View from The Top: Bao Nguyen, LexisNexis
How important is it to be an engineering/technology/computers or even a broader science major to excel in the technology industry?
It depends on one’s goal. For example, you do not need a technical background to be a Project Manager. It’s always been my view, however, that technology alone isn’t the answer even in the technology industry. A mixture of business understanding and a technical background is a nice balance. With a technical background you are in a better position to be able to sort out what is relevant to you and your profession.
Given the pace of technological change, how can an engineer avoid obsolescence?
Staying focus on the relevant technologies is very important. Training, continuing education, reading, and engaging in hobbies relevant to your field are always good.
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 “hot” technology isn’t realistic as there are vast amount of technologies out there. The key is to be aware of technological trends that matters to your field and understand how those technologies can benefit what you do. Think out of the box.
Should someone take a different path if they want to be a lead developer/architect rather than a technology manager?
An architect normally stays technical and with much hands-on. A technology manager needs to be able to understand and keep up with relevant technology trends and at the same time manage and command respect of a technical staff..
Is there a need for non-technical people in the technology field?
Absolutely. Patent attorney, UI designers, Document Writers in technology companies are a few examples.
What roles are missing from most technology organizations?
A role that can really drive an organization optimally requiring both deep business understanding and core technical background is what I have found missing usually from companies I have seen or worked at.
Beyond the technical skills, what other skills are critical for a successful technologist?
Leadership and business savvy are key.
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?
Tech-centric and user-experience are really distinct. It’s important for an individual to understand their needs and interests. For example, companies like Apple or Research in Motion are highly technical companies with focus on human factors to produce cool products.
On the other hand, you have a company like NASA. Being cool isn’t their main objectives while reliability and survivability are. You need to understand what kind of company you want to be involved with in order for long-term prospect.
What is the ideal role for the technology organization to play in the broader organizational structure?
It’s the balance of business needs and technical ability. The key is to enable and help business objectives; to help the business understand what’s available and to help the business achieve its objectives.
What are the most important inter-departmental relationships that a technology organization should forge to be successful?
I’ve seen a lot of departments that don’t communicate. This causes a number of different issues and leads to inefficiencies. It is very important for a technology organization to strategize, lead, and communicate how technologies can help or even drive a company meets its objectives.
What issues plague the technology industry?
Communication and leadership! Technologies are moving much faster than most organization can understand and utilize. A sound technological strategy with simpler messaging can help an organization absorb and take advantages of technological advances faster.
What has surprised you the most about working in the technology/new media industry?
One of the things that surprised me the most is the lack of ability of companies to take advantage of all the new technologies out there. This is not a new problem; it has been around for a long time and again, companies have made a lot less progress on technical strategy, communication, and leadership than I have anticipated.
Is it a mistake to think of the internet industry as being fundamentally a tech industry?
Yes, that’s a complete mistake. The internet industry is about many things. If we look at the infrastructure and how it is built, then it is a technology industry. If you look at how data zooming around the Internet infrastructure, then it’s a technology industry. But technology is only an enabler. For example, eBay, fundamentally, is not a technology company. It’s fundamentally a trading business that is built on the internet technologies. Google is a marketing company as well as a host of other highly technical businesses. So, the internet is not fundamentally a tech industry.
How possible is it to change career paths from other fields into new media and/or technology?
Depending on one’s career’s interest, I don’t think it’s that hard. Given a person with talent, drive, and focus, he or she should to be able to move into new media and to be able to excel in it.
What advice would you give a young person considering a career in technology?
Because there are so many technologies in existence, you need to understand your interests and passion. It’s the old saying of doing what you like. If you have a music background, you can use technology to perhaps make music that are more unique than a person without a music background. Technology is a fundamental infrastructure and you can exploit it in your favor.
Also, if possible, during school, try to take a seminar or part-time job or internship with one of the companies of your liking, and see what it’s like. The key is to have passion and focus in what you do.
Any predictions for the industry?
More advanced data management and correlation. Much of data in existence today are not correlated and related to other databases. Because of the vast data available, knowing where to find and correlate only the necessary data a user need to understand and see will drive better decision making and higher efficiencies.
What will be the “biggest news” in your field for 2009?
I believe there will be more data integration and heavy investments across legal data management industry. Many technologies are making their way into the Legal industry and investments are being made to take advantage of these technological advancements.