C-suite career advice: Joe DosSantos, Qlik

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? “I look for critical thinking skills, communication skills and problem-solving ability.”

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Name: Joe DosSantos

Company: Qlik

Job Title: Chief Data Officer

Location: Arlington, Massachusetts

As Chief Data Officer, Joe DosSantos is responsible for the alignment of business and technology to enable 3rd Generation Business Intelligence at Qlik. He is responsible for use case prioritisation, DataOps methodology, and the deployment of information management systems, including all of Qlik’s Data Integration and Data Analytics products. He also provides thought leadership in modern Data Architecture and Data Governance, and serves as an evangelist at major conferences and events.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? A wise manager once told me that great leaders do not tell their team what to do. Instead, they surround themselves with people they trust and set a clear vision that gives their teams the freedom to figure out how to achieve a goal. Nobody likes to be bossed around. Rather, everyone likes to feel like they are part of an important mission with a voice on how to achieve it. This advice revolutionised the way I manage and is at the core of how I manage today.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? When I was young, people would tell me, “Never let them see you sweat.” I was coached to always look like I was in control, even when I was not. As I have grown in my career, I have realised that there are a great many things that are beyond my ability to control. And at critical moments of crisis, it is essential that you rely on your professional network – peers, teammates, and executives – to get you through it.  Great leaders rally teams around a solution by helping them to understand the importance of the situation. It’s not about looking cool under pressure or being a hero.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Work hard and listen carefully to people with more experience that you—especially those with differing points of view than your own. Part of growing in your career is developing an open mind. It’s amazing how much my career has been shaped by the wisdom of the people that I have worked with, even when I did not recognise it as wisdom at the time.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? Not initially. In fact, I was a Marketing major in college. Now, I often feel like a marketer of our internal solutions to key stakeholders. Keep in mind your career path may change over time. You will always have a chance to apply the skills you’ve learned no matter what you end up doing.

What was your first job in IT/tech? As a Big 5 Consultant, I coded in Cobol for Logistics and Publishing companies. To be honest, I wasn’t the best coder. I really started to hit my IT stride when I did business analysis and configuration in ERP systems. The role allowed me to forge a close connection between the technology and the business outcome, which ultimately became my passion.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? A common misconception is that it’s nerdy. What magazine articles and blogs often don’t tell you is that today’s IT is every bit as much about business process and outcome as it is about code and infrastructure. To me, that’s the opposite of nerdy, it’s actually pretty cool.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? I would tell them to continually practice their communication skills. When you progress organisationally, the job becomes more about alignment and communication rather than technical chops. Develop meaningful relationships with your peers and managers and begin to learn how to influence the outcomes of business decisions without formal authority.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I have to say that being a CDO has been a goal of mine for quite some time. It really appeals to my instincts to translate technical capabilities into true business outcomes. 

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? There have been a lot of times in my career when I have over-rotated to work over family. Now I make time for things that are important, but I’m still working on it. One silver lining outcome of the Coronavirus pandemic has been the lack of business travel and commuting time, which has created a lot of family bonding moments.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I have worked as a consultant, technology executive, and software executive and I wouldn’t change a thing. Interesting opportunities will always present themselves. We are all on a journey and I believe that if we overthink what comes next, we miss out on the learning experiences right in front of us. My favorite author, Paulo Coelho has a great quote in the book The Alchemist: “And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”  When I reflect on my journey, I see the truth in that quote. My path has rewarded me with unique experiences and my own personal point of view.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Both are useful depending on your goal. Coding bootcamps are great for people trying to learn a new skill quickly like data science tools or app development, whereas Computer Science degrees provide an excellent foundation for an IT career. 

How important are specific certifications? I like to think back to one of the final scenes in the movie The Wizard of Oz, where the Wizard tells the brainless Scarecrow that university graduates think deep thoughts with no more brains than he has, adding  “But they have one thing you haven’t got — a diploma.”  This subtle line always cracks me up and still rings true. Certifications often don’t make people better at their jobs; experience does.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? I look for critical thinking skills, communication skills and problem-solving ability. I’ll ask them to share examples of when they solved a problem that was out of their comfort zone. You’ll note that coding skill is not among this list. Coding languages will change over time, but core skills like critical thinking and communication will always be required to apply coding to real business problems. Having those collaborative skills are what will set you apart in a business environment.

What would put you off a candidate? Over-confidence can be a red flag because every job is an opportunity to learn. A candidate who acts like they know everything before they’ve started runs the risk of seeming like they are not a good listener and, consequently, not a good learner. Of course, you should demonstrate your expertise during an interview, but be sure to balance it with humility and an eagerness to learn new things. Once again, it boils down to being open-minded to all solutions, not just your own.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? People think that interviews are an opportunity to show off qualifications, but they are really a way to understand a mutual fit. Ask questions – about the culture, the skills, the career progression – and do research in advance. A simple trick is to ask a question about something that you read on the company’s website. In short, be curious. You’ll be a lot more likeable as a candidate.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? In my opinion, the ideal mix is 75% business skills and 25% technical skills. I would lean on business skills more because even if you don’t know how to do something, you’ll know what to do in a strategic sense. Of course, having the technical skill to back it up isn’t bad either. Overall, having both will help you to have a positive influence on the outcome and be a more active participant in the decision-making process. All of this ultimately correlates to upward mobility and your income level.