advice on that?
A: we can be more flexible now, with people being able to work from home. Try to find a company that believes in that value. Be very diligent about how you spend your time, and realize world doesn't end when you don't check your email for a while, and your company doesn't collapse when you don't work 80 hours a week. Also, delegate! Find babysitters or other helpers, don't think you have to do everything. Educate your manager that even though you aren't in the office really late, you can still do great work.

Q: what's the greatest challenge for the new generation who's just entering the work force? Any advice for them?
A: managing your time well is very important. You also have to make decisions much quicker, and have to sort through a lot more information. At the same time, if you are passionate about something, you can really make an impact in the world.

Q: is the true passion for technology what gets you to the top?
A: if you truly love what you're doing, that should be reward enough and you don't need a promotion or raise. You may not be passionate about all aspects of your job, and that's ok.

Q: how do you develop depth and credibility and move up the ladder?
A: if your manager isn't helping to make you successful, maybe it's time to change managers. If you feel like you can't bloom to the fullest potential in your organization, it's time to leave. Also, you absolutely cannot lose your technical expertise, no matter how far you go up.

Q: what does it mean to have "executive presence" in your company?
A: best executives are always very decisive. You can lead from the front or the back, but if you're effective people will go to you for advice. You have to learn to act confidently even if you are not confident inside, eventually the confidence will come in. It's also important to be able to disagree effectively, and still commit and be a good team player.

Q: any advice on risk taking?
A: don't feel like you have to have every skill and qualification for a job and be completely perfect before applying for something. Stretch your comfort zone, there is great opportunity in risks. You won't know what you can or cannot do until you try it. Sometimes other people see things in you that you don't see yourself.

It was such an honor and also fun to listen to the executives talk so candidly and passionately about their work. I feel very refreshed and energized to go back to my job and make some changes. :)

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