View from the Top: Gina Bianchini, Ning
How important is it to be an engineering/technology/computers or even a broader science major to excel in the technology industry?
I am not an engineer nor do I have an engineering background. However, I believe that it’s very important to have a very strong foundation and understanding of the underlying technology in any field. Therefore, I’m the exception than the rule.
Whether it is finance, movie making or something entirely different, having an understanding of the nuts and bolts of your industry is very important. So while an engineering background for the vast majority of the people is something that is going to be a requirement, it’s not to suggest that you can’t ever have a career in the technology industry if you don’t have a background in engineering. It just makes things a heck of a lot easier.
Given the pace of technological change, how can an engineer avoid obsolescence?
I truly believe in doing something you love and for which you have true passion, regardless of the field. In my experience, I think it’s clear when engineers are passionate it’s obvious. They are constantly curious and keep up with new technology.
Unfortunately, if you don’t have that passion for technology or spend your nights exploring new things, you may be at a disadvantage. Alternatively, whenever you have passion for something, the time flies and you’re in a great position to stay on top of the trends and moves in the industry, something that is critical to being a success.
Is it just a matter of keeping up on all “hot” technologies? Or is keeping up with technologies not that important?
It depends on what you are going to do.
Should someone take a different path if they want to be a lead developer/architect rather than a technology manager?
Being an architect and a technology lead requires a slightly different skill set than being an engineering manager. So by that definition, they are definitely different paths. When you speak to engineers that have moved into management, it’s because they want to have a greater impact on the product on which they are working. In my experience, an architect may not have that sort of passion for management but loves building beautiful software that works and does amazing things.
Would you say there is a meeting ground along the path to becoming either/or? Are there common skills here?
Typically they would start with the same background. There is more leeway in engineering management in terms of background whereas as an architect it’s a little bit more challenging. But from what I’ve seen, you need to have a strong engineering background in either case to be successful.
Is there a need for non-technical people in the technology field?
I think there is. You can see a more diverse background of people in product management, business development, and finance. I don’t think any of these roles are going away.
Beyond the technical skills, what other skills are critical for a successful technologist?
I think the other skills you need are hard work, strong ethics, and a passion for what you’re doing. Beyond that, the successful people I know have a strong sense of curiosity, a desire to learn, and take feedback really well.
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?
You have to find a company where the product being developed is one that you love and the way in which they develop it is a process you can believe in. You’re going to be spending a lot of your time on that product, especially on the Internet, so whatever they are doing should be something you can throw yourself into.
What has surprised you the most about working in the technology/new media industry?
I think it’s incredibly dynamic, it’s incredibly fun, its highs are high and lows are low, but that’s what makes it exciting to go to work every morning. And I still look forward to going to work every day, so I cannot complain.
Is it a mistake to think of the Internet industry as being fundamentally a tech industry?
No, because it is absolutely technology-driven. That being said, the way the Internet is evolving, there are increasingly more opportunities for people without a technology background to do incredibly creative and innovative things. That’s one of our fundamental missions at Ning: giving anyone the freedom to create their own social experiences online.
So is technology a part of the Internet or the Internet is part of the technology industry?
Typically, the technology industry is defined as the umbrella and then there’s Internet, enterprise software, hardware, etc. under it.
How possible is it to change career paths from other fields into new media and/or technology?
It is definitely possible and some people have done it very successfully. But it depends on who you are, what is important to you and what you’ve done before in your career. Just coming out of anything may be less than ideal at the same time because some industries lend themselves better to a career in technology than others.
What advice would you give a young person considering a career in technology?
Follow your passion; it’s the most important thing. If it’s something you’re excited about, pursue it and if it’s something you are dragging your feet on then ultimately it won’t be something in which you’ll succeed.
What will be the “biggest news” in your field for 2009?
That people continue to rapidly embrace social networking and, really, a whole set of social experiences online with increasing enthusiasm. This is going to be a fun year!