C-suite career advice: Damian Fozard, CoreAVI

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? “I want people around me who have integrity, so a candidate who demonstrates candour will always be of interest.”

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CoreAVI

Name: Damian Fozard

Company: CoreAVI

Job Title: Founder & CEO

Location: Ontario, Canada

Damian Fozard, CEO & Founder of CoreAVI, is a technology-loving, problem solver who wants to answer tricky, interesting questions. This inquisitiveness combined with over 25 years in software and business development has helped Fozard and his team to develop real-time safety critical graphics and compute drivers for military and avionics applications. Over 155 major aerospace and defence programs in more than 25 countries operate CoreAVI’s award-winning safety critical technologies. After starting his career at Xerox, Fozard left the corporate world for a life of entrepreneurship focusing on innovative and demanding fields. His ventures have covered diverse applications from cryptographic and security systems, through workflow and document management, to embedded safety technologies. In the early days of his career, Fozard’s skills in security and cryptography welcomed invitations to hack and probe many of the early internet banking and government systems. Fozard was a technology consultant on several pieces of legislation that laid the foundation for internet commerce.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? The power of Brutal Honesty was the single best piece of advice I received. Often there is a tendency to sugarcoat bad news or to back away from being direct with someone over the fear of hurting feelings or getting a negative response. Most of the time, we imagine a reaction that is far worse than reality, leading to an internal negotiation process that isn’t constructive. Instead, focus on skills to be able to deliver Brutal Honesty constructively. This approach is not about changing the message but simply delivering it to create trust and open dialogue. There are times when it is vital to be Brutally Honest – in the hiring process, in partnerships, and often handling difficult situations with customers. If you avoid giving the “hard message” at these times, you will often deal with a worse problem in the future.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? This question is tricky because I have received lots of advice over the years that turned out to be less than stellar. I realised most advice is situational and probably was good advice in some other context. So instead of mentioning a single piece of advice that was bad, I will share an observation about what bad advice often sounds like – “I have done this successfully many times in the past and…”, “At company X, we always did Y, and it works,” “Trust me, this is powerful…” What these phrases tell me is that the person has a solution looking for a problem and therefore they do not understand the problem you are trying to solve. Don’t waste your time with great solutions to other people's problems. Focus on solving your own problems.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Work in an area you are passionate about and then learn the subject from first principals up. It is easy in technology to only understand problems at the tools or solution level. Getting to understand the fundamentals of an area of technology will allow you to contribute and be innovative throughout your career.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? I have a lot of passions in life and could happily work in several fields, including professional sports, academia, and economics (behavioral economics is a particular area of interest).  I just had more opportunities to pursue IT/tech.

What was your first job in IT/tech? As a 13-year-old, I wrote games from the Commodore Vic 20 and Commodore 64 that were published, and I did this through my teenage years. My first venture into programming for business was writing a payroll system on a Compaq PC when I was 16 or 17 for a local accounting firm that offered payroll services. My favorite early tech job was writing a system for a Bookmaker firm. I learned a valuable lesson about gambling – the house always wins in the long run.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? I think the biggest and still too persistent misconception is that it’s best suited to men (and often middle class white men). I think we still have a long way to go to create businesses (especially in the embedded technology space) that are diverse. The problem is most noticeable at the C-level positions. We have advertised for two C-level positions over the past two years and received no female applicants. 

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? I think my answer to question #1 would apply. The top people in any organisation are the ones that grasp reality and use it to their advantage, not the ones who try to ignore problems and challenges.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? My only career ambition was to be a millionaire by the time I was thirty. Looking back, that was a stupid ambition! So now I only want one thing for work: I wake up each day enthusiastic about what I am doing.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I had worked from home since my mid-twenties and soon decided that I wanted to be around when my kids got home from school and have dinner with them every day. I have watched them play sports, play music, and I have been able to be involved in all parts of their life. One of our fondest shared memories as a family is reading Asterix the Gaul to my kids and all of us laughing so hard we had tears in our eyes. A work-life balance only comes from making decisions to prioritise the things that matter to you, and perhaps more importantly at the C-level, encouraging others to do the same. You will achieve more over the long-term with people who have a good balance in their lives.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Many people look back at life or a career and wish that adverse events never happened. I look back, and I am thankfully for them. The failures, hardships, unfairness, challenges, and disappointments all helped me grow more than any success or good fortune I had on the way. 

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I would recommend that each person looks at themselves and decides which is the best way forward for them. Education is not a one-size-fits-all option, so take the time to know your own needs.

How important are specific certifications? Again, I think this is individual and often very subjective. There are instances where not having a specific certification will hinder your career opportunities.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? I want people around me who have integrity, so a candidate who demonstrates candour will always be of interest. I also want people who will grow, so a good set of traits is that they are candid enough to talk about their past failures and challenges but demonstrate that they learned and developed as a result. Finally, I want individuals who are people first and colleagues second, so I am looking for genuine and compassionate people. Trading these traits for skills or abilities is not a compromise I will make.

What would put you off a candidate? If I felt the candidate didn’t have integrity, this would put me off. I have refused to hire very talented people who didn’t demonstrate integrity. 

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? As a 15-year-old at high school, I remember being told the essential thing in an interview was to be yourself. The most common mistake I see is people trying to be someone they aren’t, and a good interviewer will detect this quickly. The worst thing that can happen is that you get the job, and then you have to pretend to be someone else to be successful. 

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? The most critical skill in technology is communicating with people, whether they are technologists or businesspeople. To be an effective communicator, you need a mix of skills to understand multiple perspectives. My experience is that those who have these abilities are highly valued.