View from The Top: Patrick Moroney, Technology Leaders Association
How important is it to be an engineering/technology/computers or even a broader science major to excel in the technology industry?
The skills required to be successful fall into five categories: Technology skills, business skills, leadership skills, people skills and change management skills. If you want to focus on being a technologist and stay a technologist, getting an engineering or computer science-flavored degree is critical. I don’t know too many people with broader science degrees that end up in IT. That said, while technology leadership skills are generally the ticket to the dance to be successful, at the dance you need to be able to dance, talk, schmooze, make friends, understand relationships and know how to look and act the part.
I have a business degree and had a career in operations management before I got into IT. In most businesses, business leaders are looking for people who can speak and understand business and help them get value from technology while they relegate technologists to the back room. So it is also more about getting an MBA today more than ever before.
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?
For someone dedicated to the technical path rather than the managerial path keeping up depends on what you enjoy. You cannot possibly ‘keep up’ with all the hot technologies and be good at them. People end up as CTOs because they have a natural talent at keeping it all together and making sense of it. For others, it depends on whether you have an orientation toward application or infrastructure. For example, for an applications engineer/architect, knowing how to design and code in today’s languages and architecture is critical but also knowing how to evolve those skills into the next coding evolution and developing those skills is as important if not more. The COBOL programmer needs to also be able to code in JAVA or .net for example—it’s not just the code it’s the paradigm of SOA and objects, etc. which need to be absorbed and employed.
Bottom line is that you don’t get paid for knowing everything; you get paid based on what you can actually do by focusing on the right skills.
Should someone take a different path if they want to be a lead developer/architect rather than a technology manager?
There are definitely two paths. For someone taking the managerial path, at some point he/she will by necessity have to ‘take their hands off the keyboard’ and when that happens their ability to perform technology skills, business skills, leadership skills, people skills and change management skills, become the skills that need to be mastered as technology changes more quickly every day and the ability to keep up at a level of deep technical usefulness becomes difficult to unrealistic.
Is there a need for non-technical people in the technology field? What roles are missing from most technology organizations?
Absolutely yes. But to the extent that non-technical does not mean a person absolutely no knowledge of technology or someone who is unable to lead technologists. A great and evolving place for these people is in business relationship management roles translating between the IT organization and business areas.
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?
It helps to love, or at least enjoy the business you work in, but increasingly more businesses are or will rely on technology to enable business value so there are a lot of places that can make tech folks happy and challenged. The trick is make sure you know what the specific job is and what the challenges will be and make sure those fit you within either environment and make sure you are able to add value to the bottom line.
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?
The CIO, and by default, the IT organization, has a unique horizontal relationship across all businesses. To do the job well, the person or the IT organization must understand and serve all business areas to be successful—the reverse, as in, that the vertical business areas need to understand IT to the same degree is not true. The ideal role for the organization must recognize these horizontal relationships and skill sets to be successful. IT and technology often end up driving process and other change in organizations because IT folks can’t do their jobs well something without the change in business but leading that change is a shared role with the business and not normally an ideal leadership role for IT.
What issues plague the technology industry? What has surprised you the most about working in the technology/new media industry?
It is the general lack of a two-way street, the lack of commitment to a real business alignment process not only with IT but across business organizations that tend to put IT in an uphill climbing juggle all too often. IT needs to be an equal partner of business success.
Is it a mistake to think of the internet industry as being fundamentally a tech industry?
Yes! The internet is a branding, communication, marketing/sales and social networking paradigm for companies and no longer just a technology. It is another part of a company’s outreach, service and public presence and increasingly of transaction flow into and out of an organization.
How possible is it to change career paths from other fields into new media and/or technology?
If you can build relationships and understand how to employ technology to enable a business strategy you can be a successful IT professional.
What advice would you give a young person considering a career in technology?
Go for it! I coached my son toward a double major in finance and IT and he is doing well as a new employee at Accenture. Having the business perspective and ability to help connect value from technology is the skill of the future. There will continue to be employment for as far as I can imagine into the future for people who can do that well regardless of the shifts from globalization