C-suite careers advice: Peter Pezaris, CodeStream

How important are specific certifications? "It depends on your field, but for me: not at all."

Name: Peter Pezaris

Company: CodeStream

Job Title: CEO and Founder

Location: New York

Peter Pezaris is Founder & CEO of CodeStream, a service that helps development teams discuss, review, and understand code. Prior to CodeStream, Pezaris was Founder & CEO of Glip, a team collaboration platform acquired by RingCentral in 2015, and Multiply.com, a social commerce platform acquired by Naspers in 2010. He also founded Commissioner.com, one of the first online fantasy sports platforms, which was acquired by CBS in 1999.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? This article by Ben Horowitz.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? That a "great idea" is all you need to be successful as an entrepreneur. The truth is that a great idea gets you 5% of the way there. The other 95% is execution, manifested by wanting it more and working harder than your competitors.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? Once you get your feet wet, if you have any entrepreneurial spirit, start your own company. The hardest thing to do is start.

Did you always want to work in IT? As an aspiring physics major, my college application essay was titled "I'm not sure what I want to be, but I know it's not a Computer Scientist." A few years later I graduated as an Applied Mathematics and Computer Science major and have been computer programming ever since.

What was your first job in IT? I was a QA Engineer for a company called Applix, which built a MS Office competitor for Unix systems. I built an automated test framework because I didn't enjoy the repetitive nature of manual testing. Unfortunately, the company didn't provide any real pathway from QA to programming, which I favored, so I got my first real programming job on Wall St. working for Solomon Brothers.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? That everyone working in IT is nerdy or dorky. There are all kinds of people in IT! For the last twenty-five years I've had the good fortune of working with the same senior management team, who I met in college at a fraternity. I guess it's the "Animal House" version of "two guys in a garage." 

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Integrity, hard work, and an ability to keep learning every day are critical job skills, and will be noticed. Leadership isn't for everyone, and don't underestimate the amount of stress that being a leader can bring.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? My career goal is to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company. For me, that will more likely come from building my own successful company rather than climbing a large company's corporate ladder.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I have a very happy home life, but work can be demanding, and I have a strong sense of obligation to spend time with my wife and my children. Sometimes reconciling those demands becomes difficult, and I find that sleep is often compromised. Although many people don't function well on reduced sleep, I find it entirely acceptable: a common strategy is to set an alarm for 3am and get a few uninterrupted hours of work in before the day starts.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I would have moved to San Francisco earlier in my life. Although tech companies can be built anywhere, there's a reason all the famous ones come from a few select cities, and most frequently San Francisco. This article speaks to why.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Computer science degrees are a lot of work, but pay off in the long run. Being a computer science graduate from Carnegie Mellon University has opened many doors and opportunities for me, that a coding boot camp would not have.

How important are specific certifications? It depends on your field, but for me: not at all.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Ability to learn, ability to clearly articulate skills and abilities, and a demonstrated and easy to comprehend track record of success.

What would put you off a candidate? Someone who switches jobs every year will not receive any consideration. Other turn-offs include unspecific accomplishment lists, lack of specific knowledge of technologies they claim to know, and resumes that sound overly boastful. For many years, as part of our job interview, we asked a simple question: write a program, in the language of your choice, that produces as output the first 100 prime numbers. You'd be surprised at how few people even came close to answering this simple question satisfactorily.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Too-long resumes, and coming unprepared to the interview. Great interviews start with a bi-directional baseline of understanding from both parties (I know something about you, and you know something about me).

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? The most valuable contributors have a mix of both, although many successful companies have one or two "fighter pilot" employees whose job it is to lead the most important technical projects.