C-suite career advice: Lewie Dunsworth, Nuspire

How important are specific certifications? “I love certifications; they are very important as long as you don’t use them to validate who you are as a technical professional.”

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Nuspire

Name: Lewie Dunsworth

Company: Nuspire

Job Title: CEO

Location: Kansas City

As Nuspire's CEO, Lewie Dunsworth works closely with the leadership team to develop growth strategies and ensure the company consistently delivers on its vision, mission, purpose and strategic goals. Dunsworth is a visionary leader who is well-respected in the cybersecurity space, as both a practitioner and business leader. Bringing more than 20 years of industry experience to Nuspire, his experience and focus on innovating technology platforms — with the constant enhancement of service delivery processes — drives a vision of helping clients achieve their expected outcomes.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? When I worked at Cerner, there was a saying internally, that “if you are going to oppose, you must propose.” It forced everyone to be solution based vs. focusing on finding flaws without a proposal.

The benefits were clear, you create a team, organisation or culture that rewards “putting yourself out there” so that the ultimate solution is better than what was suggested in the first place.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? That it’s important to have work/life balance. Frankly, in my opinion, it’s cliché and more of an excuse. It’s paramount to understand what’s important in your life, your priorities and understand there are always sacrifices and trade-offs. Accept it. Own it. Be comfortable with who you are and what you want out of your career.

I always believed in maximising the time I had available. So, while others are spending time on social media or binge watching something on Netflix, I’m working, reading, going to bed early, etc. I have the same 24 hours someone else has, I just choose to live it differently than others.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? To have a long, rewarding and successful career, you will have to “buy-in” to constantly learning so you can stay relevant. Both technical and soft skills are important. Too many times have I seen skilled technicians become complacent and wonder why the industry passes them by; once it happens, it’s almost impossible to catch up.

Stay diligent and absorb as much in your trade/domain and industry as possible.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? For the most part, yes. I started my career in IT, moved to telecom, back to IT and have spent the past 12 years focused on cybersecurity.

The fact that I did not “grow up” in cybersecurity has really benefited me in having empathy and an understanding how IT works so that I can advance a security agenda. I originally went to school for Finance…so, don’t be afraid to make a career change.

What was your first job in IT/tech? I worked in the IT Operations Center, as a Systems Administrator at Birch Telecom. At that point in time, early 2000’s, there was a convergence of sorts happening between voice and data transmissions. Security was still anti-virus and firewalls. But, working in Telecom taught me the importance of strong operational rigor, KPI’s and the concept of “everyone expects dial-tone”.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? One big misconception is the thought that everyone in IT is a “geek”. It’s amazing to me how big, and how diverse, the technology industry has become through the years. People from a variety of backgrounds, experiences and aspirations have made their way into IT through the years. Men, women, baby boomers, millennials, etc. I love it! The diversity, different perspectives and creativity on what is possible with technology in incredible.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Buckle up, it’s going to be a rough ride! In all seriousness, not everyone will be happy, or even qualified, to be a C-Level executive in their career. But I can tell you with 100% of certainty, that every C-Level executive cannot be successful without a team of “non-executives” around them. So, keep a few things in mind:

  • Begin with the end in mind – write a table of contents for the book you want to write about your career when you “hang up your cleats”. What does the last chapter say? Where do you want to end up? Is it even a C-Level role?
  • Be honest with yourself; do you have the natural skills required to be a C-Level Executive. If not, can you gain the skill and/or are you willing to make the sacrifices necessary to reach that level?
  • Remember, the more you help others get what they want, and advance their careers, the more success you will experience in yours.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? Being a CEO of a cybersecurity company was my highest “professional” goal. Now that I am in that CEO role, I have set up new goals for myself. Currently I am leveraging my business skills and abilities to fix, transform and flip small businesses.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I have balance that works for me. I knew what I was getting into when I became CEO at Nuspire and have never regretted it for one moment. I’m having the time of my life but am always making sacrifices that are acceptable to me personally.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Nothing at all. Every path I’ve taken throughout my career, has made me who I am today. If anything, I would’ve gotten in cybersecurity earlier in my career.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I think we spend too much time thinking about getting an education vs. being a life-long learner. If it was me, I would formally get a computer science degree and do a coding bootcamp, or something else to round out my skillset, on nights and/or weekends.

How important are specific certifications? I love certifications; they are very important as long as you don’t use them to validate who you are as a technical professional. Keep in mind:

  • Certifications should validate what you REALLY know; not that you are a great test taker. Have integrity; hold yourself accountable to make the certification really mean something.
  • Learning the content, in my opinion, is more important than getting the certification. It will show in your performance.
  • Specific certifications are great in showing other professionals, the company you work for and clients that you value education

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? I always look in a candidate that they showcase great soft skills and are masters in their trade, and that they like to step outside their comfort zone. Those are traits that show the potential of a professional.

What would put you off a candidate? Something that concerns puts me off about potential candidates is arrogance and the mindset that failure is a bad thing. There is so much value in being humble, learning from failure and being honest with yourself.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Some of the most common mistakes I have seen during interviews have to do with:

  • “Eye to sky” – not maintaining eye contact (a bit easier in the “new world” of Zoom, Teams, etc.).
  • Rambling – answer the question; if you need to tell a story or add context, do so, but don’t drift. Be specific and right to the point.
  • Same ‘old questions – be creative when you ask questions; make them contextual based on the interview.
  • Not asking for the job – follow up, how do I know you still want the job after the interview?

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both?  In my opinion it is better to have leadership skills. Technical skills will validate what you know. Business skills will validate that you have experience. Leadership skills will validate that you can bring it all together to produce the right outcomes.