C-suite career advice: Matt Wielbut, Openly

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? "A trusted mentor once told me that one of your most valuable assets will be your personal network."

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What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? A trusted mentor once told me that one of your most valuable assets will be your personal network. There will be countless times in your career that you'll need to rely on your friends and colleagues. It's important that you take the time and energy to nurture those relationships. This will help you to take advantage of new roles and opportunities as you continue to expand your network.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? The worst advice that I received was when I was told to keep a business idea secret because someone else may steal it. I believe that you should be shouting your business ideas from the mountain tops and share them with everyone for feedback. Because unless you have the formula for a cure for cancer, it's not the idea that makes the business, it's the execution. The difference and secret to success is the ability to make your idea a reality, not simply having that idea.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? I would advise them not to rely on school or your job at a company to teach you everything you need to be successful in your career. You need to put time into unstructured learning and experiences. This will help you to grow your interests beyond just the immediate projects that you've been assigned to handle, especially at the start of your career.

Did you always want to work in IT? Besides my aspiration to be a professional LEGO builder, working as a programmer is the earliest profession that I can remember actually being passionate about. When you can sit down and work on something and six hours go by, and you only notice the time because your stomach is screaming that it's empty, then you know that you've found your calling!

What was your first job in IT? My first programming job was actually as a volunteer. I worked for a non-profit organisation called TransWeb that promoted organ donation for a couple years in high school. I definitely suggest an opportunity such as this because there are many volunteer opportunities in technology. This serves as a great way to get practical and strong technical skills before even graduating from high school.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? There is a common misconception that you need a college degree in order to succeed at a job in tech. But that's not necessarily the case. For example, some of the best engineers who I've worked with in my career at various companies did not have a formal computer science degree or education.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? As a c-level exec, it's crucial to the company's success that you view problems through the prism of what's good for the company as a whole. In technology, it's easy to be a bit myopic and focus simply on the execution of the next technical task; in executive management you need to step beyond that and think about how technology can be used to solve a larger company need.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I'm going to lean in on my inner millennial and say that my ambition was and is to build a company that people are proud to work at and where they enjoy working with each other. I can probably tempt fate and say we've achieved that with Openly here in Boston, but that ideal is always a work in progress.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Speaking personally, as an executive at a growing company, it's honestly difficult to find the right balance. However, we've worked hard to develop a remote-first culture which makes it easier for me and our team to have more flexibility in where and when we work.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? It's hard to recall something that I would have changed. I feel that even the hardest and most challenging times in my career have helped to shape who and where I am right now in my career.  And I'm happy with the journey I've taken and where I'm at today.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Both have their strengths, and I wouldn't pretend to prefer one over the other. At Openly, we currently have programmers who have formal computer science master's degrees, and programmers who have never taken a traditional coding course. I would advise taking whichever path is right for you and whichever you think you can complete. You may be the type of person who succeeds in highly structured learning, or you may have a job and family to support and only have the time for a weekend bootcamp--either way just keep learning and growing your technical skills.

How important are specific certifications? For what I've spent my career doing, and what we do at Openly, certifications are not very valuable - practical skills will get you much further. That being said, there are many technology jobs, in finance, aerospace, or civil engineering, where certifications are crucial. It depends what you want to do and in what industry.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Curiosity: never stop learning, show an interest in the subject matter and ask questions

Humility: hold strong opinions loosely and be open to suggestions and feedback

Written communication: at the end of the day, our job is to write - even if it's code. It's still something that other humans need to be able to read.

What would put you off a candidate? I don't appreciate it when a candidate arrives at an interview unprepared to talk about our company and the job at hand. I feel that preparation and a bit of research is a minimum requirement.

See continuation of my answer in the next question.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Do your homework--it's so easy to spend an hour doing a little digging about the company to which you're applying, or the interviewer with whom you'll be speaking. Genuinely understand the role and what your responsibilities will be. Good hiring managers put a concerted effort into thinking about the job posting and try to make it as accurate as possible, but some candidates simply skim over these details. Try to avoid those mistakes if you want to be successful in landing the job.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? In most companies you'll likely get the job because of your technical skills, but you'll be successful because of your ability to understand the problems you're solving on a deeper level. Take every opportunity to learn as much about the business subject matter and you'll be indispensable, not just to your technical peers, but to senior leadership.

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