C-Suite Career Advice

Republished from IDG Connect Oct 29, 2019


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  2. C-suite career advice: Alex Fielding, Ripcord Posted by IDG Connecton October 29 2019 Name: Alex FeildingCompany: RipcordJob Title: CEO and co-founderLocation: Hayward, CaliforniaAs CEO, co-founder and member of the board of directors for Ripcord, Alex Fielding is responsible for the leadership, vision and execution of the company. Fielding started his career as an engineer at Cisco Systems and Apple, where he worked on multiple generations of MacOS, PowerBook, Network Server and was part of the first iMac team. After leaving Apple, he worked at Exodus Communications with Ellen Hancock, Exodus' CEO who was Apple's former CTO. He co-founded Wheels of Zeus with Apple's co-founder Steve Wozniak in 2001, which was sold to Zontrak in 2006. Fielding was Chief Technology Officer, Federal Government at Power Assure and then Vice President at Vigilent before starting Ripcord. Fielding sits on the Board of Directors of The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), is a Board Member of the Code Warrior Foundation and is a founding member of Singularity University. He is an Orange Telecom mentor in their Mentor Fab startup accelerator and an Advisor to Astra Space.What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? I once had a fantastic manager who I went to for advice when I was starting Ripcord. He told me it's great to work on something that everyone wants and desires but it's much better to be needed. Trends come and go and people's affections toward cool technologies come and go, but things that people actually need will always be budgeted for. And, if you're zeroed in, you'll build something that people actually need and want, that's the Holy Grail.What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? "If you build it they will come." The truth is, they may not come. The words that people use a lot when they don't know if something is going to connect is, "creating a category." But what that means is that no one has asked for it and nobody is really doing it. It's being done with the hope that it actually does create a category.What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? Cross-train. Technology changes and evolves so rapidly that the notion of being a deep specialist in any particular field, when it's evolving at an exponential pace, is dangerous. Cross-training is essential for building the right skill set for the future. As  we all know, the only thing constant is change.Did you always want to work in IT? Yes. I've loved technology ever since I can remember. At the age of seven or eight I took computer programming classes in the basement of my local library. I didn't have a computer at home but I would write my code line-by-line on a note pad and run it in my mind. I was hooked right away.What was your first job in IT? My first paycheck came from supporting a computer lab at San Jose State University. It was a part-time job. My first full-time job was working with satellite protocols. That was when I got to do my first real IT work.What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? The biggest misconception is that it's a singular endeavor; an introvert's paradise. The truth is that building companies and working in engineering teams is a team sport. When you are writing code for projects that are as big as they are now, everyone on the team has an impact. No one person writes a giant software package on their own. That sort of thing may have existed in the late seventies and early eighties, like we've seen in movies, but it just doesn't exist anymore.Now, the value of the code and the software is determined by how well the team interacts and prioritises. And how well each member of the team contributes to his or her role.What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Don't do it! The truth is, you should aim for what you love doing the most and if you end up in a c-level role that's fantastic. In my career, every time I got good at something and got comfortable, someone would promote me and I would be bad at something and feel uncomfortable for a while. And the cycle would repeat. It makes me think of the rule that says it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at something. That's tough to do that when you are constantly be put in situations where you aren't fully comfortable but it's what happens when you move up.Once you're in a c-level positions the biggest skill you need to develop is being able to resolve conflict and remind the team that everyone is working on the same goal.What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? My ambitions are related to mantra. We only have a short time on planet earth, so why work on things don't make a difference. Every job I've had has been a mission- or mantra-driven pursuit.For Ripcord, the mantra is be the company that digitises the world's paper. What if we can do that? The reason that connects with me is that the bulk of the knowledge of humanity is exiled to paper. We are struggling to bring the knowledge of our past into a modern search engine and structure it in a way that it can be found.I think it's important to tie your ambitions to mantra and if you are ambitious enough with your mantra, you will probably never really achieve it.Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? No. The truth is that when you are working on something that is completely ingrained in you, it can be more consuming then you intend. I'm consumed by tradeoffs competing for my time. Regrettably, it's often sleep that has to get sacrificed.What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I wouldn't change a thing.Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? A coding bootcamp.How important are specific certifications? Not important at all. By the time you get one there's another one there.What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? What they say their passions are. You learn a lot from people that really care deeply about something in particular and do well at it. It's rare for people to be bad at things they love. I look for people that have a connection with what we do.A spirit of fairness. Fairness is really important in working relationships. I want people who are willing and happy to let the best ideas win.What would put you off to a candidate? Lack of curiosity. It also may sound cliché, but you can find brilliant candidates anywhere, especially here in Silicon Valley, but if they aren't a good human, it's not worth it.What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Being inauthentic. It's not going to work out for anyone if a candidate isn't true to the person he or she is.Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? Mix of both.

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