9 tech leaders’ advice on running a technology organization (part 3)

A compilation of the best insight and technical takeaways from the first season of the Network Disrupted podcast, led by BlueCat CSO Andrew Wertkin.

BlueCat CSO Andrew Wertkin made a podcast highlighting IT leaders driving technological innovation – and it’s awesome. With December 9th officially closing out season 2, it’s time to parse insights you may have missed from the first season and share them with you.

‘Technology’ is probably in your title. But the hardest work you’ll do to enable your organization is the personal and people work. After all, your company relies on real people for progress. Real people with strengths and shortcomings, ambitions and busy lives, curiosity and fears. For you, too, it isn’t just a job. It’s a personal journey that tests character, strength, nerves, hope, values, patience, you name it. It was refreshing to see so many Network Disrupted guests acknowledged this, making it a recurring theme on the show that warrants deeper examination.

The first part of this series focused on how our guests approach creating that critical alignment with the business. The second unpacked what the show’s guests had to say on running a technology organization.

Now it’s time to take a deeper dive into how they do the personal and people work their jobs require.

Find episodes on: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Overcast | RSS

P.S. Network Disrupted will be back with even more leadership insight and technical expertise this Spring. Know somebody who should be featured? Send your recommendations to andrew@networkdisrupted.com, @netwkdisrupted on Twitter, or Network Disrupted on LinkedIn.


How to invest in your people

Progress in spite of technology

Towards the end of the show’s first episode, SVP of Technology at Loblaw, David Markwell said something that was not appreciated enough at the time, for its profound validity.

He said, “Despite all the technology, we get things done through people.”
“Despite” – many times we trip over the amount of options we have on the tools end, and it’s people who give meaning and sense to it all.

Talent eats tech for breakfast

Unisys’ Global CTO, Vishal Gupta put it simply; “Your ability to attract the talent, retain the talent, engage the talent is going to be the biggest factor that determines whether your business plan is going to be successful or not.” (Mind you, ‘Talent’ is a colloquial term in the industry that’s managed to scientificize what really is ‘people’.)

Dedicate time to building your next generation of leaders

Markwell has a really healthy approach to this. He says, “the farther off you go, the more time you should be spending on developing and mentoring people whether it’s on your team, or across the business… That to me is the biggest lesson I’ve learned, and I take it very seriously. I actively mentor or sponsor [people]. In store operations, in supply chain, in merchandising, in the financial services group. Only because I see it as so important to be able to build our next generation of leaders.”

Absorb learning costs

Chances are, your people’s personal lives are bursting at the seams with ‘busy.’ If you expect change to happen, take it into your own hands. Tom Sweet, VP in IT Services at GM Financial did just that.

He explains, “Part of what we do, is I provide an hour per day for my team to up-skill, which is either used for innovation, or it can be used for learning. I asked for this from the CIO because it’s important that we reinvest. We have to create this culture of continuous learning. Some companies give this time, other companies don’t, but we feel it’s important to reinvest and allow team members to get better.”

Position up-skilling as a choice to seize opportunity

By the way, Sweet positions the additional learning as an opportunity, not a burden.

“What I do is I also share with them a lot of what’s going on in the DFW area. There’s a lot of high tech down here, especially in North Dallas and a lot of these companies, I’m not going to list them, but they’ve either outsourced their QA to India or they’ve gone to a more unified engineering approach and they’ve released their QA teams and laid them off. What I’m telling them is that we are investing in you. We are providing you with a future and this is what the future looks like. You can get on the bus or you can find another bus that goes someplace else, but this bus is moving more towards unified engineering and you’re part of that. We have a seat for you on this bus. We paid for your ticket. We just need you to get on the bus and for the most part, most of the team members are excited about that.”

Remind people learning never stops

Sweet says, “the job now is about development. DevOps. Automated testing. It’s networking. It’s cloud if I didn’t already say that. There’s all these different pieces to it. It’s not just one thing and it’s not only one language. It’s node. It’s angular and they have to be able to take up these different languages and now we’re talking about Golang. Someone who knows C#, well he or she may have to learn Go in the next couple of months to maybe work on a different project. So it’s having this culture of continuous learning and being excited about it and what we try to tell the team, we’ve got this kind of joke. It’s like, “Keep up with the cloudashians, not the Kardashians,” because we have this meeting, a staff meeting and we had trivia questions.

Believe in curiosity

Gupta, who, similar to Sweet, provides his teams with learning resources and space to consume them. “A lot of people had told me that, ‘oh, the people who’ve been around doing one type of thing for many years, they’ll never pick up anything, they’re not going to be interested.’ But our experience proved otherwise. I think because we ended up not making this as a top-down [initiative], we ended up engaging them much more.”


On personal leadership approaches

Don’t aim for narrow leadership

“As you grow as a leader,” says Markwell, “it’s not just about the shadow you cast within your own group. It’s about what profile and what value do you add to the greater organization. I’m active in our diversity inclusion committee, I ran our AI community, I’ve built our analytics training program with some partners on the business side. I’ve actively taken myself to a point outside of just technology where I don’t want to be seen just as a good technology leader, I want to be seen as a leader, point blank.”

Bring vulnerability to the table; every time

Chad Sheridan, Chief Innovation Officer at NetImpact Strategies, has spent a long time in high-stakes leadership. He says, “what I find, having watched a lot of executives in government, is they get into that job and they’re supposed to know everything. They’re ‘supposed’ to be in charge, and inevitably they stop asking people for help because they think they’re supposed to know it.” 

“Nobody likes to say we embrace failure because you don’t want to fail. But the reality is, when you crash and burn and you get back up and you dust yourself off and you get back in the ring and keep going, there is a resilience.”

Look at the big picture

Cerner Director Jon Macy reminds listeners that the technology is a means to an end, not an end itself. “I’m a technologist but I’ve always had a foot in the business view in that I can build and design and operate the coolest technical stacks and functionality that the world has ever seen, but if my business can’t sell it or make money at it, it’s pretty much a fail.”

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