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Five technology execs share their best IT career advice

Every IT leader has received his or her fair share of IT career advice -- whether welcome or not. Much of that advice inevitably gets forgotten or ignored, but some can stick with you and influence your outlook on the job or the way you do your work. At the Gartner Symposium in Orlando, Fla., SearchCIO asked five IT executives to share the best piece of IT career advice they've ever been given. Their responses touched upon everything from taking the outsider perspective and focusing on short-term goals to adopting an improvisational mindset and embracing failure.

Abbas Haider Ali, CTO, xMatters: The best piece of IT advice I've been given, and I think this applies to technology in general, is that it's very easy to get complacent in what you're doing, so [it's important to] take the outsider perspective. And there's a couple of ways you can run that into practice. It's sometimes helpful to talk to your peers and have them evaluate what you're doing. I see a lot of really interesting companies putting that into practice by developing their own innovation groups in-house, as well. [That means] taking a part of their teams, splitting off different functions and saying, 'You're no longer bound to the reality of what we have today. If you were trying to solve the same business or technology problem with a clean slate, acting as our disruptor, what would you do?' And I think that's one of the most important things,  it's very easy to kind of focus on the one foot in front of the other approach, but the only way to make significant change sometimes is to take the outsider perspective.

The only way to make significant change sometimes is to take the outsider perspective.
Abbas Haider AliCTO, xMatters

John Viglione, CTO, Vertex Inc.: I've been lucky to have a number of excellent mentors in my career. Early on, one mentor used the expression, 'If the door is locked try the window.' What she meant by that, in effect, was that there's always more than one way to achieve your goal. It's really easy, especially if you're an engineering type or a technical type, to get locked on 'the solution,' but there's always different ways to achieve your goal. Don't force yourself into a corner, give yourself options.

Don Schuerman, CTO, Pegasystems: The best piece of IT career advice [I've ever received] is actually a piece of management leadership advice that I got from my wife. It was about understanding that when you're managing people and working with people, it really becomes incumbent on you, the leader, to step into others' shoes. I remember when I was first starting to manage people, I was struggling with getting people to understand the way I wanted to work, and my wife said, 'That's not your job. Your job is to work the way they want to work.' My job is to understand how all the people on my team want to communicate, what their individual styles are, and allow myself to be flexible to do the things that are going to make them most successful. And I think that piece of advice was really useful to me.

Schuerman: There's another thing that I've discovered over the years. I have a side gig where I've done a lot of improv comedy. I did it as a side job throughout college, and I think that there's a real need in this transformative period for technology leaders to adopt an improvisational mindset. We heard a lot this week about adopting a beginner's mind, of being open to new experiences. Satya Nadella was talking about being a learn-it-all rather than a know-it-all. And I think that improvisational mindset of [saying to yourself] 'I'm going to come with a lot of confidence and I'm going to come with a background of my own understanding and my own knowledge, but I'm going to be open.' In improv we call this 'yes-and.' I'm going to listen and accept the new things that come in and respond in the moment. It's something we have to be able to do to innovate and keep transforming at the pace that the market is demanding.

Ray Toler, VP of IT and marketing, HTRI: The best piece of IT career advice that I have been given isn't specific to IT. It's actually a much more general business piece of advice. You need to have a vision and you need to have a goal, and you need to be able to communicate that, but you really need to focus on the milestones. Everybody needs to know where you're going, but to build trust, to build expertise, to enhance your skillset, you have to focus on the pieces in between. It's great to have that five-year goal of where you're going, but getting that 30-day win, getting that six-month win, continual improvement and enhancement of the user experience and IT performance, that's all critical.

Otto Berkes, CTO, CA Technologies: I think the best piece of IT advice or technology advice that I've been given is to not be afraid to fail. Get something out there. Not all ideas take off, but make sure that, as with anything that you do in the technology space, you learn from the experience.

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