C-suite career advice: George Gray, Ivenix, Inc

"In the IT world people need to be good problem solvers and able to give and accept feedback without taking it personally."

Name:  George Gray

Company: Ivenix, Inc

Job Title: Chief Technology Officer, VP of R&D

Location: North Andover, Massachusetts

George Gray joined Ivenix in December 2011 as Vice President of Software Development and Chief Information Architect, and later served as CTO and VP of Software & Information Systems. He is responsible for overseeing all research and development activities, as well as user experience design and testing. Gray comes to Ivenix with more than 25 years of healthcare experience in clinical information systems, clinical analytics and patient monitoring. Prior to joining Ivenix, Gray was a Senior Architect at Philips Healthcare for both the Intellivue Clinical Information Portfolio and Intellivue Information Center.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Early in my career a high-level executive advised me to actively manage my career. Of course, as an employee of a company, you want to be doing the right thing for the company and work hard to make the company successful. But at the end of the day, your career will span multiple companies and multiple opportunities within companies. You should always be aware of where you want to be and what you want to do. In the end, this will create a discipline of regularly checking that you're on the right path and will increase your overall job satisfaction.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? I can't think of one piece of bad advice but can say that, on numerous occasions, I was advised to move in a direction that would have been financially more rewarding but not something that I would find rewarding otherwise. It is important to understand the type of work you find satisfying and stay focused on those things that will continue to energize you throughout your career.  Otherwise, you'll wake up one day wondering how you got there. 

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? IT has been and will continue to be a fast-evolving business. If you're starting today, look at the hot technologies such as big data, AI and cybersecurity, and develop a rich understanding of these. Then, keep your eyes on the horizon, understand not only those new technologies but also try to understand why they are so hot. This will inform you as to how things will continue to evolve and enable you to move your career into the fast lane.

Did you always want to work in IT? No. I started in electrical engineering but soon became intrigued by the power of IT solutions in the medical device business. I quickly pivoted into computer science. Today, the real thought leadership in medical technology is around empowering users with better and more integrated information. For example, at Ivenix we're using IT solutions to help make medication delivery safer and we hope to have a significant impact on the number of adverse drug events that occur each year.

What was your first job in IT? My first job was supporting an information system that Hewlett Packard had developed for hospitals, doing something called current product engineering. It involved responding to customer feedback, fixing bugs, things like that.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? Most people think of IT as being only about technology. However, a big part of the job involves working in teams, being a good listener and being good at communicating how you can address other people's issue. The most effective IT engineers are exceptional at working with people and being able to put them at ease.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? People who excel in these positions have a deep understanding of their trade and exceptional people skills. Take the time to understand the technologies that drive your industry. If you don't, you won't have the insights and intuition required of a person at this level. That said, if you're in these positions, you are, by definition, highly dependent on your team and their ability to be successful. Take the time to develop your people skills, develop a leadership discipline that involves developing a clear vision for the future and empowers your people to make that vision possible. At Ivenix, we built a complex solution that required many different skills and perspectives. But, ultimately, we have one goal - to help save lives.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I always wanted to be in a position where I could use my skills to help people. I grew up in a community where toxic waste caused a significant increase in childhood leukemia. I never saw myself as a clinician but wanted to use my math and science skills in a way where I could help make a difference. It's not surprising that I found my way to healthcare IT and to a company where I could help introduce a technology that will do just that.  So, yes, I've reached my career ambition, but not because I'm a CTO. It's because I'm in position that is fulfilling and allows me to help make a difference.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Everyone would like to answer "yes" to this question but, to be honest, most c-level professionals put a lot into their work. And I am no different. Of course, if you think you're doing something meaningful, you're going to put more of yourself into that effort. My advice to anyone starting out is to not think about work-life balance. Think about doing something meaningful and that gives you real a sense of purpose. The rest will work itself out.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Generally, I have been happy with the route my career has taken. However, I tended to stay a long time in each position I held. Then, each time I did transition, I would kick myself thinking that I should have made the change earlier. In general, my advice is to continue to move toward your career goals and don't be afraid to make the necessary transitions at the right time.

Which would you recommend: A coding boot camp or a computer science degree? If you're trying to get started and not sure you want to commit to a computer science degree, then do the boot camp. That said, the computer science degree will give you the skills you need to advance. It's best to figure out a way to keep moving ahead down that path.

How important are specific certifications? Certifications are valuable from two perspectives. First, people put certifications on resumes and that helps open doors for new opportunities. The second, and the one I tend to value more, is the fact that when you go through a certification, you develop a deeper understand of the technologies involved in that certification. I would encourage people to actively seek out ways to develop and evolve their skills.  Certifications are a good way to do this, making you a stronger contributor and enriching your understanding of the technologies you are working with.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? First and foremost, I look for someone who has good problem-solving skills. I present them with a problem and see how they think through it.

I look for specific skills to see how they map to the skills required for the specific job.

I also look for good people and teamwork skills.  I can generally see this in how they present themselves, how well they listen and how they describe problems they've solved in the past.

What would put you off a candidate? In the IT world people need to be good problem solvers and able to give and accept feedback without taking it personally. These are critical skills and candidates that don't exhibit those qualities tend to put me off. Often times, I can develop a person's hard skills but if they don't have good problem solving or people skills, they will probably struggle in an IT role.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? It's not uncommon that people show up for interviews and they seem to know nothing about the organization they're interviewing with or the position they're interviewing for. It doesn't take much time to learn about both. Most companies have information online, or, if you're working through a recruiter, they can tell you a lot about the organization. People sometimes don't prepare for the ultimate question which is "What else would you like to know about us?"  If your answer is "nothing", you're sending a message that you're not interested in the position or the organization.  People hire people who they believe will help make their organization successful. When preparing for an interview, think of ways you can come across as that type of person through the questions that you ask.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? As an IT professional, technical skills are a must. Having these skills also protects you from fluctuations in the job market. Having a business degree on top of those technical skills makes you that much stronger, particularly if you're planning a career in management. That said, the real business skills are gained by understanding the needs of your customer and the business you're working within. Don't be content with just doing the technical stuff. Understand what is going on around you, what can be improved and how you can make a difference. In this journey, you'll learn so much and create opportunities for yourself that you never imagined possible.