C-suite career advice: Ron Konezny, Digi International

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a C-level position? "Sometimes people think leadership is a reward for all the work they put into getting to that level… In all truth, that’s when the real work begins."

Digi International

Name: Ron Konezny

Company: Digi International

Job Title: CEO, Board Director

Location: Hopkins, MN

Ron Konezny joined Digi International in December 2014, as President and Chief Executive Officer. Prior to joining, he was Vice President, Global Transportation and Logistics division of Trimble Navigation Limited, a global provider of navigation and range-finding equipment and related solutions. Konezny has extensive experience in the wireless M2M industry working with solutions comprised of hardware and cloud-based applications.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? The best bet you can make is on yourself. This gave me the confidence.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? If you work hard, you will succeed. Don’t get me wrong, having a strong work ethic is critical. However, as your career matures, you have to combine your work ethic with a strong sense of context and ask yourself hard questions: why am I doing the work? What are we trying to achieve? Is the level of effort worth the outcome?

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? The whole world changes all the time, but IT changes even faster. Be prepared and embrace change.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? Yes. As an elementary student, I fell in love with computers and computer programming. I’ve always like math (my father was an accountant), and that probably contributed to my interest in computers and IT.

What was your first job in IT/tech? One of my first roles in IT was entering trades for Citigroup London. I worked off the foreign exchange desk, while in between my junior and senior year. I was using a SWIFT terminal, and I couldn’t help but think about how to make the process quicker and more efficient.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? One of the biggest misconceptions is thinking that you necessarily need to be a technology expert to work in IT. There are many aspects to succeed in IT, not the least of which is the human side of change management.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a C-level position? Sometimes people think leadership is a reward for all the work they put into getting to that level. In other words, the “you made it” moment.  In all truth, that’s when the real work begins. You have to really understand the responsibility you have within your team, the pressures you will face, the very tough decisions you will have to make, and that (usually) it’s not as glamorous as it’s sometimes made out to be. It’s an incredible experience for those that can handle the varied pressures on the role puts on the intellectual and emotional intelligence.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I have many personal and career ambitions to accomplish. It is a never-ending list, as soon as I accomplish one, I seem to add more. This is what keeps my role as CEO and my future in technology interesting, I hope I never run out of goals.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Honestly, no. I try hard, but worry that I’ve over-emphasised work. Up until the pandemic, my responsibilities took a lot of my personal time. During the pandemic, with the absence of travel and remote work, I’ve been able to spend much more time with my family, and it’s been wonderful. I’m sure when business travel re-emerges, I’ll be working a lot harder to keep that balance.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I really don’t think much about regrets. I’ve been very fortunate and feel incredibly blessed. I do wonder what my career would have been if I decided to go to business school instead of starting a company, but certainly wouldn’t want to change anything.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Computer science degree. It’s so important you understand how computers work. With that base knowledge, you can go many different directions, including coding.

How important are specific certifications? Very much depends on your career path and interests. For example, those on a more technical career path and that like working with a certain technology (e.g., networking, Cisco switches) should seriously consider specific certifications. But, be prepared for certifications to multiply and never stop your thirst for learning.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Unfortunately, I have found many candidates struggle to answer these specific questions in an impressive way:

Self-awareness: Tell me about your career journey, and why did you choose that path. What do you like and what are you good at?

Outcomes, not just results: Tell me about projects you are particularly proud of, what role did you play, and what was the outcome?

Context, impact: Tell me about the specific objectives you are held to and tell me about your most recent performance review?

What would put you off a candidate? It throws me off when a potential candidate talks too much, is too self-absorbed, and not specific in their experiences and their roles/contributions.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Candidates need to know the company they are interviewing to join, and know the interviewers’ background. With LinkedIn and other resources available, they are only being lazy – and perceived as that - if they don’t put in the work.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? It depends on the person’s aspirations. It’s very important to realise that you can have functional as well as leadership career paths and a symbiosis of both. Too often, functionally excellent resources are moved towards a leadership career path, even if they don’t like or aren’t good at management.

I certainly like both. I would recommend tactical people to learn some leadership traits, as they always help build rapport and understand what leadership and business-focused roles require from you. On the other hand, for someone trying to step into a leadership path, it would be helpful to understand technical aspects to lead teams in the right direction.