C-suite career advice: Kazuhiro Gomi, NTT Research, Inc.
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C-suite career advice: Kazuhiro Gomi, NTT Research, Inc.

Name: Kazuhiro Gomi

Company: NTT Research, Inc.

Job Title: President & CEO

Location: Palo Alto, CA

Kazuhiro Gomi is leading NTT Research, a research center in the heart of Silicon Valley that carries out advanced research for some of the world's most important and impactful technologies, including quantum computing, cryptography and information security, and medical and health informatics. Gomi began his career at NTT R&D and has been an NTT employee for more than 20 years.


What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Some of the best career advice I've been given is to approach bigger challenges at work with the mentality of your boss or manager. That is, get in your boss' frame of mind; put yourself in his/her shoes and think about how they would approach this particular challenge or task. Ask yourself how he/she would advise you to address the situation. This mindset really helped me elevate my perspective as my career was developing.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? To not do something because it was a risk. I've been told more than once in my career not to do something; colleagues have tried to dissuade me from participating in one project or other because there was a chance of failure and then the fallout that can come with failure (damage to my reputation, etc.) I usually ignored this kind of advice. Sometimes, you just can't be so concerned with politics or pleasing everyone. You have got to believe in yourself and go with your gut.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? For the last ten years, IT has been the source of innovation and will continue to be so for years to come, I think. So, I'd say be proud of the innovation you bring, but also be prepared and mindful.

Depending on your role, whatever innovation your bring to the table, it has to be relevant to your business's objectives. In other words, stay tuned to what your business's needs are and how your work applies. Moreover, so much relies on IT. When something fails or there's any kind of business outage, many companies visibly suffer. There's a huge responsibility to anyone working in IT as the backbone of a company.

Did you always want to work in IT? I was always interested in technology, even when I was young. When I was growing up, I liked to make radio circuits. In Japan, there was a Junk Radio shop. You could go there and buy a broken radio. My friends and I would buy 10 cheap broken radios for 10 cents each, fix them and sell them for something like 10 dollars. I always liked to do that sort of thing for fun. I was first exposed to computers in college, and back then the term "IT" didn't really exist, but I was very interested in engineering.

What was your first job in IT? I've been with NTT since I finished my master's degree. My first IT job was, in fact, in NTT's R&D lab, and my first project was to create an answering machine with a more conversational, human-like interface. It was sort of like a personal operator; an early version of voice recognition software. I worked on the project from R&D to commercialisation, and it did very well in Japan for some years.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? In my opinion, it's not necessarily that technical. You need to have a good understanding of the business, the market and the company's business objectives. Technology is certainly an important piece of that. But you also need to know these other points and how to work with your colleagues and customers. The key to success is not so much the technology itself but identifying and filling a need. IT doesn't have all of the answers; a good team needs to work together to be successful, and IT is part of that team.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a C-level position? Human skill is very important. Master this.

What are your career ambitions, and have you reached them yet? It was to be involved in the technology space. Another interest that I had was to live and work outside of Japan. I suppose I've met both of these goals.

Do you have a good work-life balance in your current role? My wife would say absolutely not. And I wouldn't necessarily recommend the rate at which I work for everyone. I'm happy with the way things are though.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I'm very happy with the path my career has taken. I don't think I'd change anything. I'm very grateful for all of the experiences I've had. One thing I'd say is that as CEO I spend less time on the technical side, and sometimes I miss that aspect. I miss fixing those broken radios.

Which would you recommend: A coding boot-camp or a computer science degree? Definitely the computer science degree. I think it's important to gain a broader knowledge that you can apply to other areas. A coding boot-camp is great, but maybe too niche. Though I suppose it depends on the person and the direction they want to take in their career.

How important are specific certifications? I think they are valuable if they're a good fit. There are those that are more valuable than others, but I think it's important to have one or two certainly. A company like NTT does look for that. For example, Cisco's certification for routing technicians is a typical and very good one from my perspective. When there are a lot of people competing for the same job, a certification can validate and differentiate you as a candidate.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? I generally look for someone with experience with different IT projects, human skill, a specialty and a certification in that specialty.

What would put you off a candidate? Over confidence and lack of confidence. To me, either is a sign that a candidate is not a good fit.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? This is something I've learned from my boss. If you can give a simple answer to a question, you probably understand the issue. If you don't, your answer tends to be a bit longer and more involved. I look for that. Keep it short and sweet. And this can be said of any situation, not necessarily only in an interview. I think it's good advice.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? Definitely a mix of both. Looking back, something that really helped me has been my technical background. Having spent my youth building and dismantling things and starting in NTT's R&D lab at a young age, I have a very strong technical background.

For me, mastering the technical side was easier because it was my passion. I refurbished radios but hated Social Studies. Business was harder for me. But since I was strong in tech, I could afford to dedicate more time and attention to the business side when needed. That's how I operate, but everyone is different. I think I'm lucky. Today, many are struggling to grasp the technical side of the business and the direction business is headed today.

I'd say both are important, but I'd also say that being particularly stronger in one area over the other is also ok. Just don't be mediocre at both!

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