C-suite career advice: Michael FitzGerald, OnePage CRM

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in technology? "Find out which part you're really curious about.

Name: Michael FitzGerald

Company: OnePageCRM

Job Title: CEO & Founder

Location: Galway, Ireland

Michael FitzGerald is CEO and Founder of OnePageCRM. A Design Engineer by trade and problem solver by nature, FitzGerald's strength is in creating concepts that get to the heart of the ultimate user experience. His career evolved from the design of everyday consumer products to taking his napkin design of a CRM to successful start-up and more.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? It's not really a single piece of advice, but my first boss (straight out of University) "believed in, and trusted me". This was my foundation and is what gave me the feeling that I could tackle anything. It was a huge confidence booster.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? I've received plenty of poor business advice, but thankfully I'm good at analysing it myself and making my own decisions. The worst advice I got however was from a banker during the ‘boom time' in Ireland, related to real estate. I'm glad I didn't listen.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in technology? Find out which part you're really curious about. But always consider the contrarian view too.

Did you always want to work in IT? I feel like I always have worked in technology. I grew up in an agricultural garage and farm, so I had every tool and machine at my disposal. On top of that, my Dad's hobbies included woodwork, stage-building, reel-to-reel cinema projectors and photography. All that tech, on top of a mountain!

Growing up, I always liked creating things more than I did fixing them. I wanted to make something new, different, do it my own way. My parents were there to support and encourage it -- they would give me jobs that needed to be solved in a ‘better way'. And while in college, I worked on the side selling AutoCAD and building bespoke databases for sporting organisations. So, I've never really known anything else but tech.

What was your first job in technology? My first job was as a Sport Science Technologist - a great mix of mechanical, electronics, software and humans! My role involved developing physiological test equipment for Olympic athletes, which was both fascinating and rewarding in many ways.

What are some common misconceptions about working in technology? That some jobs in tech are often boring. One of my most interesting jobs was as a Design Engineer in a manufacturing plant. There's a huge kick to be had out of designing tech that enables and empowers humans to do their job better, faster and easier.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Become a people person and meet others that have walked in your shoes! Someone else's experience might just be the validation you need for your own path. 

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? Next up, I want to get off the company's critical path and focus fully on strategic direction. There is always room for progression.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? When you're the CEO of the company it's hard to completely switch off. I have three small boys and they force you to switch 'away' from work. I also love woodwork and DIY projects, which are great to tax the mind by just the right amount, that they're in the realm of mindfulness for me. I usually check in on things even on holidays, just to make sure everything is ticking over. Last year I went to France with my family and I made a conscious decision to take a few full days off, no work at all so I'm getting better.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Not a thing. I have a very chequered past and it has given me the skills needed to tackle problems from all angles.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Both, if possible. One thing ‘a degree' gives you is a bit of maturity and a more professional approach to projects. Because they'd have had more interactions with their peers, they might work better in a team environment. But what I'm really interested in is their hobby. If they were at home for the day with nothing planned, would they still end up tinkering with tech? If the answer is ‘yes', you know you've found a person interested in what they're doing and not just doing it because of their qualifications.

How important are specific certifications? I have a tendency to hire Engineers over Scientists. I'm not sure why. Maybe, it's because I'm an Engineer, too. I know what they had to go through to get high results. For coding, I think a base/primary degree is enough. When it comes to science fields, I think a master's degree is needed to focus on a particular area.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Curiosity. Inelegance and Tenacity.

What would put you off a candidate? I believe in hiring character and train skills. So, the main thing that could affect me hiring them is if I perceive a mismatch in culture and work ethic. I love this passage from Jim Collins' Good to Great book: "Nucor became the number one American Steel company, but it started from a lowly position. To build the right kind of culture, they decided to find farmers instead of experienced steel workers, on the premise that you can teach a farmer how to make steel, but you can't teach a farmer's work ethic to people who don't have it in the first place. They set up their mills outside of the typical steel producing locations, and instead went for cities full of farmers: Crawfordsville, Indiana, Norfolk, Nebraska, and Plymouth, Utah."

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? I'm not sure if I have a list of the most common ones, but I did interview a guy once who made pretty much every mistake possible. His opening line was, "I don't need this job, I already have one"... and he went downhill from there. In retrospect, I should have ended the interview after the first 5 minutes.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? Definitely a combination of both. But if you are going to be the founder of a tech business, it would be best to have a tech qualification with an interest in business, rather than the other way around.