Paying it forward and opening new doors

9 years ago in the fall of 2007 I took Professor John Gallaugher’s Computer’s in Management Class. During the class, we learned about key concepts such as network effects, Moore’s Law, and supply chain integration, and covered innovative technologies being used by companies like Netflix, Zara, and Amazon. John was light years ahead of his time, and has since authored one of the best textbooks that covers’ disruptive and innovative technologies and case studies on companies that leverage them.

Anyone who knows my background knows I wasn’t the best student. While I loved to learn and took school seriously, I was deeply immersed in my various extracurricular pursuits, such as student government, service trips, and athletics. However, I was fortunate enough to sit in Computers in Management for long enough to realize that technology was going to play an important role in business in the future and that it was something I should pay attention to. As a result, I started studying concepts like social networks and digital technology and stumbled across Twitter in 2007 and LinkedIn shortly thereafter. Seeing the power of these social networks (as well as just being a college student with a Facebook account) showed me that these things had the potential to forever change society and business, but if it weren’t for Professor Gallaugher’s enthusiasm and excitement behind his teaching I probably wouldn’t have looked twice.

 

Eventually, I decided that my interest in solving problems, working on teams, and gaining diverse experiences was perfect for consulting but it was John’s class that pushed me towards a career in technology. I was fortunate that there happened to be a company (Deloitte) on campus recruiting for technology consultants, and after successfully navigating the recruiting process I would land an offer.

I was fortunate at the time to have multiple job offers, so before accepting my job at Deloitte I remember going to Professor Gallaugher’s office and asking him for advice on which job to choose. Regardless of the jobs I chose one of the biggest concerns I had was taking a job where I wouldn’t exactly know what to do. I remember John laughing at my question and telling me that I had what it took to figure it out, and in due time I absolutely would figure it out. He then went on to tell me a story about during one of his first jobs, he went out to a business dinner only to realize he had no idea how to order wine. Embarrassed, he went home and learned what to order so the next time he knew what to select.

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It’s a silly story but his message at the time which I still think about to this day is that it’s not about being an expert or knowing everything but being open to learning and being comfortable with not always having the answer but confident enough to go and find it. As a consultant, I like to say that part of my job is to be a professional learner. As someone who is still fairly junior in his career, my clients and my firm don’t pay me because I have every single answer to every single business problem, but rather, because I have the knowledge, resources and insights on how to learn what I can to solve anything that comes my way. Yes – there are still plenty of times at work when something is thrown my way that makes me a little uncomfortable, mostly due to the fact that it’s new, or not in my wheelhouse. But in those moments, I try to think back to the lesson Professor Gallaugher told me about ordering wine and focus on my confidence in my abilities to learn on the fly, be resourceful and use my brain to figure out what I need to get things done. Five years into this and I haven’t gotten throw out so I think it’s going OK!

 

Last week, I had the privilege to host Professor Gallaugher’s TechTrek class. Each Spring Break, he takes 24 students to tour some of the top tech companies on the west coast so students can learn about exciting developments in the technology industry and what a career at a company might be like. Instead of learning about how technology was impacting business as a student, I was at the front teaching students about this same concept from my own experience advising clients on this same topic, and to really come full-circle, delivering the lecture was almost the exact same way I learned from John 9 years ago. It was a very fulfilling and gratifying moment to know how far I had come, but also to have the opportunity to pass along my experience and thoughts to a group of incredibly intelligent, hard-working and motivated students who will one day start their own careers in tech. I’d like to think I was just as smart, intelligent and motivated as these students were, but I’m smart enough to know that is wishful thinking J

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Towards the end of the presentation, myself and my colleague Julio, a fellow Boston College graduate, had the chance to share some  advice to the students about things that would help them achieve their career goals. You can read about some of the lessons I talked about here, but one of the ones I thought was most important was about “Learning how to learn.” If you can learn how to learn, that skill will be valuable to the rest of your career and your life. For example, learning how to enjoy the process of learning, and learning how to adopt a growth mindset so you can continuously learn new concepts, skills, and ideas will open up opportunities that you may not envision for yourself.

It’s also a microcosm with some of the underpinnings of the advances of technology and innovation today. In today’s day and age, new innovation comes quicker and faster and with more impact. There are so many more tools and resources which make it almost impossible to know everything, and by the time you learn something it seems like there’s another product out that’s one version better. The people and organizations that thrive in this environment will be the companies who learn how to continuously learn, adapt and evolve over time. Or, to be consistent with the theme here, the ones who go from not knowing how to order off a wine to the ones who know how to pair a wine with a steak dinner.

One of the last but perhaps other most important lessons I talked about was keeping the door open and making it your mission to open new doors for others. When I graduated in 2010, there were only a handful of people who I graduated with from BC who went to work in tech. Now, Information Systems is one of the most popular concentrations in the Business School and companies ranging from startups to Google regularly take BC students. In fact, the top employer last year at BC was a software company. Long before today, John, and the other Professors at BC and a handful of alums were championing technology and doing whatever they could to help students launch careers in tech. Their efforts and tireless energy are the driving force for helping launch hundreds of BC students’ careers in tech – The doors they opened are why people like me have careers today, and knowing that makes me incredibly grateful for where I am, and motivates me to do whatever I can to open doors for others. Whether it’s a presentation to a group of students, a coffee chat, returned e-mail or networking request, I’m humbled and proud to open doors, because there have been so many that have been opened for me.

 

The Keys to Career Success

Last week, I had the chance to speak to the Boston College Tech Trek students visiting the Bay Area. These students are led by Professor John Gallaugher and got the chance to visit with a number of tech companies in the Bay Area to learn about the tech industry, and made a pit stop at the Deloitte office to learn a bit about the consulting industry and the topic of digital consulting.

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During the latter part of the presentation I also spent some time talking about career opportunities in the Tech industry and what students can do in order to achieve their own desired career success. We closed with a section on some of our own keys to success that we felt helped us achieve our own success thus far and I wanted to share them here. So with a little channeling of my inner DJ Khaled, here are some of my keys to success:

Lesson 1: Know Yourself – Take the time know yourself and to ask yourself the tough questions about what you want to do in your career. I think self-awareness is an underrated skill, and some of the most successful people I have seen have taken the time to understand what they want to do while plotting steps (baby at times) to get there.

Lesson 2: Never Stop Learning – Technology moves fast. It can be hard to keep up. Instead, focus on the art of learning, and never stop. College is a transformational time to grow and develop. If you can learn “how to learn” and begin to do it frequently you will find yourself in better position to adapt and evolve throughout your career.

Lesson 3: Put Others First – If you consider others before yourself, you’ll find all the help you’ll ever need and more opportunities than you can imagine. I know this is a rather counterintuitive lesson, but I’ve found that helping others has given me more opportunities that I could ever imagine. Adam Grant’s Give and Take is a great example of how putting others first can help you get ahead in your career.

Lesson 4: Always Keep The Door Open – You got here because someone opened the door for you. Keep it open for someone else. Or better yet, open new doors for others. I’ve been fortunate to get to where I am in my career and I know I wouldn’t be here without hard work and effort. Having said that, I would be foolish if I didn’t acknowledge the countless people whose help and kindness gave me the opportunities and breaks to help me land where I am. I’m committed to keeping that door open to others, and finding ways to open new ones too.

Lesson 5: Be Kind – It costs very little, and pays significantly. I’ve  found that saying hello, smiling, opening doors, and saying please and thank you can make a huge difference.