View from The Top: Gajen Kandiah, Cognizant Technologies Solutions
How important is it to be an engineering/technology/computers or even a broader science major to excel in the technology industry?
It’s not as important as it used to be. As technology becomes more strategic to the business and enables businesses to grow, having a balanced business and technology education is the key to being successful.
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?
With the proliferation of technologies it’s impossible to keep up on all of them. What’s most important for engineers is to know the broad technology trends and how they can or may affect businesses and customer needs.
Should someone take a different path if they want to be a lead developer/architect rather than a technology manager?
Yes, depending on your desired career you will need to take different paths to attain your end goal. If you are aspiring to be a lead developer/architect it’s essential to have an in-depth understanding of complex and sophisticated technology programming, tools and products. If you are aspiring to become a technology manager, it’s imperative that your career building experiences incorporate more soft skills training, including communication, project management, team work and building and maintaining relationships with clients and coworkers. No matter which road you travel, the ability to gather business requirements and develop a solution that maps to those requirements to the overall business solution is essential.
Is there a need for non-technical people in the technology field? What roles are missing from most technology organizations?
Absolutely, there is a need for non-technical people in the technology field. The most crucial missing roles from most technology organizations are industry subject matter experts, functional or domain experts, business analysts and business consultants.
Beyond the technical skills, what other skills are critical for a successful technologist?
Beyond the technical skills, having a passion for doing what is right for the business, using technology to enable the business and building enduring relationships will earn you trust and respect with both customers and coworkers.
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?
Since my career has thrived working as part of IT services firms, I interprettech-centric firms to be software product companies and user-experience firms to be IT services companies that are passionate about delighting customers. To determine the “right” type of company for you to become part of, know your career aspirations and the type of experiences you need to gain to achieve your desired career. A company’s brand and culture can intellectually and emotionally either nourish or drain you.
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 is most important to build and maintain strong relationships with the departments that interact directly with customers and employees. Within Cognizant, these departments include industry business units, such as, information, media and entertainment business unit and human resources. At the end of the day it’s all about happy and talented employees providing customers with economical business and technological solutions to make their businesses stronger.
What issues plague the technology industry? What has surprised you the most about working in the technology/new media industry?
The top two issues that continue to plague the technology industry are the proliferation of technology created to solve the same problem and the lack of industry standards. What’s most surprising to me is that the technologically savvy customer still buys multiple technologies to solve the same needs. It seems to be a self fulfilling prophecy.
Is it a mistake to think of the internet industry as being fundamentally a tech industry?
Yes. Having started and guided a company through the dot-com boom and bust, the most important lesson I learned was that the IT industry will be driven by customers who use the technology, not by technology suppliers. To learn more I recommend reading the book, Customer-driven IT: How Users are Shaping Technology Industry Growth written by David Moschella.
How possible is it to change career paths from other fields into new media and/or technology?
Changing career paths is possible; however, it may not be easy. If you want to become an architect, you will need to invest in educating yourself in J2EE, .NET, COM/COM+ and OOAD. If you have industry expertise, such as a background in the publishing industry, and are interested in a sales career, you will find it a bit easier to transition into the technology industry. Experience selling consulting services, strong relationships with target customers, demonstrating that you understand the key issues in a particular industry, superior customer facing skills and a proven track record of producing revenues are a plus.
What advice would you give a young person considering a career in technology? Speaking from my own experience, there are three main factors that will make a big difference in your technology career. They are networking, soft skills and showing initiative.
Whether you work for a multinational corporation like Cognizant where your colleagues are on the other side of the world or you are an entrepreneur working on your own as an independent contractor you will need to build crucial relationships to help advance your career. Soft skills are just as important as technical skills—like doctors need bedside manners, technologists need to acquire communication, teamwork and relationship building skills with clients and coworkers. While school primarily prepares you for the technical aspects of your job, practical on-the-job experience is critical to gaining soft skills. Showing initiative is also key. Volunteer for assignments, accept new job responsibilities, be flexible and consider the success of the company vs. your own priorities. Being proactive can catapult your career.
Any predictions for the industry? What will be the “biggest news” in your field?
Beginning my technical career during the mainframe computer era and living through the internet boom and bust has taught me that predicting the next killer application is near impossible. What’s been exciting for me is that the technology industry has been and will continue to be fast-paced and dynamic, fostering excellence and personal growth. If you are debating whether the technology industry still holds the promise it did a decade ago, the answer is yes!