C-suite career advice: Andy MacMillan, UserTesting

Common misconceptions about working in IT? "I believe some of the biggest misconceptions are around the focus of IT being about technology."

Name: Andy MacMillan

Company: UserTesting

Job Title: CEO

Location: San Francisco, CA

Andy brings 20 years of enterprise SaaS experience to UserTesting. As a former product executive at Oracle and Salesforce, he saw the critical role that customer centricity plays in creating great experiences. By helping companies become more customer-centric, he has grown multiple enterprise SaaS businesses to hundreds of millions of dollars.


What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? The best employees in any company are often those who take on challenges from which others shy away. The people who take advantage of these opportunities are usually tapped for bigger roles down the line. Go to the intimidating meetings nobody wants to attend and propose ambitious solutions to hard problems. Take on some of the troublesome projects at which others turn up their noses.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? Most of the bad advice I've received was usually in the form of doing something political versus rational or doing something in the interest of my career but not in the interest of my fellow employees or our customers.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? Three times in my career I've accepted less money for a new job because it was a better opportunity in the long run. In one case, the lesser-paying job included plenty of international travel, which is something I feel is critical to have a broad and global perspective. In another, the lower-paying job afforded me a new career direction in product management, which better met my broader career goals. Don't let a 10 or 15 percent salary increase in your early twenties color your career path over the next three or four decades.

Did you always want to work in IT? As a 12-year-old seventh grader in Bath, Michigan, I started my first entrepreneurial venture with my cousin -- getting paid to spin records (CDs, actually) at my middle school's Friday night dances. Even though we built this into a successful disc jockey business that lasted through my college years, I knew I always wanted to be an engineer like my father and received my degree in IT management with a focus on computer science.

What was your first job in IT? My first job was a web app developer at Electronic Data Systems (EDS).

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? I believe some of the biggest misconceptions are around the focus of IT being about technology.  The focus of IT is how we help people accomplish things and how we bring technology to bear on problems. The best technology isn't successful if it isn't fit for purpose and doesn't meet the needs of solving a particular problem.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Learn to scale through your team, your partners, and anyone else around you. As a c-level executive, your success is almost all tied to how you lead, align, and ultimately empower those around you.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? My career ambitions have changed a lot as I've progressed through my career.  As a fairly young CEO, I look back at the many incredible opportunities I've been given and the support I've received from family, mentors, coaches, and others to help me get to this point. My ambitions now are about having impact, in the industry and for my customers, but mostly about having an impact on the careers and families of those around me. My hope is that we are creating a great company together and that the legacy of the work we are doing now creates future opportunities for those around us. That's the lasting impact I want to have.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? As a father and husband, work-life balance is a priority in my life. It's important to me that I get into the office early so I can get out for family time. I consider being at the supper table with my wife and three young kids an inviolable rule. The kids are off to bed at 7:30, and that's when I sometimes log back on. Technology affords this amazing flexibility -- why not take advantage to balance life and work?

While my dinner rule has never been formally announced to those I work with, I've been amazed by how respectful and accommodating everyone has been when they hear about it (from me). In fact, I encourage my team members to follow my lead and spend more quality time with their families - they will be much happier (and more productive) employees for it!

I'd recommend something similar to younger professionals that don't have spouses or children — an end-of-day ritual that is entirely separate from the workday and job, just for them and no one else. A yoga class, an instrument, volunteer work - it can be anything! What matters, ultimately, is that they make the time to disengage and decompress - for themselves.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? There are the obvious things, such as perhaps being a bit less brash early in my career or having taken certain risks (or avoided others).  But one thing that stands out to me with the perspective of 2018 is that I wish I would have had an eye towards diversity earlier in my career.  I don't think I've ever been consciously biased against others in the workplace, but I'm sure like most people there are probably more things I could have done more proactively to help promote and change the unfortunate diversity statistics we have as an industry today.  Imagine if we had all done more 10 or 15 years ago. We'd be in a better place today. 

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Depends.  If you want to apply technology to business problems then I would recommend a coding bootcamp after some liberal arts / business background. If you want to do core computational or theoretical computing, then it might be best to go get yourself a MA in Computer Science!

How important are specific certifications? They are not specifically important, but I believe they can be helpful for getting a job in a new area if you do not have proven work experience in that space. 

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? 

  1. Experiences that suggest creativity, positive energy and intellectual curiosity. Qualifications that match the job description are paramount, but what meaningful, unusual stories can you tell that could make you stand out? Like how you traveled abroad for a year after graduating from college, learned two languages and picked up invaluable perspectives. Or the year you expanded your horizons at your old job by leaving the finance department and taking an assignment in marketing. A decision to pursue my MBA at the University of Edinburgh, rather than in my native Michigan like so many of my peers, has led to interesting discussions with potential employers. These things matter.
  1. A great rep. "Reputation is everything" has always been true, but today, hiring managers are likely to scour your LinkedIn profile and initiate conversations about you with common contacts before they check references or even schedule an interview. Your possible new boss knows more about you than you may realize, so be honest about your credentials, successes and any disappointments, as well as why you want a new job.
  1. Cultural Addition (not Fit). Evaluate how adding this person to the team will improve the dynamic in the organization. This is not, importantly, cultural fit, which leads to homogeneous teams. This is looking at how adding the perspectives, talents, working style, culture and attitudes of a new person will improve the team and make everyone better.

What would put you off a candidate? I look for the ability for someone to use straightforward language to describe problems they have faced, approaches they have taken to solving things, and realistic outcomes that they delivered. Too much ‘strategic talk' and not enough plain-spoken knowledge is a big sign for me that someone is more talk than walk.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Not being honest and straightforward. We've all had good and bad experiences.  We've all had positive and negative outcomes. There are things we know and things we don't.  Be honest, be interested, and show that you can learn and be part of a team.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? It does depend on the role and the company, but typically, but a mix of both. It is the application of technology that makes it valuable. Understanding the implications of technology decisions is a key aspect of almost any successful project, product, or solution.