View from the Top: Dan Neumann, Organic
How important is it to be an engineering/technology/computers or even a broader science major to excel in the technology industry?
While there are many tech industry jobs that do not require a formal computer science or engineering degree, it is important to understand the technologies you plan to work with. A solid grasp of the fundamentals of either computer science or engineering principles at the undergraduate level is a good place to start.
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?
Many new technologies are derivative. If you have a solid understanding of two basic programming languages, you will be well positioned to adapt to new languages as they move to the mainstream.
Should someone take a different path if they want to be a lead developer/architect rather than a technology manager?
If you have an undergraduate computer science background, then you are well positioned to begin a career in technology. A good approach is to get some real world work experience before committing to an organization. Most lead developers move around before reaching that level.
Is there a need for non-technical people in the technology field? What roles are missing from most technology organizations?
Interaction design and information architecture are critical to the success of many technology companies and, subsequently, are growing fields. Corporate marketing is also heating up as technology companies compete for market share.
Beyond the technical skills, what other skills are critical for a successful technologist?
It is important to be willing to invest time testing new technologies and their derivative services. It’s not enough to simply read a review. To really understand the potential of a new technology you need to get hands on experience with it so you can be clear on its pros and cons. Testing new technologies is often a tedious process, because more often than not, the execution is flawed. It’s always worth checking out new services with an eye to how they might be improved upon.
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?
Regardless of focus, successful companies need to consider all aspects of their product. A tech-centric company may need people who understand UX more than a UX-focused company and vice versa. The challenge for a UX-focused person in a tech-focused culture is, more often than not, integrating with workflows and coworkers who do not make allowances for the discipline.
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?
At Organic, we believe good ideas can come from anyone in the organization. This means all departments need to be connected, open and collaborative with each other.
What issues plague the technology industry? What has surprised you the most about working in the technology/new media industry?
There is a good deal of complacency in the industry. Many people are content to limit their work to what they already know how to do and are comfortable with. Risk is inherent when working on projects that involve new technology and many people are highly risk averse in professional settings. The challenge is for companies to create corporate cultures that reward and encourage innovation.
Is it a mistake to think of the internet industry as being fundamentally a tech industry?
I think so. While the underlying technology is what makes online commerce possible, infrastructure and site development only account for a small portion of total transactions. Online advertising, marketing and retail business represent huge numbers of jobs that far exceed the engineering jobs that keep everything running.
How possible is it to change career paths from other fields into new media and/or technology?
Anything is possible. Most importantly, people need to absorb all they can about the industry, be patient, work hard and pay their dues.
What advice would you give a young person considering a career in technology?
Develop a core skill in your area of interest.
Any predictions for the industry? What will be the “biggest news” in your field for 2009?
Keep a close eye on streaming video. As the lines between television and computer blur, we are going to see some interesting developments.