C-suite career advice: Dux Raymond Sy, AvePoint

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? “One common misconception is that you have to be technical, or you have to be a coder.”


Name: Dux Raymond Sy

Company: AvePoint

Job Title: Chief Brand Officer, AvePoint, Microsoft MVP and Regional Director

Location: Arlington, Virginia

Dux Raymond Sy is the Chief Brand Officer of AvePoint. He engages, gets people excited and executes one-of-a-kind ideas that make shifts happen in organisations worldwide. With over 20 years of business and technology experience, he’s been a driving force behind purpose driven digital transformations for private and public organisations globally. The author of “SharePoint for Project Management”, he is recognised by Microsoft as a Regional Director (RD) and Most Valuable Professional (MVP). He hosts #ShiftHappens podcast where you’ll learn about technology driven personal and organisational transformation stories.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? My most valuable piece of career advice I’ve received─ and I would say this is personal advice as well─ is to love your neighbour, not love your neighbour if... I use the word “love” because it is the most ultimate expression of any being. You have to love what you do and oftentimes what you do equates to the people you work with. It’s not only important, but integral to the workplace.

In our professional lives we come across all kinds of people, some we like and some we don’t— don’t let it demoralise you. Regardless of who you’re doing work for or with, give them your best. You don’t have to like them but have enough respect for them to realise your shared goal. To me, it comes back to love because when we love someone, we respect them enough to give it our best.

This idea also dictates my management style. Now I’m fortunate enough to have a smart, wonderful team that’s easy to love. Still, I always tell them: “You’re here because you’re really good at what you do. Don’t wait for me to approve every single thought or idea you have. If you strongly feel that it’s best for what we’re doing, then go do it.” If you love somebody, you trust them and you trust that they’ll do what’s best for both themselves and the organisation.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? I’ve learned the hard way that the worst piece of advice to follow is: “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” This presents a missed opportunity—especially if you’re aiming for the C-Suite. As a leader in an organisation you can’t do everything yourself, it’s not scalable. Better to delegate and effectively teach someone how to do it themself.

In turn, delegating to others helps you grow. Over the past 20 years in business, I’ve learned that there’s always new and better ways to do things and I learn from others every day. For me, this relates back to treating colleagues with love and trust. The best leaders give people a chance to come up with their own solutions. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Technology is a great door-opener, especially right now because every company is essentially a technology company, but be open to learning other disciplines. This could be anything from business to sales, marketing, or anything else that can better shape you as an individual. The most successful people are those that follow their passions. If you love tech, that’s great but be sure to layer in technical skills with the other disciplines that shape you.

For example, I started my career in assembler language programming (asm) and I loved it. But pursuing my love for food, the arts, dragon-boat rowing, languages, travel, and people helped shape my technical thinking in ways just focusing on tech could not. It diversified my thinking, changing my approach to writing code and problem solving. It’s these outside interests that will test your technical prowess and give you real-life opportunities to lead people.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? Looking back, tech has always been front and centre. I loved technology from a young age, maybe 10 years old. I remember trying to find a way to get my dad to buy me a computer. It wasn’t very cool at the time, but I was president of the computer club. I was always deeply interested in web and Microsoft technologies. At one point, I wanted to be an astronaut and work in tech at space stations.

But six months after I got my first job as a coder, I realised I couldn’t do this for the rest of my life. Sitting in front of a computer coding all day long isn’t my thing. While I love tech, I love people more. This is when I began leaning into my passion for people in a professional sense. In due time I’d opened my own consultancy business, wrote a book, started a podcast, began speaking at events and it all eventually led me to where I am today.

I’ve been at AvePoint for 7 years now, gravitating towards roles that allow me to work with people more and more. I started off in a customer-facing role as Chief Technology Officer of Public Sector and later became Chief Marketing Officer. Now, as Chief Branding Officer, I get to work with internal and external colleagues to help shape the brand experience of AvePoint. I get to deal with how AvePoint makes people feel. It's a tall order but an exciting road ahead.

What was your first job in IT/tech? My first job also happened to be one of the biggest lessons of my career. I finished a degree in telecommunications engineering, or electrical engineering, and my first job was at Siemens programming Motorola chips. I was supposed to present at my very first customer meeting and I warned my manager that public speaking made me nervous. True enough, it was so bad that halfway through the meeting the customer stopped it altogether. We didn’t even get to the next meeting. I had two options; either pity myself or figure it out.

After that I was on a mission to hone in on my communication, presentation and public speaking skills. It didn’t happen overnight, there’s really a science to it. I took courses on instructional design and how people learn, I watched videos of great speakers.

Fast forward to today, I coach people on public speaking. Communication skills can be learned, and I learned the importance of being able to effectively convey ideas and making sure people walk away learning what you want them to learn. I’m still on that journey, but I’m so grateful I get to share all of the techniques I’ve learned over the past 20 years.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? One common misconception is that you have to be technical, or you have to be a coder. While certainly that’s true for many people in a tech organisation, aside from technical skill we also need a lot of creativity. Take tech marketing for example. There are a lot of opportunities for creatives to flex their skills in marketing, sales or anything that explains tech to a layman.

Another misconception is that to be in tech you have to start at a young age. I know someone who’s 56 years old and rebooted from a career in retail. He’s taking coding classes now and is on a one-year journey to become a coder. The truth is, there are so many resources out there that can get anyone started in tech at any time.

I’ve also heard that tech is only for people good at math and who are very logical. This is a very fixed mindset and I like to approach things with a more diversified view. If you try something and it doesn’t work, change something, work on those skills and maybe it’s something you can develop over time. It doesn’t hurt to try.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a C-Level position? If you want to move towards a C-Level position, you have to start connecting with people. Being in the C-Suite is mostly about your people skills and how you engage with others. You must start learning from others and being open to learn yourself. Sure, being in that position is about making executive business decisions, but it is really about how you engage with people: your peers, your team, people in your industry. Being able to connect, engage, and learn from others is key.

You can wait to decide whether you want to be in a C-Level position, the 10-year-old me would have never thought I’d be where I am today. It isn’t good or bad, it’s just different—but I got here by following my passion for people.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I’ve exceeded my own expectations of what I thought I could reach. I’m very grateful for what I’m doing today and I can’t ask for anything more, but this doesn’t mean I’ll slow down, get complacent and not strive to be my best self.

If there was a multiverse, I would really pursue a career in the food industry. Perhaps as a chef or by starting a food truck, something in that nature; but I’d still want to learn how to engage with the business side of that and be profitable.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? More and more I find the idea of balance is not possible. Rather I would frame it as work/life integration because you can’t simply draw the line between work and personal life. It’s all one life, it’s all the same thing.

This period of time, while certainly unfortunate, has reshaped work. It’s not 9-5 anymore. Expectations are shifting and this is a great thing. Once the pandemic ends, this collaboration and empathy will really reshape the new world of work. People, business leaders especially, are more empathetic of the demands of life. It’s not just me working at home, the whole family is at home.

At this point in my life, my work/life integration is good. Now this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I wake up early everyday around 4:30 or 5 a.m. and run, weather permitting. It helps me center myself and it allows me to be productive throughout the day. I do a little work, have breakfast with my family once they get up and then get back to work. In the afternoons, I enjoy spending time with my son when he’s on his lunch break to go get food. At the end of the day when everyone has gone to bed and I need to knock out a couple more emails, I’ll do that.

In the last year, my family and I have really grown to appreciate our rhythm. I’m at the point where my work life integration is good, but who knows as things change next year and as my kids grow older.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I would want to learn about sales earlier on in my career. I wasn’t very open to learning about it at the beginning and it would have helped me in the way I wrote software, thinking about what the minimum viable product is.

A lot of the time people think sales is just making people buy things, which is certainly part of it, but it also includes a lot more discipline within the organisation. Let’s say you want your organisation to grow and thrive. The first steps are determining who you are going to sell to, what you are going to sell to them, how you are going to attract customers, how you can ensure you will meet your sales goals and what your pipeline looks like. Sales is essential to business, no matter who you are in the organisation.

I learned this later on in my career when I started my own consulting company. Learning how to appeal to your customers and show them the worth of your product is essential when starting your own business. People want to buy, they don’t want to be sold to. For example, at some point we all have to buy a car, but we don’t like dealing with car salespeople. As a business owner, you really begin to ask yourself: How can I position myself in a way where they want to buy from me?

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? If your main goal is to make money and start your career today, I would suggest a coding bootcamp. However, keep in mind that in the long-term having a degree is more important.

Frankly, the degree doesn’t have to be in computer science. It could be in business or journalism. The real value in a degree is that it teaches you discipline and diversity of thinking. A degree is a commitment, you must be patient and committed to it. Coding bootcamps are great, but I still encourage folks to get a degree in something they are passionate about.

How important are specific certifications? For technical folks, especially early on in their career where they don’t have too many references or projects to showcase, certifications are a must-have. It validates that you know what you’re doing. Of course, there are more certifications that carry more weight than others. Any type of cloud certifications, such as Azure or AWS, are certainly very meaningful and useful when looking for tech jobs.

When you reach a C-Level position, certifications aren’t important. The fact that you got to that point shows you have the skill to fulfil the role. It’s all about your people, communication, and relationship building skills.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? The first skill I look for is communication, being able to convey information in a succinct, crisp and clear way. Second is the ability to own past failures and discuss how you came to a solution. During interviews I always ask candidates about the most recent time they’ve failed. It’s something you don’t see in resumes and tells you a lot about a person. Third is the ability to work with others, both within your team and across different teams as well. For a global organisation such as AvePoint, collaboration is essential.

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