C-suite career advice: Brent Rasmussen, Carrington Mortgage Holdings

C-suite career advice: Brent Rasmussen, Carrington Mortgage Holdings

Name: Brent Rasmussen

Company: Carrington Mortgage Holdings

Job Title: Chief Information Officer, EVP

Location: Aliso Viejo, CA

Brent Rasmussen is responsible for setting the technology strategy and direction for the company and its operating units. With more than 20 years of enterprise technology management experience, he oversees every aspect of the company's technology. Prior to joining Carrington, Brent spent three years in a similar role as the CIO at Auction.com, and was instrumental in creating the e-commerce platform that handles the transactions for online auction sales of residential and commercial REO as well as mortgage notes.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Own the result. Early in my career, I focused on completing only my part or segment of a project as well as I possibly could. A mentor pointed out to me that a well-done single component does not ensure success of the total project. Until the total solution is fully adopted and running smoothly the company has not realised the desired result. That bit of advice encouraged me to reach beyond the boundaries of my role or my department and be a collaborative participant in all phases of the effort. This mindset helped push my career forward as "someone that gets results", and I have made that part of my organisation's culture. It has been invaluable in creating close partnerships with internal and external clients, which is so vital when introducing new technologies and changes to the overall enterprise.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? The customer is always right. Always saying yes is a trap that many IT organisations fall into due to the desire to make the client happy and avoid conflict. I have learned that when a client prescribes the desired solution, it is best to change the conversation to describing business issues and desired outcomes. This approach will enable the IT professional to consider important aspects such as: does this solution create enough of a Return on Investment (ROI) to support the effort and the expense, is there a solution already in the company that can be leveraged to avoid time delays and cost, is a custom solution the best approach or is there something readily available in the market? Although IT must be careful to avoid becoming a roadblock, every IT person needs to be comfortable (and supported by management) to provide a response that may be contrary to the timing, perceived value, or particular approach that the customer has in mind. One final point: You must ensure that your advice is based on a thorough understanding of not only the technology, but the business and operations of your clients.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? A successful IT professional needs a strong package of skill sets. The base of these skills is always top-notch technical expertise. However, other important items include:

  • Great communication skills, both written and verbal, as you will need to be able to work in a team and directly with clients.
  • A complete understanding of best practices and sharp organisational know-how will enable you to grow in your career. Do not forget that technology is not the final destination, rather it is an understanding of how that technology fits into a successful business or how it can become a product offering for a business. Spend some time developing a good business acumen and it will serve you well.
  • You will need a solid work ethic to drive through the long hours and extra effort required to stand out.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, I have always been fascinated by technology. I chose to be a business major based on the advice of counselors and friends. However, I worked my way through college by working in early robotic programming, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and systems integration. It turned out that my passion for technology blended well with an education in business. 

What was your first job in IT? I was still in college when I had an opportunity to work with some of the early robotic machines in the manufacturing sector. I learned to program the robots along with design and integration of the fixtures and positioners required for them to complete their tasks. I had a great time and the experience fueled my passion for creating entirely new ways of applying technology to the challenges around us. Today, we recognise this concept as digital transformation.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? IT is not a job of always working on cool new technology and then cashing in on an IPO or venture capital buyout. Although this does happen, the majority of time spent is being part of a team working on making improvements of all types and project sizes. It also involves working within a team, with other non-IT groups, or directly with clients rather than just coding into the late hours of the night. 

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? A few questions I ask someone who is seeking an executive position in the IT sector:

  • "Have you actually thought about what that means at a granular level?"
  • "Are you ready to spend your time working on managerial duties rather than being immersed in the technical side?"
  • "Will you be comfortable with the challenge of budgets, finding and keeping the right team members, and being the ultimate escalation point for issues and frustrated clients? "
  • "Have you also considered that the average tenure of a CIO is relatively short compared to other career paths?"

If the answer is yes, then sharpen your communication skills and bring patience, passion, and purpose with you to the office every day. For myself, I have enjoyed my choice in position and would not have had it any other way.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I have reached many of my career goals. I have started new ventures, run my own company, been intricately involved with cutting-edge technologies, and have been the CIO for several great organisations. I am very excited at the prospect of what the digital revolution will bring to people and our society at large. It is a great time to be part of the technology sector that has such promise to change our world for the better.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I think that part of being in an executive role is understanding that the work life balance is tilted a bit toward work. I work to ensure that I keep my family and friends in the right perspective and do the things that let them know how important they are to me. In addition, I enjoy sports and activities that tend to take me off the grid for a little while. I think this helps to keep me healthy, reconnect with my family, and recharges my creative batteries.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I have learned much with each step in my career path and would not trade any of those lessons away.

Which would you recommend: A coding boot camp or a computer science degree? I think that both help to build a body of knowledge needed to be successful. A computer science degree would be the priority and required for anyone seeking to pursue a management path. However, the boot camps help keep an IT professional current on the latest technology and techniques. 

How important are specific certifications? These have been declining in relevance for several years. It certainly does not hurt to have certifications in the particular specialty that you are in. However, solid experience and demonstrated ability in addition to the certification would be more helpful in an interview.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? The primary thing I look for is a great work ethic. This includes the willingness to go beyond the job description to make a meaningful impact on the group's success. I also look for problem solving skills that include technologies and process outside of the candidate's specialty. This helps the team create the right solution, at the right cost, in the right time frame. I am always wary of a narrowly focused person that "only has a hammer and every problem is a nail". Finally, I would say that a deep core competency in their field of expertise is vital. I encounter a fair amount of generalists that are happy to take detailed instructions and complete discrete tasks. However important that may be, it does not lift the potential of the team as a whole.

What would put you off a candidate? If a candidate tries to bluff their way around a topic with buzzwords, I will end the interview quickly. It is always best to be straight forward with your skills and concerns in an interview. If you are unfamiliar, or lightly acquainted, with a particular subject honesty is the best response. In addition, if you have concerns about the job, the company, or anything else that would affect your decision to accept or stay in the position, it is best to get those out on the table right away to ensure the best outcome for you and the company.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Be prepared for the interview. A candidate that has not done their homework sticks out like a sore thumb. Be prepared with examples of your work that include tangible facts. Spend some time beforehand to research the company and industry that you are applying with so you can relate your potential contribution to the company's goals. An extra effort to look at the background and experience of the people you will be speaking with is also a plus.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? Both are an absolute must. It is impossible to lead a group of technical professionals without a solid technical knowledge base yourself. In addition, every technical professional needs to understand the business your client or target market is in and how your contribution and/or product will make an impact. The best skill set is one in which you can talk in the language of business and technology fluently and at the same time.



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