Starting a career in technology is one way to ensure you’ll have to continually evolve. The technology transforming industries today might be obsolete tomorrow.
But while the technology changes, there are timeless ways to manage your career to ensure you rise to the top and stay at the forefront of what’s new.
We gathered insights and advice from six of our top executives on what they wished they knew when they were starting their careers and common mistakes they see recent graduates make. Their answers are a guide for any technology professional starting their journey.
Meet the experts.
Asher de Metz, Security Consulting Senior Manager: I completed my degree in England and focused on Computing. All of my studies were concentrated on IT.
Chris Fielding, CIO: I attended Hull University in the U.K. and majored in Zoology. After I left school and started doing research, I discovered I excelled on the IT side. This inspired me to obtain my masters in IT.
Haim Glickman, SVP, Global Solutions Engineering: I completed a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology at the University of Phoenix.
Karen Wentworth, VP, Global Corporate Communications: I graduated from a small, liberal arts college called Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. I initially entered as an English major. But, after taking a few courses with two remarkable professors, I changed my major to Social Sciences with a concentration in Philosophy.
Kaushik Ray, SVP, Global Client Service Management: I initially studied in India and later completed my master’s degree in MIS at George Washington University.
Susan Lynch, EVP and CFO: I attended Mid America Nazarene University and majored in Accounting and Business Administration. I come from a long line of female accountants. It’s in my DNA.
Looking back, would you choose a different major? Would you engage in different activities or pursue different work experiences, like internships?
Asher: I wouldn’t change anything. I chose the right subject. I also worked on the help desk for experience and had phenomenal summer jobs that gave me practical experience.
Chris: No, the most important thing at college is to enjoy what you study. It’s the act of studying and self-directed learning that allowed me to switch subjects when I needed to and to keep on learning throughout my career.
Karen: I don’t know that I would. Ultimately, my interests and studies were gratifying and opened opportunities that led me to where I am today. I chose a path that provided foundational knowledge, and built upon it through my internships, continuing education courses and career opportunities. I believe, in most cases, college is about finding or nurturing your passion.
What advice would you give to a college graduate looking to enter the tech industry?
Kaushik: First and foremost, focus on your strengths. Don’t pursue a career that requires you to be someone that you’re not. For example, someone who is good in mathematics may be more naturally inclined to excel in areas like cybersecurity and data analytics/data sciences.
But no matter what you want to pursue in technology, once you have chosen your specific area, be a sponge. Learn passionately, work diligently, don’t stop “inventing,” learn how to capture your efforts’ benefits in a quantitative manner and never lose sight of the business problem you are trying to solve.
Asher: My advice would be to gain knowledge and experience that is as practical as possible. While theory is nice, hard skills sell. It’s also worth thinking about where your specific interests lie and industry trends.
Haim: Last fall while I visited my kid’s college, one of their friends asked me what he should focus on and what job in IT will pay the most. A pointed question, but my advice to him was that no matter what he decides, he needs to prepare for the constant change in the technology industry and be ready to reinvent himself, constantly learn and adapt.
However, getting certified in a few key areas — network, AWS, CISO, VMware, Microsoft — will give any graduate a leg up in the job market.
We all look back and wish we knew certain things before we graduated. What’s one thing you’d go back and tell yourself?
Karen: It sounds trite, but I wish I’d enjoyed the opportunities and experiences to learn “in the moment” more and not always be thinking about what’s next. Opportunities will come your way that aren’t necessarily part of your plan; you must be willing to take them because you don’t know where they will lead.
Susan: I wish I had been networking the entire time I was in college. I could have been asking my professors for introductions and been more proactive in looking for a job.
Chris: Communication skills and teamwork are by far the most valuable skill you can bring at the start of your career into an organization.
Asher: Get certifications as soon as possible. They add knowledge, order what you already know and give credibility.
And lastly, what are the most common career mistakes you see recent graduates make?
Susan: Once a grad gets a job, they tend to stop networking. It’s important to continue to attend industry functions and network.
Chris: Not understanding the culture of the company. A fast-moving company which values ideas and enthusiasm will not always have the structures to follow, whereas a traditional enterprise has processes and procedures which allow large numbers of people to work well together. Finding what is going to be right for you takes thought. Ask questions of the company to ensure it’s going to meet your expectations.
Karen: You must be willing to seize any opportunity. They may not always be ideal or what you’d planned for, but any opportunity is what you make of it and can turn into the next opportunity.
In my case, I was presented with a job offer that within a one-year timeframe had me working on launching a new business, and, at the time, a new industry category. I learned more in one year than I could possibly have in four years of college, and it was because of a willingness to seize an opportunity, work hard, learn and shape it into my next steps.
Looking to the future
As we’ve seen, you don’t necessarily need a degree in IT and computer science to succeed in a tech career. Technology companies need a wide range of skills from a diverse group of people – technical, creative, economical, and more.
So no matter what your major, never stop making connections, never stop learning, always show your value, and who knows, maybe we’ll be asking you for advice one day.