C-suite career advice: Derek Hutson, Datical
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C-suite career advice: Derek Hutson, Datical

Name: Derek Hutson

Company: Datical

Job Title: CEO

Location: Austin, TX

Derek Hutson joined Datical in 2015, bringing more than 15 years of leadership experience in enterprise software. Prior to Datical, Hutson served as president of Hart InterCivic. During his tenure at Hart, the company successfully launched multiple new products in the U.S. elections market and doubled its customer base. Hutson currently serves on the board of Hart InterCivic. Other board and advisor positions have included Charity Dynamics, CoreTrace (acquired by Lumension), Innography, StreamStep (acquired by BMC) and Phurnace (acquired by BMC).


What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? The most valuable piece of career advice I've received was just good advice in general. Do it once, do it right and do it now. It speaks to preparation, execution, integrity and urgency. It's also how you should approach a current role, the job you want next and any career moves you may embark upon.   

As your career grows, one challenge is managing the number of good ideas generated. It's easy to begin with a very focused mission and strategy to accomplish said mission. But over time, even the most focused people allow the implementation of too many good ideas to dilute focus that is paramount to success in the first place. Let's be clear, I'm not saying organisations shouldn't evolve, adapt and be nimble. That's not what focus is about. Focus is about doing a few things better than anyone else. It's about saying what you will do, but also what you will STOP doing. Remember - stay focused.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? This is a tough one as I've been fortunate to have a number of great mentors throughout my career. However, the worst advice was someone telling me I needed to make hiring decisions faster. Don't get me wrong, organisations can get into "analysis paralysis" when it comes to hiring decisions and can lose great candidates because of indecisiveness. However, there is a difference between "decisiveness" and being incredibly thorough and deliberate with hiring decisions. Hiring comes with risks, but every time I cut a corner, it turned out to be a mistake. 

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? While it's trite, the advice "follow your passion" is true. IT is a broad industry - operations, development, etc. Decide what you want to do and go for what interests you. Increasingly, IT is delivering the business directly to consumers. Find an industry or organisation you are passionate about and go work in their IT department.

Recently, I gave my son advice on whether or not to accept a job offer from a big company versus a small company. I told him to go with a big company for his first job in order to gain a variety of experiences, with enough infrastructure to train employees on a variety of skills. This allows employees to determine what role is best within company. At a large organisation, you're able to move departments without switching jobs. It's possible to have six different jobs within one big company, which would better to broaden experiences for the next career move.

Did you always want to work in IT? No.

What was your first job in IT? Inside sales rep at BMC Software.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? Common misconceptions about working in IT are that it's all about the tech. In reality, it's a creative intersection of solving business problems with tech. Solving real world problems with tech is what's so fun about working in IT. In our business, we sell one product that touches all industries including banks, gaming provides, insurance companies and retail businesses, so it's fun to dip into other sectors.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Start by performing a self-assessment and ask yourself: why are you really doing this, what are your gaps? Determine how to fill in gaps with your skills and build a network of mentors in those higher-level positions who can help you get there by giving you relevant feedback. Mentors will give you a feel for what it's like working in a C-level position, which will help determine if the move is right for you.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I'm currently in the process of achieving my career ambitions. I wanted to be part of a growing team at a great software company, and I've achieved that. So, what's left? I want to continue growing with the company and the team, and while I am fulfilled, we have more mountains to climb with this team and that is where my focus is now.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I would say my work-life balance is fair. It's better than it used to be, but it's a constant struggle. The challenge for a senior executive is that work is always on the mind, even when you're not checking email or in the office. You're going home every night with fires burning, and as a C-level, every day there will be a fire, including Friday nights.

This is why downtime is important, especially the older you get. I've learned in my late 30s, physical exercise, ample sleep and eating right are imperative to be effective at work.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? There is one instance when I should have been more patient, but got anxious and left a position prematurely. It taught me to be always be patient and strategically consider what the next move is going to do for your career.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Attend a coding bootcamp first to make sure it's the right fit for you is for you. It's not going to hurt to go through bootcamp to validate a computer science degree is the way to go for you.

How important are specific certifications? Not that important.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Curiosity, demonstrable grit and potential for growth.

What qualities would put you off in a candidate? If the candidate doesn't want to make an impact on the company, has a lack of longevity and is not a cultural fit, I wouldn't consider them.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Talking too much, not being prepared or clear about their goals. It's important for candidates to do their homework, prepare thoughtful talking points and questions to ask in advance, and rehearse to a point when you don't ramble. If interested, just ask for the job straight up. As a sales person, I was taught to ‘ask for the order' -- ask for the job. By showing desired interest in the position, it's likely you'll get my vote of confidence. 

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? Be a dual threat weapon by acquiring both business and technical skills. Like a running back that can catch or a quarterback than can also run, it's imperative to be well-rounded as it showcases adaptability.

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