C-suite career advice: Devin Gharibian-Saki, Redwood Software

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? "Focus on developing your ability to think strategically and your emotional intelligence."

Name: Devin Gharibian-Saki

Company: Redwood Software

Job Title: Chief Solution Officer

Location: Walldorf, Germany

Devin Gharibian-Saki is an experienced leader who has worked across product marketing, product management, solution design and consulting in the enterprise software industry. Over the last 10+ years, he has been advising enterprises on process improvement, automation and operation with his knowledge that spans from general business process operation, via SAP to IT infrastructure. As CSO, Gharibian-Saki is responsible for the product strategy at Redwood.


What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Tools don't solve organisational problems - words to live by. When something doesn't go as well as planned, it's a collection of little things. There is no golden solution, you need to re-evaluate and take a lot of detailed steps to solve your organisational problems, adopting new and general tools won't solve your business problems.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? I was once told to ignore people, "their opinion doesn't matter". That couldn't be more untrue. As a business leader, it's vital to make sure that everyone is heard. You can't brush over your employees, even if you disagree with them.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? Today, IT professionals seem to lack empathy for the customer. However, it's very important to learn to put yourself in the customer's shoes. That empathy is going to make a difference in your professional life.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, I studied math at university. I used to be a theoretical person but I did not want to work in insurance or for a bank, so my other solution was IT.

What was your first job in IT? I worked as a developer when I was a student. I was building internet portals and web applications for Marvell Technology.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? There are quite a few misconceptions, and some might be prejudice. For example, people seem to think that all IT professionals are "nerds" that like to live in a basement, but that is not applicable in most cases. People also think of IT as a slow tanker that is difficult to manoeuvre, which is also not always true.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Focus on developing your ability to think strategically and your emotional intelligence. At a c-level position, these skills are more relevant that technical expertise, as they will allow you to win people's trust and take them with you on your journey business success journey.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? In terms of career ladder, I've reached my ambitions. In my role, I have a real impact on the company strategy and on how we do things in the business. But I am also a perfectionist and my ambitious for the business keep growing. I always aim to generate more success for the company.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Probably not, definitely not as much as I could. But that is part of my personality as well, I always tend to do more. I do try to claim that balance. It's an ongoing exercise that is necessary for your wellbeing. Ultimately, you are in charge of the balance and you need to work on achieving a good one, especially if you're trying to grow into a c-level position, or you will burn yourself out before you reach that role.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I have no regrets in my professional career. However, I think I could have studied economics as well as math. Studying economics would certainly have eased my professional growth, but at the time I didn't have an exact picture of what I wanted to do.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Both can be purposeful. Perhaps, a computer science degree could be more useful as going through university will teach you how to think logically over the course of a few years. You can learn coding relatively quickly, but a scientific mind-set can only be developed over time.

How important are specific certifications? They're definitely important at the beginning of your career, they will enable you to prove your detailed expertise. As you move forward, the less tangible skills become more relevant if you're looking to become a leader.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? A positive energy and attitude, I really look for that inner fire. Willingness to roll up your sleeves and work hard, positive energy and ambitious are three key abilities to have no matter the role.

What would put you off a candidate? Someone who harvests on early success puts me off massively. True success requires time and effort, sitting on your laurels after initial accomplishments is not going to take anyone a long way.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Candidates often try to be someone they're not. Honesty and authenticity are very attractive traits to show off during an interview. Being authentic will also help you find out if you are going to be comfortable and successful in the role.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? It depends on where you want to go in your career, but a mix of both would be ideal. Today, people seem to have either an IT background or a business one, but a good mixture of skills is certainly appealing in a c-level position - it makes you truly valuable in the company.

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