C-suite career advice: Chonchol Gupta, Rebirth Analytics

What would put you off a candidate? “People who can’t leave their ego at the door don’t listen, they don’t learn, and they don’t see others’ points of view.”

Headshot of Chonchol Gupta, CEO and Co-founder at Rebirth Analytics
Rebirth Analytics

Name: Chonchol Gupta

Company: Rebirth Analytics

Job Title: CEO and co-founder

Location: Spokane, Washington

Chonchol Gupta is CEO and founder of Rebirth Analytics, the company that is building the risk information system for the global economy. With a long pedigree in Fintech, InsureTech, and supply chain innovation, Gupta has more than a decade’s experience as a consultant to both foreign and domestic government financial organisations, and as advisor to public and private financial institutions. Among his previous roles, Gupta has served as Vice-Consul for the United Kingdom's Department of International Trade, where he was charged with assisting the British Government's interactions with finance and insurance institutions in the Southeast United States.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? The best advice I ever got was from my father who told me never to give up, and that even when things look toughest, with hard work they’ll always work out right. He also told me that becoming rich should never be an objective in life; instead, money is the inevitable reward for doing a great job. That advice has stayed with me and even today it informs our business strategy. Everything we do is driven by what we can do to alleviate our customers’ problems, not by what products or services we can sell (or upsell) to them. Real, long-term value always derives from giving customers what they need.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? If there’s no such thing as a bad idea, the same goes for advice. We can learn from anyone, even (especially!) when they’re wrong.

It’s always valuable to listen to other people’s viewpoints or advice, to understand where they’re coming from and why they think that way. Very few of civilization’s great ideas and innovations were the result of one person’s inspiration; most were the product of many years of division, debate, and discussion. Always listen - no matter how wrong someone might seem; they’ll always have something to teach you.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Every year I give a talk at the engineering college at West Virginia University, and I always give the same advice: expand your horizons. If you want to be brilliant rather than merely successful, you must talk to, understand, and associate with people from as many other fields as possible. Different perspectives give you fresh insight into your role and the wider business ecosystem of which you’re part.

The more you understand the world around you, the more rounded your education and the more diverse your frames of reference, the more strategic, valuable, and creative your thinking will become. It’s the difference between staying a coder, working for someone else all your life, and becoming an actual inventor.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? I’m not sure I ever wanted to work in IT! What has always stirred my passion is to innovate in a way that helps businesses. Many of the technologies we see today are solutions looking for a problem; I’ve always seen things from the user’s perspective. I’d like to see IT and tech move from being an independent field of study to something that is deeply intertwined with the lives and the challenges of people who need and use it.

What was your first job in IT/tech? I’ve always worked with technology, but I’m not sure I’ve ever worked in technology. That’s not to disparage an industry that attracts some of the greatest minds and most talented people, and which has changed our lives immeasurably and usually for the better. I simply prefer to think about how we can apply the capabilities of new technologies, rather than being directly involved in their creation.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? One of the biggest misconceptions is very similar to one we come across in our own line of work. Traditionally, enterprises have thought about business risks as being distinct and compartmentalised, when in fact they all to some extent interact. Sometimes they alleviate each other, more often they exacerbate each other, but there’s no such thing as standalone risk. (That’s why we talk about multi-dimensional risk analytics.) 

It’s the same with technology. While everyone talks about breaking down the silos, people are still happy to pigeonhole themselves in a particular role or area of expertise. In such a globally competitive market, that’s a dangerous and self-defeating attitude.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Why don’t you start your own business? You need to find clients, gather talented people, give them the right incentives, and ensure you share the same vision and passion for what you’re trying to achieve. Gather the skills but get rid of the egos - because nothing will take your project off-track faster than people who are motivated by personal goals and gains. There is no better job than being an entrepreneur, especially when you can grow a company and bring people with you.

What are your career ambitions, and have you reached them yet? If I’m doing something that is valuable to others, if I’m working with people who share my passion, and if I’m building equity for our  investors, I’m happy. It may not be the most empirical way of measuring career success, but at least you know when you’ve achieved it…and when it’s at risk of slipping away.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I feel equally blessed in my personal and professional life, which is probably a good sign! I certainly can’t ask for anything more.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I don’t regret a thing. Every experience, every misstep or failure is an experience to learn from, to grow - and a chance to fail better next time around. The only thing I’d regret is if I reached the twilight of my career and realised that I’d been chasing selfish goals.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Education is never wasted, but often the best lessons are taught outside the classroom. A coding bootcamp will give you a specific skill; a computer science degree shows a deeper degree of commitment - but even a degree can be a wasted opportunity if it doesn’t develop you into a well-rounded individual.

It may be that your best route into working with technology - rather than a career “in” technology - is actually to do something quite different, like an engineering degree, which exposes you to a wider variety of real-world challenges. But whatever your field of study, always look beyond it, because that’s where you’ll learn the skills and insight that differentiates you (and which makes life so much more rewarding).

How important are specific certifications? Sure, they’re important: they are proof of capability and commitment, and as such are not to be sneered at. But for us, they’re just the start of the conversation. We look at people and their skill sets regardless of certifications. You can teach people practically anything - except honesty, values, creativity, passion and pretty much anything else that matters.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates?  Bearing in mind my last answer, and having to choose my top three, I would say: personality, vision and integrity. People with these attributes will not just perform the way we want them to, but they’re just so much more rewarding to work with.

What would put you off a candidate? Ego. People who can’t leave their ego at the door don’t listen, they don’t learn, and they don’t see others’ points of view. That’s not to say that egocentrics can’t achieve enormous success on their own terms. It’s just that they’re unlikely to create anything that has real and long-lasting value for the rest of the world.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? The biggest single mistake that candidates make is to forget they’re in the driving seat. Remember, you’re sitting in that chair for a reason: because someone has seen enough value in you to invite you there. Don’t be subservient, don’t agree with the interviewer for the sake of agreement, don’t feel like you can’t put them on the spot with some tough questions. This is your chance to shine, so make sure they remember you.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? My starting point is always to understand the customer and work out how we can solve their needs. Understanding people is a business skill, creating the solution is a technical one. But the starting point is not either / or, or indeed both. The most important skills are the “softest” of all: humility, curiosity, and the ability to listen to other points of view.