C-suite career advice: Sanjay Castelino, Snow Software

How important are specific certifications? “… I think certifications are a good validation for people early in their career, but when you’re 5 years in, I’m more interested in what you’ve done than what certifications you have.”

Snow Software

Name: Sanjay Castelino

Company: Snow Software

Job Title: Chief Product Officer

Location: Austin, Texas

Sanjay Castelino is the Chief Product Officer at Snow, where he’s responsible for overseeing Snow’s complete product lifecycle from strategy and development through launch and continued innovation. He is a B2B product, marketing and operations leader with more than 20 years of experience, growing businesses from early stage startups to public companies. Prior to his role as CPO, Castelino served as Snow’s Chief Marketing Officer where he led all marketing functions and helped define the company’s product strategy. Before joining Snow, Castelino was the VP of Marketing and Revenue Operations at Spiceworks and VP of Product Marketing and Management at SolarWinds (NYSE: SWI), among other positions including marketing and product leadership roles at NetStreams and Motive (acquired by Alcatel-Lucent).

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Focus on the results and outcomes, not the activities and role you’re currently in. When you focus on the outcomes, you are more valuable to your employer and get to learn and solve problems you wouldn’t have solved before.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? I don’t know that anyone has actually said this, but I see people do this: chasing the next bigger paycheck. Go places and jump into roles because of what you want to do, not what you’re getting paid.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Plan on change: change in tech, change in your role, and change in how you work. The only constant is change. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true. If you don’t get comfortable with it and embrace it, IT and tech maybe a painful place for you to be.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? I was always interested in technology, but when I was in high school, I wanted to be a physicist. But eventually I realised that I enjoyed solving different kinds of problems, and over time I realised that some of the hardest problems have nothing to do with technology.

What was your first job in IT/tech? As a college student, I worked for General Motors on EV1 doing rapid prototyping (think really expensive 3D printing), and eventually some simulation model testing. It was great to get exposure to a broad range of technology early on and it helped me focus in on the areas that I enjoyed the most.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? That’s funny, the one everyone jokes about is that if you work in tech, you can fix people’s computers! Of course, I think there are many people that think if you work in tech that you’re always up to speed on the very latest consumer technology and that is so far off the mark for many people in the industry.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? First, there’s no one path to a c-level position so if you’re looking for the answer then you’re probably asking the wrong question. I’d reiterate that the c-level roles are about solving for the business outcomes, not the functional ones. Your job is about enabling your team to do great things, not the reverse. So, I’d say that you should make sure you learn about how your business adds value to customers and how it makes money to pay its employees to create that value. That context is invaluable to helping you figure out how you can add value to the business and start your journey.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? Personally, I enjoy solving big problems with great people and learning new things in the process. It may sound a bit idealistic, but that’s what gets me up in the morning. Take one of those things out and it’s less interesting. Given that description, I can unequivocally say that I haven’t reached my ambitions.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I find this term interesting because it’s often interpreted as work and life as separable and discrete things. For me, I feel in balance but it’s generally because work and life are integrated well, and I choose when to elevate one over the other.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I don’t think I’d change a thing. There are many paths I suppose I could have taken. Some may have made me richer, others may have allowed me to live in different places, and others may have landed me in different industries. I’m happy with the place I’m at and the journey has been fun along the way.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I don’t think I have a recommendation without understanding your goal and constraints. I do believe that a 4-year degree teaches you more than coding so if your goal is simply to learn to code, the degree isn’t the requirement. In my view, the degree teaches you the skills to operate as a team, opens you up to new people and cultures you might not have been exposed to, and broadens your horizons. You also learn to code.

How important are specific certifications? Generally, I think certifications are a good validation for people early in their career, but when you’re 5 years in, I’m more interested in what you’ve done than what certifications you have. If you got a certification and haven’t used those skills in 5 years, they’re guaranteed to be out of date.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Of course, there are always specific skills that are role dependent, but I’m interested in a few things beyond that. Are you ready to learn? Do you have the will to get after the outcomes I’m hiring you for? Are you adaptable?

What would put you off a candidate? Some candidates talk too much. They want to tell you everything that’s important to them instead of answering the questions the interviewer asks. Also, people who take all the credit for their accomplishments. I guarantee you that none of us got where we are by ourselves and if you can’t tell me who helped you, how, and what mistakes you made along the way, it’s a red flag.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Be genuine and do your homework. It’s such a common mistake where someone thinks they’re telling you what you want to hear or they say they love your company/product but when you ask two more questions about what they love or why, they’re stumped. If you’re going to show up at an interview, just make sure you are prepared and are being yourself.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both?  Well, I told my engineering team a while ago that I gave up my license to code even though I tinker at home from time to time, so I’d have to say business skills. That said, I pride myself in being able to keep up with the team most of the time.