C-suite career advice: Andrey Korotayev, Clear Junction

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? “Being insincere. There is no point trying to hide your weaknesses and over-emphasising your strengths.”

Clear Junction

Name: Andrey Korotayev

Company: Clear Junction

Job Title: CTO

Location: London

Andrey Korotayev is Chief Technology Officer at Clear Junction, implementing strategic leadership for IT application development, software engineering and technology innovations across all Clear Junction business units. Owing to his academic credentials, he has built an impressive professional portfolio. He gained extensive experience delivering complex, first-class products and solutions in the fintech industry in several organisations, including Expressbank and Avtomedia. Before working at Clear Junction, Korotayev served as VP R&D, where he governed a large, strategic and complex research and development unit.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? The most valuable piece of career advice I continually go back to wasn’t advice at all. It comes from an old saying, “Seek the interesting paths in your life, and not the simple ones.” From my perspective, nothing worthwhile comes easy, and building a career is no exception. Therefore, I sought the path that interested me, even if it wasn’t the simplest.

Work is an immense part of most peoples’ lives. It is where we realise our potential. Most importantly, for many of us, our career achievements are what we build our self-esteem upon. Life is too short to risk the simple path when it comes to a career, the path may be unfulfilling. Instead take the path that interests and excites you. Career challenges are much easier to overcome if you have a sincere interest and passion in what you do day to day.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? The worst piece of advice I’ve ever received was probably to focus on playing it safe and avoiding ownership and responsibility for what is going on around me. Following this advice will surely make one’s professional life much easier on various levels, but it also traps someone inside their comfort zone and inhibits career growth. It is imperative to always remember that development only happens when we step outside of our comfort zone. Career evolution progresses through taking risks, a lot of them, and learning from the outcomes whether they are successes or failures. We shouldn’t be afraid to try.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech?  There are five core pieces of advice I would offer to someone just beginning their career:

  1. Strive for perfection in whatever you do, after all if you don’t like the results of your own work, who will?
  2. Always aim to apply yourself beyond what is simply expected of you. When completing a task at hand, look for better and smarter ways to do it. Not only will you impress those around you, you may produce an optimised process for the future.
  3. In every new task you tackle or new role you take on, it’s essential to take all your previous experience into consideration and use it to make forward-thinking decisions. Have faith in your experience and trust your gut instincts.
  4. Avoid situations and environments in which you justify underperformance due to inadequate pay at all costs. Never compromise the quality of your work. If you aren’t happy with your salary, go and negotiate a better deal or find another project to be a part of.
  5. Last, but not least, when you fail you must take responsibility for the part you played. Failure is inevitable, but we can learn from our failures. Don’t make a habit of blaming people, or circumstances around you for what very well may be your own shortcomings.

Did you always want to work in tech? Yes, absolutely. As far back as I can remember I’ve been fascinated with computers, technology, and innovation. When I went to university, I first got my associates in Computers and Network, then moved onto my bachelor's and master's degrees before my first job in tech. I wanted to know anything and everything ahead of working in the industry.

What was your first job in tech? My very first job out of university was at Expressbank, a commercial bank in Ukraine, as a systems network administrator in their IT department.

What are some common misconceptions about working in tech? One of the biggest and most common misconceptions is oversimplifying the nature of IT jobs, while amplifying its earnings potential. Yes, it’s true that one can earn good money while working in IT. However, this isn’t a given. High earnings will only materialise if you can find a way to stand out as a professional which can be a challenge.

Building a solid career in IT comes with sacrifices, one of which is having to continuously strive for professional improvement and self-development and can reach far beyond the traditional 9am – 5pm hours.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? I believe these tips would work equally well in any managerial position, not just for those aiming at C-suite but to find success in these roles you should consider the following:

  • Take full ownership and responsibility for the results of the projects entrusted to you. If they succeed, it is your success, if they fail, it is your failure that you can learn from to overcome the obstacles for next time.
  • It is never enough to just understand the domain that you are responsible for. This is especially true for larger and growing organisations where C-level managers need to have a solid understanding of how multiple parts of the organisation fit together. Never stop making efforts to expand your outlook beyond your current abilities and competence. Striving for a bird’s-eye view in business is what makes one a visionary capable of making C-suite decisions.
  • C-level managers should be able to complete any task that their team is normally responsible for. The manager might not be as time efficient as the person who carries out the task on an everyday basis, and the quality might not be there either. However, understanding the work is of paramount importance when it comes to being an effective manager.
  • You must be fully prepared to manage people. This has nothing to do with throwing orders around but is about feeling and understanding people who are part of your team. And you must be able to analyse their successes and failures. Always remember – the success of your team is the success of your team members, while your team’s failure is your personal failure.

What are your career ambitions, and have you reached them yet? I’d much rather say that I have life ambitions in general, rather than speak to specific career ambitions. My general life philosophy is to constantly strive to “see further and deeper” which isn’t necessarily a goal, but a process and a journey to enjoy.

As for my career, I feel like I am in the right place professionally as I got myself to the point where I find my work intellectually stimulating and emotionally rewarding.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I’d say that, yes, for the most part I have a good work/life balance but not always! It can be difficult to achieve balance, especially when you have genuine interest and passion for the job.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I wouldn’t change anything whatsoever. My journey has brought me to my role now with Clear Junction as the Chief Technology Officer and I am proud of my position and the growth we’ve seen over the past few years.

Which would you recommend: a coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Definitely a computer science degree. The basic knowledge taught within the degree is essential to set a foundation which can then be built upon depending on interests or career path. Furthermore, a degree in computer science effectively expands upon the horizons of the industry and outlines an advanced and profound understanding of the discipline. Graduates will have the ability and skills to create new knowledge, as opposed to blindly following technical assignments, which is especially important for someone looking to establish themselves in the field of IT.

How important are specific certifications? Certifications are rarely important. They are viewed as a supplementary factor which indicates an already accomplished professional is not stalling in their development and is willing to undertake further educational activities. A strong and broad skillset within a particular area is of far greater importance than formal certificates.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? The three abilities I always look for are: strong professional knowledge and experience; sincere interest in comprehending and creating something new, as opposed to just earning money; and loyalty to the project. I don’t want to bring someone in who may leave in six months or a year. I ensure any prospective candidate is looking to work in the company for at least the next two to three years.

What would put you off a candidate? It is a red flag to me if a candidate is prone to frequently changing companies they work for. If a candidate has changed roles more often than once every couple of years, I am less likely to move forward with their application.

I am also not impressed by candidates that overstate confidence in their knowledge and understanding of things, which often leads to a complete lack of openness to accept new things and learn from experiences.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Being insincere. There is no point trying to hide your weaknesses and over-emphasising your strengths. It’s hard to fool others continually and takes a lot of effort. Eventually true colours are revealed. Honestly is always the best policy.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? Technical skills are extremely important in the field of IT, one cannot deny that. Having said that, it is equally important to be able to integrate within a team and be an effective communicator, both as a matter of horizontal and vertical networking and internal communication within teams and across the organisation.