C-suite career advice: Amitabh Sinha, Workspot

How important are specific certifications? “For me, zero. I just looked at what an employee or prospective employee did in their previous role, what they've learned and what they want to do in their next role.”


Name: Amitabh Sinha

Company: Workspot

Job Title: CEO

Location: Campbell, CA

Amitabh Sinha has more than 20 years of experience in enterprise software, end-user computing, mobile, and database software. Sinha co-founded Workspot with Puneet Chawla and Ty Wang in August 2012. Prior to Workspot, Sinha was the general manager for enterprise desktops and Apps at Citrix Systems. In his five years at Citrix, Sinha was vice president of product management for XenDesktop and vice president of engineering for the Advanced Solutions Group. Sinha has a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. 

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Earlier in my career, we had just launched a new product and I ran into the CEO during lunchtime. He congratulated me on the launch and I responded, “it's not me, it's the team.” He then told me that I needed to learn to accept congratulations because when things go wrong, leaders are to blame as well. This really spoke to how leadership roles entail taking responsibility for the wins and challenges of the team or company as a whole. 

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? Nothing comes to mind, I don’t think I’ve ever truly been given bad advice.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Go deep into something you really enjoy. You can skim the surface first so that whatever area you choose, you can spend time in and get good at. It takes you a minimum of three years to really add value to your organisation and then seven to eight years before you're an expert. If you choose an area you don’t really like and end up hopping between specialties too soon, you won't have the sufficient degree of expertise to earn leadership roles or add value to the rest of the organisation. Dive deep into what you’re good at and what you enjoy rather than switching roles every two to three years.  

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? Yes, I started off working in software in India back when there was probably fewer than two dozen computers in all of India. So, this wasn't a natural choice. I mean, most people didn't know what software was (at that time). I had never touched a computer until I actually joined a computer science program. It was an abstract theoretical choice because it sounded cool. 

What was your first job in IT/tech? My first role was on the database software team at Oracle. 

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? I think for most non-software companies, IT has been seen as a supporting function. People should begin to think of software and IT as an enabling function. It allows you to do things better, faster and cheaper if you embrace it wholeheartedly versus treating it like “it's just a computer that helps me do my job.”  

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? I would say in the beginning of your career, hard skills are more important than your ability to communicate. Toward the middle of your career, your ability to communicate becomes more important than your skills, but to get to the C-suite role, you need to have both. You can acquire skills by going deep into your role, but if you're scared of communicating in a leadership role, then you need to get in front of more people and do it more often. There's no short cut. 

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? It's simply to solve interesting problems; that's it. 

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Probably not. It's difficult in this current role to not be thinking about the company 24/7.  

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I would have been more aggressive earlier on. I think early on it felt like other people knew more than I did, so it was I wasn't as aggressive with trying new things; I thought it would be young and foolish to do these things and build new stuff. Now I think you should try new things when you're young and foolish and not necessarily wait for a certain amount of experience to do them. 

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I think it doesn't really matter how you come to the space, because what's really important – at least to me—is that once you spend three to four years on the job, you've learned a skillset. Whether you went to a coding bootcamp or earn a computer science degree, what is really significant is what you learned while doing the job.  

How important are specific certifications? For me, zero. I just looked at what an employee or prospective employee did in their previous role, what they've learned and what they want to do in their next role. It doesn't really matter where they came from or what certifications they have. 

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? In my opinion, it’s just one quality, which is what have they learned from in the previous job—what they did, what problems they solved and what questions they’re asking as a result of that job. I think 80% of my ideal interview is just the candidate asking me questions, and then based on the questions they're asking, I go backwards to understand their experiences and goals. The quality of the questions is the most important thing for me. 

What would put you off a candidate? Similarly, a candidate that has no questions for me or takeaways from their previous role would result in a poor interview. 

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? The number one would be not doing the homework on the company you're interviewing with. You don't need to need to know a lot, but you should know more than the basics. Not that many people make this mistake, but I think that's the worst mistake to make. 

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? Depends on the job. Obviously for an engineering job, you must have technical skills and if you're in a marketing or sales function, the business skills are more important. But of course, those who excel and take on leadership roles are those who can combine both, and those are rare people.