CIO Spotlight: Tracy Huitika, Beanworks

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? “I don’t think I’m a traditional CIO, and I’m not sure whether such a position exists anymore. At this level, you need to have a variety of skills - technical, business, infrastructure, data and operational capabilities…”


Name: Tracy Huitika

Company: Beanworks

Job title: Chief Information Officer, Engineering & Data

Date started current role: October 2020

Location: Vancouver, Canada

Tracy Huitika is the CIO of Engineering & Data at Beanworks. For 20 years, she’s helped organise, build and motivate teams to produce high-quality technical solutions. Her ambition is to grow organisations by understanding the customer and leading and motivating employees to succeed. Huitika’s experience includes devising both business and technical solutions for a wide range of organisations. Prior to Beanworks, she was the Director of Data at Unbounce, strategising and building an ecosystem to make data their superpower. Huitika spent a third of her career in gaming; she held positions as the Director of Development and DevOps at companies such as EA, Rocket Gaming and Roadhouse Interactive.

What was your first job? My first “real” job was working at McDonald's. It was probably the best place for me to learn how to put the customer first, which is the most important thing to do at any company. 

My first job in IT was working as a Junior Software Engineer on a Naval Combat Operator Trainer for the Canadian Navy. It provided safer, more cost-effective training by providing simulators for different radars, sonars and weapons systems on board our frigates, destroyers and submarines. We could simulate different types of engagements in a real-world setting with multiple friendly and unfriendly entities. It was the ultimate video game!

Did you always want to work in IT? By the time I graduated from high school, I had already owned two different computers which was rare at that time (a Radio Shack Tandy IV and a Tandy 1000 HX). I had learned how to program in BASIC and I loved technology, but I also loved science. I spent quite a few years in University pursuing both, but when the internet became accessible (yes, I’m that old), it tipped the scales. That’s when I knew IT was the place for me.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a joint undergraduate degree (BSc) in Astronomy and Mathematics, an equivalent undergrad in Physics and a Post Baccalaureate Diploma in Computing Science. I continue to pursue educational courses and training (e.g., boot camps, executive education) to keep myself current.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. My career path has always been about breadth. I am a lifelong learner, and I’ve worked in software development, business development, data and operations, for all different types of companies, from scientific, gaming and SaaS. These experiences have made me a better technical leader; I can see the problem from many different perspectives, which allows me to deliver a more holistic solution.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Through our data initiatives, we are looking to gain insights into the use of our software in order to provide more value to our customers as to where their Accounts Payable (AP) bottlenecks are. We are also using data to look inward to determine leading indicators of whether we’re on track to hit our targets on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. 

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? At Beanworks, our company goal is to be the easiest AP solution to adopt in the world, and our product roadmap reflects this. In order to achieve our aggressive growth plans, our infrastructure needs to scale to support additional customers and increasing processing loads. We have also our sights set on expanding into new global markets, so the ability to spin up infrastructure and meet data compliance criteria in different geographies is a must. 

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? I don’t think I’m a traditional CIO, and I’m not sure whether such a position exists anymore. At this level, you need to have a variety of skills - technical, business, infrastructure, data and operational capabilities - not to mention the ability to communicate, lead and manage. I think the CIO role can and should oversee and be accountable for all technical business operations, which can include engineering and data.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Our AP automation solution is definitely leading the digital transformation of how accounts payable is done, which has become especially important amid the recent shift to remote work due to the pandemic. 

Every CIO should be leading a digital transformation internally. At Beanworks, we are constantly looking at ways to become more efficient in all areas of our business through technology. One of our company values is “never accept the status quo.” The culture of our company is built on change and improvement. 

A digital transformation doesn’t need to be one of either business or internal operational needs; both should be done in parallel. It’s a little like changing the bad tires of the car as you’re driving down the highway; you may have to slow down at times, but the goal is to avoid stopping or skidding off the road. Every action should result in improved speed or traction, or it’s not worth doing. 

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We have a terrific framework for scaling our business, which includes daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly goals and measurements to determine whether we’re tracking to our objectives. We have KPIs to determine development productivity, ticket responsiveness and infrastructure availability to name a few. Beanworks is probably the best company I’ve seen for incorporating a highly structured framework of goal setting, tracking and accountability across the entire organisation, and we’ve been extremely successful because of it. 

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Our CEO likes to say that culture eats strategy for breakfast. She has cultivated a strong and cohesive company culture that has formed the basis for our success. We have values that spell “BEAN” (B for Beantrepeneur, E for Exceed Expectations, A for All Together and N for Never Accept the Status Quo), and we hire and conduct performance reviews based on them. We have a company-wide all-hands meeting every Friday afternoon, which includes shout outs for value-based recognition. Our values are not simply inspirational quotes on posters around the office -- they are pervasive in every activity when it comes to how we plan and execute as a business. 

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Some of the specialised or new technical skill sets tend to be the most difficult to fill, especially when people are hesitant to change companies during COVID. DevOps Engineers and Data Engineers skill sets are usually high in demand and expensive, but we’ve been lucky enough to have an amazing referral network through our employees. We also believe in training and promoting from within, so many of our technical team members have had the opportunity to learn these skills and step up into these roles.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Take Toastmasters! Learning how to speak confidently in front of a crowd or on your feet in a boardroom is essential for you to get ahead. I’ve seen so many brilliant people get left behind because they couldn’t or wouldn’t learn how to hone their public speaking skills. 

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, absolutely! Every leader’s goal should be to try to delegate themselves out of their current job. This means leaders need to focus on training and growing every person under them. If technical people aren’t learning, they’re going to move on. If you aren’t able to delegate more responsibilities, you aren’t going to be able to take on additional ones in order to continue to scale and grow with your company. 

Delegating without training and the right preparation is called dumping, so it’s extremely important for leaders to go through the phases of Situational Leadership with their direct reports. This means taking the time to build out and conduct training sessions and providing continuous feedback and support. Leaders must prioritise this work or their teams will never become high-performing.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? My advice is to never stop learning, and be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You need to take risks to be rewarded. I’ve taken a chance and failed many times in my career, but I have always learned something and became better and more resilient because of it. 

What has been your greatest career achievement? When I look back at what I’ve achieved, I feel most proud of the teams I built to accomplish what I set out to do. I’d rather go to hell and back with a highly cohesive team that is doing all they can to help each other out versus achieve a goal with a group of people at odds with each other. My approach has always been to create the type of team I (and others) want to work on. Once you have that, you can accomplish anything. 

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I certainly don’t regret any of my career choices, but looking back, I should’ve trusted my gut more than I did. It was always right!

What are you reading now? No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer. It outlines the culture at Netflix and how they were able to achieve extraordinary things by valuing people over process, emphasising innovation over efficiency and giving employees context, not controls.

Most people don't know that I… Write fan fiction stories online (under a different username of course). ;)

In my spare time, I like to…Watch the Vancouver Canucks. We used to have season tickets before COVID. Since we’ve been social distancing, I regularly play Fortnite in a squad with my daughters, aged 8 and 9.

Ask me to do anything but… Make you a meal. I’m a terrible cook, but I excel at cleaning!