C-suite career advice: Stephen Parker, Parker Software
Human Resources

C-suite career advice: Stephen Parker, Parker Software

Name: Stephen Parker

Company: Parker Software

Job Title: CEO

Location: Staffordshire, UK and Orlando, USA

Stephen Parker is Founder and CEO of Parker Software. Having grown his business from a one-man start-up with nothing but a product idea to a global operation,  Parker created a workforce of 30 across three cities and two continents since founding the company just 15 years ago.


 

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? The advice that has most resonated with me is to employ talented people and let them do their job. I’ve found that the key to ongoing growth is in hiring bright, passionate employees and giving them the trust and freedom to work under their own steam. This hiring strategy has helped me grow Parker Software from a one-man company to a global operation with teams in three cities. It has led to a stream of great new ideas from enthused employees, and this, in turn, has brought a stream of ongoing innovation to the business.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? One of the worst pieces of advice was to focus the company goals on revenue with aggressive sales targets over the product and customers. For me, the focus should always be vice versa. If your sole focus is on squeezing the most money possible out of each customer, then you’re losing sight of what they need, and will probably lose them later down the line. But if you take care of your customers and always strive to improve your product offering, the revenue increases will follow.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? Attention to detail is one of the biggest assets you can have in an IT career. Particularly in the development area, you need that keen eye to ship successful code. So, my advice would be to commit yourself to perfection, and to always take the time to do the job properly rather than quickly.

On a side note, I would advise that you only pursue a career in IT if you have a genuine enjoyment in the field. Many people opt for IT jobs because they presume the financial rewards will be rich. That’s not always the case, and there’s a lot of dedication and continuous learning required to succeed. For a successful career in IT, you need to relish the prospect of ongoing development.

Did you always want to work in IT? I had always enjoyed coding at home, and it had been an interest of mine throughout school. It wasn’t until I went to college, though, that I learnt about IT as a career option. A career advisor suggested a new programming course that caught my interest right away, and from there my mind was made up.

What was your first job in IT? I’ve never worked for someone else in IT. As soon as I was a fully-fledged programmer I set up my own business, where I’d write software for other local companies. The first product I coded was an account system, and from that foundation I went on to found the company and the products that have led me to such success today.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? Many people assume that IT is a thoroughly anti-social job devoid of conversation. While it’s true that you will need quiet time to focus, the notion that IT requires zero communication with others is highly misleading.

You won’t get far in IT if you have no communication skills. You’ll regularly need to be involved in team stand-ups, project meetings and brainstorming sessions, as well as written communication such as documentation, user stories, ticket reports and a host of other tasks. In fact, IT leaders typically tend to be people who can blend their technical knowledge with clear communication.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? You should never worry about asserting your viewpoint to someone higher up. It can be intimidating to express your opinions and company feedback to seniors, but that fresh outlook is welcomed. Plus, it’s a chance to get yourself noticed.

If you have ideas, share them. If you see an opportunity to optimize a process, share it. If you think you can add value to a project, say so. Enthusiasm and proactivity can get you far.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I’ve had a series of career ambitions that I’ve been able to tick off over the years. One, for example, was to set up my own company, which I achieved fairly early in life. The next was to be a job creator in my home town of Stoke on Trent, and I now provide employment to five teams in our Staffordshire HQ. Another ambition was to set up an international company, and I’ve also been fortunate enough to open an Orlando office and achieve that goal.

I think it’s important to have career ambitions that evolve over time along with your experience. My ultimate goal is to be on a yacht in the Caribbean, but since I don’t want to retire, that one is a long way off!

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Because I enjoy work as much as I do, I probably don’t have what most people would define as a good work life balance. I tend to spend a lot of time at work, and will also work from home. But I do it because I genuinely enjoy my job, not because I feel pressured or overly busy. Coding is my livelihood as well as my hobby, so for me the work life balance is somewhat blurred.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I almost moved to the USA in my early twenties, and looking back I think that move might have made it easier to establish a successful software house. While I don’t regret my choice to stay UK-based, I ultimately made it more difficult for myself by staying within my small industrial hometown.

It’s worked out well in the long run, and I now have premises both at home and in the states. However, it’s interesting to think about what might have happened had I followed my early call to the USA.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Coding bootcamps are great for their speed and high impact learning, and I’d definitely recommend them. In my experience a good developer is a good developer regardless of a degree.

How important are specific certifications? While IT certifications are useful, I don’t think they’re essential. At Parker Software, for example, we have several valued employees in both our technical support and development teams who are entirely self-taught.

We have development managers with a military background, tech trainers who came from retail, and programmers who came from bars. We also have a number of employees who joined us fresh out of university, and many who came with years of experience and certifications under their belt.

Certifications have never been the defining factor for us. They can help further a career, but the biggest assets in your favor will always be attitude and ability.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? The first is passion for software. IT is a difficult field, and you need that passion to pull you through. The second key ability I value is proactivity. I don’t believe in micro-managing employees, and instead encourage people to think for themselves and express their ideas. Finally, I’d say creativity is an underrated but important character trait in IT. You have to be able to think outside the box to solve tech problems, and writing performant code from scratch is a form of logic-based art.

What would put you off a candidate? The thing that most rings alarms bells in candidates is a lack of care and drive. I’m always looking for candidates who think about the bigger picture and the future of the company. Someone who showed no interest in those things would definitely put me off – even if they came with a series of qualifications.

What are the most common mistakes candidates make in interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? I think that this is ultimately based on your interviewer. For example, some managers like candidates who come in and say precisely the right thing, replying with word-perfect answers to each question.

For me, I find it a little off-putting when people try to say what they think you want to hear in an interview. I’d rather hear what the candidate truly believes. It all comes back to that passion and proactivity – I value candidates who are assertive and upfront about their goals and ambitions right from the interview stage.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? Undoubtedly, a mix of both. IT is overlapping into more and more business areas, and as our digital transformation advances, we’re seeing the more tech-savvy companies taking the lead. So, as technology and business become more tightly interwoven, you need a skillset that comfortably spans both areas.

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