When you think of IT skills, you might think of cybersecurity, cloud or computer networking. But in this Technologist Talk Radio podcast, sponsored by Creating IT Futures, CompTIA CEO Todd Thibodeaux highlights teamwork as the most important skill for today’s IT pro.
Host Bob Dirkes asks Todd about how IT pros can develop skills like teamwork that will help them advance their careers and become the leaders of tomorrow.
Listen to the podcast or read the transcript below.
BOB: What’s the most important skill set for a technologist in today’s digitally driven business world? Working with the cloud, cybersecurity savvy, managing artificial intelligence?
None of the above.
Teamwork skills top them all. We’ll hear from a technologist who manages teams around the country, across oceans and spanning four generations on this episode of Technologist Talk Radio, a podcast from CompTIA’s tech workforce charity, Creating IT Futures.
Hello, I’m Bob Dirkes. Welcome to Technologist Talk Radio, where we share stories about how technologists found, shaped and develop their careers and now help others do the same.
In this edition, we’ll visit again with Todd Thibodeaux, chief executive of CompTIA, the world’s foremost association for information technology professionals.
A couple of months ago on this podcast, we featured Todd’s speech to members of the TSA, the Technology Student Association, as he shared his journey from tinkering with toys to running an organization that serves the world’s $5 trillion IT industry.
How did Todd grow from Lincoln Logs to leadership, teamwork skills, especially the ability to collaborate across perceived boundaries of age and experience? In this conversation from CompTIA’s ChannelCon, he breaks it down for us.
TODD: Today we have people from baby boomers all the way down beyond millennials in the workforce at the same time. And one of the important things that needs to happen in the tech industry, in particular, is to get a good generational transfer of knowledge because things change, but a lot of things stay the same, too.
History is a good educator, so we need to make sure that people are able to work effectively with people older than them who have different values and different perceptions and that the people at the other end of the scale can work effectively with people who are younger than them, who have different values and different expectations.
If we don’t do this, then we don’t get this good transfer of knowledge and we don’t get the best solutions possible by learning from mistakes and incorporating new ideas and new techniques.
I learned this really early on when I started working at the age of 12 and was working with adults primarily. I wasn’t working with my peers, so I got a chance to interact with adults and learn how they behaved, how they work and the things that motivated them. And I think that really helped me a lot later in my career and separated me from my peers in some way by being more aware of that.
In fact, when I was older and in my teens, I actually felt more comfortable at times around adults than I did around my peers because I had worked with them and interacted with them in different and interesting ways.
I think the people who get that experience early on are better equipped when they come into the workforce rather than just interacting with their peers. They’re not so awed by the whole experience of having to work with individuals whom they see as their parents or their superiors or their older brother or sister. They can see them as a coworker and not necessarily as an authority figure.
When you don’t have those skills, you tend to get mired down. You tend to get stuck. The work tends to be sluggish.
When you have these skills, you’re able to utilize the best of what other people have to bring to the table to get the solutions that you really need quicker, faster and more efficiently.
When you lack those skills, things get bogged down. There’s miscommunication, there are all kinds of issues that can pop up, but it’s mostly about the ability to effectively work with others, because you can never accomplish as much on your own as you can accomplish working with a team.
Everybody, when they come into their first role, they want to accomplish things on their own. They want to set their own mark. If people take that to an extreme for too long and don’t recognize the value of bringing other people in and making other people as productive as yourself, that tends to happen. The people who get stuck in that never graduate into senior leadership positions.
They don’t see the value in that because they’re more worried about having all the acclaim and things accrue to them. But when you can start to see how others can add to that or how you can add to others and that sharing is being part of a team, then you can see how leading is being part of organizing that team and putting the team together, defining the goals, helping to set the strategy and then setting people loose to achieve that.
BOB: It sounds as though you’re saying that learning to collaborate, in other words, to share this part of a team, is sort of a foundation for eventual leadership.
TODD: The best leaders are people who are willing to share and do that. They aren’t looking for all the spotlight. They can drive the company without having to be at the forefront of every single thing or being the face. They take the responsibility, they take on the burden, they take on the onus, but you can do that without being someone who’s hogging all the credit or is not necessarily bringing others along in a positive and productive way.
There are three progressions that people make in their career. You go from being a worker to being a manager, and being a manager isn’t just taking the people who achieve best as individuals and turning them into managers.
That’s usually what happens is that they take the star performers and just make them managers without any training or anything. But if you become a really good manager, you have that switch in mentality from worrying about yourself to worrying about your team.
If you’re making sure that they’re doing the best they can and that the team is successful, you’ll be successful. Then when you become a leader, when you make that next progression, you’re thinking about the organization as a whole, not just your team. You’re thinking about what’s best for everyone. And that’s even more selfless than thinking about your team because you’re worried much more about what the organization is doing and how you can advance that than worrying about yourself or your team.
So, it takes you to these levels of abstraction from it. Most people don’t ever get to that third level. If they do, they can become good leaders. If they don’t, then maybe they’ll be really good managers, and if they don’t make that next leap, then they tend to be good workers.
BOB: I’ve always found it a fascinating element of leadership for someone in your position of a CEO to be able to scale this type of collaboration to such a high level. So many people are involved in CompTIA. Do you ever find it’s a challenge or a stretch of that ability of yours to collaborate as a leader to be able to scale to that level, now across oceans and around the world?
TODD: So, you can do some of it through policies and procedures. You can do some of it by making sure that your culture is strong, which we try to do. We have a culture committee who meets regularly and manages a lot of this.
It’s not as difficult as it might appear if your core is strong. It’s like in your own physical body. If your core is strong, then the rest of your body is strong. But if your core is weak, then the rest of your body is weak, and for us the core is that culture of work, of cooperation, of having fun, of pushing ourselves, trying to find those next big things that we want to do and getting everybody motivated around those things and getting the same direction that that’s the thing which you can scale.
If you set up systems that are restricted by the size of the organization, you’re not going to be effective. They have to be things that can grow in scale. And the core of your culture is what scales.
But I think that thing that internally with individuals is, and again this goes to leadership, the ability to set out an agenda but not dictate how it’s going to be achieved. Set out a goal, set out a mission and then be okay with standing back and letting it go on its own way. And maybe it’ll come out completely different from what you imagined. But as long as the ultimate goal is still met, you should be okay with that. It doesn’t have to look exactly like you want it to look.
That happens all the time, and that’s one of the things that good leaders do well, and poor leaders don’t do well. Poor leaders can’t live with the fact that it’s not coming out and turning out exactly like they wanted it to look.
BOB: When you spoke at the TSA conference, you were trying to give this broad perspective to the students in the audience and make them understand that some of these things you’re talking about sound like things that they can be learning right now.
TODD: The first six to nine months on your job, you’ll probably learn more about work skills than you would have learned in your entire high school and college career combined. Those are different kinds of environments, and both of those environments could do more to help people understand what their innate strengths are, what their innate skills are, not just what knowledge they can regurgitate.
I think that’s a big issue with school today, that they’re not spending enough time on soft skills training and helping people develop their writing and communication skills and all these skills that employers are saying they want more than anything else. I always tell kids, and I think I said it in that speech, figure out what you’re good at, and chances are you’ll be passionate about that.
Don’t necessarily follow everything that you’re passionate about. For one thing, you’re going to be passionate about a lot of stuff, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be any good at any of that stuff. Figure out first and foremost what you’re good at and then find out how to apply that in an area where you’re passionate.
I think that happened reasonably early on in recognizing my ability to marshal people to my cause. I didn’t recognize that I was doing it. Years later I can recognize it and say, yeah, I was doing that.
I was the kind of person, even in the very beginning, I would think about, well, how can we do this thing better? How can we take this to the next level? Or that’s not really working that well. We could do this, and it would be better and then people would see that and it was something that they would gravitate toward and be a part of or they would support me in some way or they would see that I could help them in some way.
Until you become the leader of a whole organization, you don’t recognize how much of that Pied Piper you actually can be and how important that role is in what you play on a day-to-day basis.
BOB: See all the ways Creating IT Futures helps people develop interest, secure opportunity and discover success in tech careers. Visit creatingitfutures.org.
Check out their programs for young technologists such as their partnership with TSA, the Technology Student Association and the TechShopz offered by their new acquisition TechGirlz.
Learn about other ways they support groups underrepresented in tech such as women and people of color, and how their IT-Ready education training and job placement program is helping adults change careers later in life, especially veterans returning to the workforce.
Thanks for listening. Please join us for another episode of Technologist Talk Radio, a podcast from CompTIA’s tech workforce charity, Creating IT Futures.