View from The Top: Alex Holmes, Eurekster, Inc.
How important is it to be an engineering/technology/computers or even a broader science major to excel in the technology industry?
Most startups want smart/driven people in their organizations. The challenge will be getting your foot in the door coming out of college. To do this, having a computer science degree can definitely help, especially if you want to go down the engineering route. As an alternative, you can take an unpaid internship for a couple of months. In many cases, successfully completing tasks, and showing an ability to learn and understand a proprietary technology can be a huge value-add in the job search process.
Given the pace of technological change, how can an engineer avoid obsolescence? Is it just a matter of keeping up on all “hot” technologies? Or is keeping up with technologies not that important?
Keeping up with all the new/hot technologies is definitely a big piece to running the most effective infrastructure. The key here is to not get too involved in technologies that aren’t proven or that won’t give you as much benefit compared to the amount of time it takes to learn and integrate.
Should someone take a different path if they want to be a lead developer/architect rather than a technology manager?
Early in your career, you’ll want to show an ability to understand and accomplish goals regardless. Being part of a success story can help you move forward in your career as well.
Is there a need for non-technical people in the technology field? What roles are missing from most technology organizations?
Absolutely, though wherever you end up—either on the business or tech side—being able to speak to everyone in the organization is a big plus. For example, as a marketer or a business development person, you’ll want to be able to understand requirements made by engineers, both internally or externally.
Beyond the technical skills, what other skills are critical for a successful technologist?
A successful technologist should be able to work through solutions with a group of other talented people and be able to keep a broad professional network.
There seem to be companies that are tech-centric and those that are more user-experience centric. Is this an important distinction in choosing the “right” company to work for?
Sure. When interviewing for a job, you should get a sense of what that company’s goals are. If they are offering the best technical solution, they may not be as concerned about content or user experience. Keep that in mind if you are a writer, for example.
What is the ideal role for the technology organization to play in the broader organizational structure? What are the most important inter-departmental relationships that a technology organization should forge to be successful?
It’s important to make sure that the technology side and the business side are on the same page and that they are working toward the same goal. As an individual, you want to make sure that you can understand where the other side is coming from, and you want to be prepared to be able to put your opinions in perspective.
What issues plague the technology industry? What has surprised you the most about working in the technology/new media industry?
Well, right now, we’re in a recession, so many startups are streamlining their resources, and preparing for profitability in a year or two. Eurekster offers a search product that we believe many marketers will be moving their marketing dollars to in the near term, so this is less of an issue for our company.
Is it a mistake to think of the internet industry as being fundamentally a tech industry?
Eurekster is considered a tech company, yet we create search portals about all kinds of entertainment, including movies, TV, games, science fiction, astrology and much more. At the end of the day, we are creating a more valuable internet experience for our users. If you think about it, even five years ago, people were going on the internet mostly to find information. Now, people are turning to the internet to be entertained. Many tech companies are realizing this.
How possible is it to change career paths from other fields into new media and/or technology?
Especially for startups, we want smart people that can get stuff done. It’s a plus if they have worked in a startup environment before, but there are plenty of startup environments outside of the new media industry.
What advice would you give a young person considering a career in technology?
Get involved however you can—start a blog, get active on Digg or StumbleUpon, build a swicki. Show an interest in new media and web software, and show an ability to create something that attracts strangers.
Any predictions for the industry?
A convergence of social media, niche publishing and web search. There are now opportunities to leverage user activity in the social graph to create a better universal search experience. There’s too much information out there to not consider this when serving up a search results page.