Jeff Coffin embeds knowledge in embedded systems talk at Pace University

The Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Pace University welcomed a guest to the Tech Leadership Series for a discussion with Seidenberg students.

On Thursday, October 25, the Software and Systems Engineer at AJA Video Systems, Inc., Jeff Coffin, spoke on the New York City campus for a discussion on the topic, “Embedded Linux: What the Heck is it?” Students had the opportunity to dive into what an embedded system is all about with Jeff. The talk took the form of an interview, where Jeff was posed questions by a very special Seidenberg student – Charlotte Coffin, aka his daughter!

Jeff, current AJA Software and Systems Engineer as well as former American Airlines Software and Systems Engineer, specializes in the operating system known as Linux. The operating system runs most devices that people use every day along with running most of the internet. With an industry professional who has vast knowledge of such an integrative piece of technology, it gave students an opportunity to use critical and creative thinking skills.

Students also received the opportunity to speak with Jeff about his many years of experience in the technology industry. Networking also occurred at this event located in the Seidenberg lounge.

Jeff Coffin and daughter Charlotte Coffin – a Seidenberg student superstar – talk tech

If you missed out on this event, no worries! We have many more speakers lined up for the rest of the Leadership in Technology series.

November 14 – Peggy Yao

Goldstein Academic Center, 12:00pm

Tech Collective Lunch & Learn: Mindfulness for Professional & Personal Success

Wednesday, Nov. 14, the Westchester campus is hosting another segment of the leadership series starting at 12:00pm at the Seidenberg Lounge in Goldstein Academic Center. Special guest, Peggy Yao, will be a speaker at Seidenberg Tech Collective’s lunch and learn. Her speech will be dedicated to the topic, “Mindfulness for Professional & Personal Success,” a topic not often associated with the technology industry. Students will be able to learn tips for a more mindful outlook, network with Yao, and free lunch is, as always, provided. RSVP here to attend.

November 28—Merin Joseph

Goldstein Academic Center, 12:00pm

The Seidenberg Tech Leadership Series

The next event in the series will be on Nov. 28 at the Westchester campus at the Seidenberg Lounge at 12:00pm. Merin Joseph will be giving insider experience from her position as Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer at WESTMED Practice Partners and WESTMED Medical Group. Students can attend this event to get networking experience and tips on how to succeed in their chosen fields. RSVP here to attend.

December 12 –Daniel Barchi

163 William St., 12:00pm

The Seidenberg Tech Leadership Series

The last event in the series will be on Dec. 12 on the New York City campus at the Seidenberg lounge at 12:00pm. The last series speaker, Daniel Barchi, will be giving the inside scoop on his career goals and experiences as Chief Information Officer of NewYork-Presbyterian. Students can join in on this final event to get networking experience and tips on how to succeed in their chosen fields. RSVP here to attend.

We hope to see you at these events for the Seidenberg Technology Leadership series!

Exclusive talk and book signing by Ivan Seidenberg at Pace University on November 8

The Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Pace University is welcoming a very special guest speaker to the Leadership in Technology Series, so get ready to mark your calendars.

On Thursday, November 8, the former chairman and CEO of Verizon Communications Inc., Ivan Seidenberg, is coming to the Seidenberg lounge for an exclusive discussion on his book, Verizon Untethered: An Insider’s Story of Innovation and Disruption. We are thrilled to have Mr. Seidenberg back on campus and can’t wait for our students to have the chance to meet one of the people who has had the biggest impact on our School and our community.

A limited number of free copies of the book will be available on a first come, first served basis.

Seidenberg, an alumnus of the school, attained his Master’s Degree in Business Administration and Marketing at Pace University. After receiving his graduate degree at the university, Seidenberg went on to create his career at Verizon. The now former Telecommunications Executive made his way up to the role of CEO and became an industry leader in his field.

The Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems was named in honor of Ivan Seidenberg after he donated the largest gift ever received by Pace University at the time in 2006. The $15 million donation from the industry leader was used to build and expand our School, branding it as the Ivan G. Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems. Today, the Seidenberg School is the largest it has ever been and it continues to grow in enrollment every year.

This event comes at the perfect time as the Seidenberg School is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. At the event Seidenberg will talk about his book, experience at Verizon Communications Inc., and his time spent at the University. This will also be the perfect time for students ask Seidenberg questions about his very own Pace Path and how it assisted him in his own career.

The event will take place at 3:30pm on the second floor at 163 William Street. Seidenberg’s book on his experience at Verizon will be available for the first guests who come to attend this one-time event. Students will have the opportunity to network and chat with the face of the Seidenberg school as well.

RSVP here to confirm your attendance.

We hope to see you next Thursday afternoon at 3:30pm! Arrive early for a chance to secure a free copy of Verizon Untethered!

Tech Leadership Series – Pioneering Pace Pride at the Seidenberg School

On Wednesday, April 25th, 2018 Seidenberg School of CSIS hosted Leadership in Technology – Pioneering Pace Pride, a technology and networking event with six alumni who were the first generation from immigrant families to go to college. The event was held at 165 William Street and was a great opportunity for our students to hear from and network with inspirational alumni. With six leading personalities in the technical industry, the discussion was compelling and Pace students who attended were privy to a fascinating perspective.

The event started with a warm welcome to all the six leaders from our Dean Dr. Jonathan Hill on behalf of the entire Seidenberg School. Over the course of the evening, each of our guests shared their life experiences, career stories, and as their memories of Pace University which was a great help and motivation to all our current students.

Here are our honorable guests:

  • Michael J. Lynn – Currently Principal, ARG* Oversight. Michael’s parents are basically from Ireland. They moved to New York when he was a child. Initially Michael was very much interested to pursue his career as a doctor, but due to financial problems in his family he decided against it. After that, he planned to become an engineer. However, during those days there were almost no jobs in the field of engineering, thus he quit this thought too. Michael finally decided to achieve his career in the field of finance and came to Pace University. He worked as a student assistant at the Pleasantville campus, graduated in 1978, and remarked that “Pace gave me lots of opportunities to succeed in the first ”
  • Dora Gomez – Currently Dora is a board member of ACFE, HTCIA, and INFRAGARD. Initially she lived in Ecuador with her parents and her elder brother. Dora believes in working independently and not relying on anyone. She too got admission to Pace University and loved the environment and the people she met. Dora worked two internships (one during the summers and the other in the winters) during her studies, through which she was able to pay for tuition and books herself. Dora Graduated in 1986. She believes in the thought “Work hard to get what you want.”
  • Tom Reynolds –Tom comes from Ireland where he is the eldest child among five kids. He was inspired by his father (who worked for 12 hours a day) and so Tom started working at the age of 13 to support his family. After completing his high school, Tom got admitted to Pace University. Tom mentions that fellow panelist Maurice Dimeo was the first person he met at Pace. Due to his financial family conditions Tom wasn’t able to buy professional clothes for his internships that he did during his studies. Thus, he worked for loading and unloading of trucks to earn money for clothes. Tom graduated from Pace in 1982. He says “Pace gave me opportunity to work” and, presently, Tom works as Controller at Stone Harbor Investment Partners.
  • Vito J. Depalo – Presently, Chief Auditor of Global Information Technology, AIG. Vito is a techy, through and through. He comes from the southeast of Italy, where his father worked six days a week and 15 hours a day to support his family. Vito says: “Every day while getting ready I remember my dad’s hard work.” Vito had a cousin studying at Pace who always had great things to say about it, and so Vito ended up coming here too. Vito believes “No matter be it Columbia University or Stanford or Pace, it’s all about EDUCATION.” He had three internships during his studies. The last internship he had was converted into full time job after his graduation in 1996. Vito says “Coming to Pace was a like a land of opportunities for me which prepared me for the corporate world.”
  • Joe Nocera – Graduated in 1981 and currently, Deputy Chief Auditor BNY Mellon. Joe was born and raised in Coney Island. He says that he had no idea regarding business before he came to Pace. Joe expressed “Pace not only gave me an education foundation but also many more things apart from academics. Pace provided me opportunities to do different, do better. I learnt to take up and handle responsibilities here.” He advised students to listen to the professors and counsellors who will always help them to get better. He believes “You have to ask questions if you want to learn.”
  • Maurice Dimeo – Presently, Maurice is a Client Technology leader at EY. He comes from Italy. His father worked in the Navy and was a huge inspiration to Maurice. He has a very strong work ethic and believes in hard work. Maurice says “Work as hard as anybody can!” Maurice graduated from Pace in 1987, and added “Pace is one of the schools where we get a chance to prove ourselves!”

After the highly motivating discussion from the tech leaders, our students were really excited and curious to know more about their success and life achievements. Here are some questions that were asked by our current students to the panel.

  1. How did Pace give opportunities?
  • Joe said “Pace teaches to learn to speak, learn to observe, learn to interact which is necessary to succeed”
  • Tom expressed: There are so many similar students in the same class. You need to be different. You need to stand out from the crowd. Pace helps to choose the right way for this which definitely was a great opportunity.
  • Dora said: Pace has high level of education compared to other schools. Teachers give good advises not only on academics but also regarding careers. Pace helps in building relationships which definitely helps in building careers.

2. What are the necessary skills that interns and employees must have?

  • Vito started with a great answer: “Hard work beats talent!” Everyone should be a hard worker, may he/she be an intern or an employee. Another important thing that Vito said, an understanding of the technology is really important and working passionately is a must.
  • Joe added up to this saying: “It’s all about communication (verbal and written). One must hire people who can communicate really well.”
  • Dora explained this by saying that interns and employees must have respect and good manners. It’s about how a person represents himself and lastly a person’s language is important too!

3. What slogan do you live by?

  • Tom: “Be on Time! Be late, be fired!”
  • Vito: “Regret the things you did, not the things you will do!”
  • Dora: “Take Risks!”
  • Joe: “Work hard and never forget where you came from!”
  • Maurice: “Live by your purpose!”
  • Michael: “Never give up! Do the best you can! Love what you do!”

4. How should Pace University’s students compete from other top level universities’ students?

  • Maurice came up with an outstanding answer to this saying that: “School doesn’t matter, what matters is EDUCATION! Show hard work, gain good knowledge, built in great skills and be passionate!”
  • Joe ended up with an amazing thought. He believes: “No doors will be shut if you are at PACE, all door will be open if you are here!”

The event ended up with our Dean Dr. Hill’s thank you note to all the six great leaders who were a huge motivation for all our current students. We thank our panel and hope to see them all again with an amazing event like this one!

Seidenberg celebrates at the 22nd annual Leadership & Service in Technology award reception

Now in its 22nd year, the Leadership & Service in Technology (LST) award is bigger and better than ever, and this year’s celebration was an unforgettable evening.

On Monday, April 24, 2017, an impressive company of Seidenberg supporters came together as we honored Senior Executive Vice President and CIO at BNY Mellon Suresh Kumar for his pioneering leadership and innovative thinking in transforming finance and technology practices throughout his exceptional career.

Marie Wieck, Sara Chipps, Niamh Fitzsimon, and Lucille Mayer, our speakers for tonight and incredible women in technology
A major theme of the evening was women in technology as evidenced by our amazing speakers

BNY Mellon kindly provided the space and the catering for the LST awards at its downtown location. Guests enjoyed appetizers and a full bar during the networking hour before the main event. The room was packed with many of our dearest friends, including Seidenberg alumni, business partners, and friends from the Pace community. It was a warm atmosphere as people greeted old friends they hadn’t seen in a while, made new ones, and shared a fun evening and business cards alike. Seidenberg students were also present to give demonstrations of their projects facilitated by the NYC Design Factory.

Niamh Fitzsimon accepts certificate from Jonathan Hill
Niamh Fitzsimon and Jonathan Hill

When awards time came, guests were seated and Dr. Jonathan Hill, Dean of the Seidenberg School, introduced the first speaker of the night – our student, Niamh Fitzsimon. Niamh is an honors student, vice president of Pace Women in Tech, and resident Googler (she’s interned there twice so far and will do again this summer!).

“Because of you, I have been able to push myself above and beyond what I could imagine,” Niamh said. “You provided me a platform to grow my confidence, network, and skills, and I am extremely grateful for your contributions towards the education of myself and my peers. I am highly honored to share the effect of your donations on my community.”

Following Niamh’s remarks, Lucille Mayer, the Chief Information Officer of Client Experience Delivery at BNY Mellon took to the stage to introduce the keynote speaker. Lucille has worked with the evening’s honoree Suresh Kumar for over 25 years. “Suresh is not only a visionary, as you’ll hear for yourself, but he is also a leader in championing and developing talent,” she said.

Lucille Mayer discusses success in the tech industry
Lucille Mayer on success in the tech industry

Lucille briefly discussed success in the tech industry, including the top tech trends for the year such as augmented reality, which has seen a swift increase in recent years due to the creation of virtual reality headsets and the release of mobile app games like Pokemon Go.

“Success depends upon the user or the client experience of the technology,” she said. “Technology is no longer about being the guy or the woman behind the curtain . . . technology is the business.”

She then introduced the evening’s keynote, Marie Wieck, General Manager at IBM Blockchain. Marie discussed the exponential growth of data and the benefits of diversity.

“Some of the stats in tech right now are quite frankly astonishing,” Marie said. “Think about data. In the last two years we have created more data than we have created as a species in the time period prior.”

She added: “Those people who can mine insights of out that data are the people who are going to accelerate their business.” Data analytics is certainly a burgeoning industry right now as companies scramble to make sense of the immense volume of data that is now collected through websites, social media, and other digital interactions.

Marie Wieck, General Manager at IBM Blockchain
Marie Wieck – more women on boards mean better results

Marie also spoke towards greater diversity in the workplace, particularly regarding more women in technology. “What constitutes the best performance you can get?” she asked. “New perspectives that help you see things in a different way and that is fuel for innovation.

“It’s not those who have the highest IQ but those who have the biggest EQ [emotional quotient] . . . and what brings higher EQ? More women.

“When you have three or more women on a board, you begin to get financial results.”

Marie noted that 36% of the Seidenberg School’s student base are women compared to a 20% national average – a statistic we are proud of and are committed to improve.

“You have to teach people the art of the possible . . . 74% of girls are interested in STEM, but only a third of them pursue it,” Marie said. Many of the girls who pursue STEM had mentors, teachers, counselors who pushed them.

“When you think about gender partnership, role models don’t have to be people you know. We also have to advocate for the people you don’t know.”

Marie finished with an inspirational request. “We know Pace is a trailblazer. We know BNY Mellon is a trailblazer . . . mentor a student. Share the opportunity to highlight someone who is doing something exceptional. Give people a voice. Share the wealth.”

Sara Chipps and Matthew Knell
Sara Chipps and Matthew Knell

After Marie’s keynote, alumni and Seidenberg Advisory Board member, Matthew Knell, introduced the Emerging NYC Innovator Awardee, Sara Chipps. Sara is the CEO of Jewelbots, which produces programmable friendship bracelets that can connect with other bracelets in the surrounding area, enabling wearers to send each other secret messages using code. The bracelets are aimed toward middle-school girls to encourage them to get into STEM education.

As Jonathan Hill remarked after her presentation, “Technology isn’t about selling for top dollar; it’s about giving back in some way.”

Dr. Hill then introduced the honoree of this year’s LST award.

Jonathan Hill presents the Leadership and Service in Technology award to Suresh Kumar
Jonathan Hill presents the Leadership and Service in Technology award to Suresh Kumar

Suresh Kumar is the Senior Executive Vice President and CIO for BNY Mellon, where he is leading the Client Technology Solutions organization to become the industry leader in delivering innovative solutions that enable clients and employees to succeed.

Suresh gave a wonderful presentation with excellent advice for our students and the community overall. His exemplary leadership style was apparent as he spoke: “I’m really privileged every day to work with an amazing group of colleagues all over the world,” he said.

Suresh Kumar
Suresh Kumar

“We all come from different places, different backgrounds, but each of us rely on education to get where we are. And the Pace Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems has long leveled the playing field . . . regardless of gender, ethnic background, and income.”

The LST award honoree went on to talk about how companies should embrace innovation and disruption for great results. Using Amazon as an example of a company that constantly innovates its techniques, offerings, and practices, Suresh warned against remaining stagnant, particularly when your competition does not.

He also had four ‘rules to live by’ (or at least conduct business by).

1 – Focus on execution. Being the best is better than being first

Innovation is important, but means nothing if you have a bad product. Google wasn’t the first search engine, but it was the best when it was released. Doing a phenomenal job is 1% innovation, 99% perspiration.

2 – Evolve your business model

It’s important to keep up with (and create) what people want. Suresh described a period of four phases of how business models have evolved and have to evolve to stay ahead: the arrival of the internet in the mid-90s, the social media revolution in the mid-2000s, collaborative spaces (now) and autonomous working (emerging). Successful business models were platform-based and enabled consumers and providers to get together and create something valuable

3 – Reduce latency between end users and developers

Skype had 27 engineers. What’s App had 33. Instagram had 13. What made them create such a powerful product in such a short period of time? Constant innovation, and enough people on the team!

4 – Organize innovation efforts by service

Unfortunately, the IT department in many companies is still not considered to be the backbone of operations. That said, an emerging model of IT looks promising – teams are small, self-governing, and are empowered to make decisions and make a difference in a large company. When given the freedom to innovate, IT teams can change the whole way an organization works for the better.

Students Niamh Fitzsimon and Ava Posner with advisors Matt Brown and Kim Brazaitis
Students Niamh Fitzsimon and Ava Posner with advisors Matt Brown and Kim Brazaitis

We are truly delighted to honor Suresh Kumar and his wonderful work as a leader in technology and in his work with staff at BNY Mellon.

Thank you to Suresh Kumar and BNY Mellon for your contributions to the Seidenberg School and for hosting this year’s LST Award reception, ensuring it was a fantastic night for all.

“The gifts you have provided tonight are much needed,” Jonathan Hill told guests in his closing remarks. “Thank you.”

Students were at the event presenting their projects
Students were at the event presenting their projects

Our deepest gratitude also goes out to everybody who attended the event and showed their support to the School, whether by buying tickets or donating. Thank you to Lucille Mayer, Marie Wieck, Matthew Knell, and Sarah Chipps. Thanks also go to Deth Sao, our director of development, for her unending commitment to organizing an incredibly successful event.

We look forward to seeing you all again next year!

LST Honoree Speaker Series: Austin A. Adams and Mike Zbranak talk fintech, innovation, and opportunity

The third and final of our LST Honoree Speaker Series – a chain of interviews with previous winners of our prestigious Leadership and Service in Technology award – took place on Wednesday April 19, 2017, and featured Pace University alumnus and Seidenberg advisory board member Mike Zbranak interviewing the incredibly charismatic Austin A. Adams.

Austin was recognized for his leadership and service in technology in 2006 at one of the highest-grossing iterations of our annual fundraisers in its history. We were delighted to welcome both Austin and Mike back through our doors and they were equally as happy to join us.

“We are capping what has been an absolutely stellar series on financial technology throughout the year,” said Dr. Jonathan Hill, Dean of the Seidenberg School. “We are in the presence of two legends in the financial technology industry. We are honored to have with us Mr Austin A. Adams and Mike Zbranak.”

Austin A. Adams retired in 2006 as Executive Vice President and Corporate Chief Information Officer at JPMorgan Chase where he was a member of the 13-person Operating Committee and managed 28,000 employees and a $7bn budget. Currently, Austin serves on the board of several companies, including Spectra Energy Corp., CommScope, and Keycorp. “I welcome the opportunity to be here,” Austin remarked. “I really like the model here, so when I was given the invitation to come here I welcomed it.”

Moderator of the discussion, Mike Zbranak is the Managing Director and Deputy Chief Information Officer of Chase Consumer & Community Banking at JPMorgan Chase.

In front of a room packed with students, staff and faculty, and other members of our Pace community, Austin said one of the things that is always music to our ears: “I think you’re in the right industry.”

He continued: “The IT role needs new minds, new thoughts, and I commend you for that.”

It was time for the discussion to get underway, which Mike kicked off by asking Austin what drew him into technology.

“There are several things you’ll never see on my resume,” Austin replied. “I was a failed college professor and a failed professional golfer. I got into technology almost by mistake. I was a senior manager in a bank and one group I managed was technology.”

The Seidenberg lounge was packed as students came to see Mike and Austin speak
The Seidenberg lounge was packed as students came to see Mike and Austin speak

It was through this exposure that Austin began to see how important technology was to a company. He now touts it as one of the most, if not the most, important departments in any business. The long-standing problem, however, has been that businesses still refuse to see IT departments as anything other than an unfortunate necessity, here to fix computers so the real work can get done.

“IT was the backroom – where you process things, keep your mouth shut, process reports for the next day. I wanted the business to look at us in IT and say ‘we’re partners’.”

He spoke about business orientation bias, which is what a business’ motivations are based on what it is trying to do, how it is trying to make money and serve its customers. Typically, technology does not factor very much into these plans. However, by understanding the business’ motivations, the technology department could start taking steps towards contributing meaningful work that would get it recognized as integral to a better business.

“I used to talk about our group as being partners of choice and leaders of change,” Austin said. “Being a leader of change, it’s really an art form.”

Referring to the students in the room, he said: “Technology and you as a tech pro have an opportunity to leader change. You may not get your name on it, or get your name recognized in the WST or within the company, but there is no job family in any company that I’m aware of that knows as much about the company as the IT department. You possess all the meaningful information in the company.

“Focusing on the business, understand where the business is going, and you’re a leader behind the scenes.”

Mike added: “When you’re in IT, you are the integrators of everything. When people are coming to you and talking about what they want, you get business knowledge that other people don’t have. You can become a change agent. I hire about 700 college grads a year into our training program and do touch points about what people are learning. I always want them to opine or put up suggestions about what’s going on. I’ve noticed that people fresh from school are open to adding suggestions than people 10 years in. I learn more from those sessions than I do from my whole team.”

The conversation continued towards different types of change, namely keeping up if not getting ahead in an ever-changing world. Mike spoke about his observations during the start of his career at JP Morgan.

“When I went to school here and started working at JP Morgan on Broad Street, there were 11 Money Center Banks. They dominated the financial landscape at the time. You weren’t allowed to bank across state lines. Out of those 11 banks that ran everything, only two are left. All the rest were taken over or absorbed into other banks. Austin, you engineer these massive bank acquisitions or mergers. I’m talking about programs, think about a project you have worked on, you’re talking thousands of people, you’re really betting the bank. How do you sell the board on that?”

Austin said: “People think about innovation as being too much like a buzzword. Meaningful innovation in a company is a lot of very small steps taken by a lot of people. A lot of it is about mindsets, and really good programming. If you have any kind of skill set in the world of program management, there will be a need forever for people who can coordinate between areas in business. Really good technology people look at what the business opportunity is and they can make it happen. Thinking about innovation, think about your position as an IT professional to make those small steps.”

Much of innovation can be found in consolidation. Mike spoke at length about his experiences coming into businesses and finding far too many processes, programs, and options when just a few would suffice. At JP Morgan, the business was so customer-focused that there were 970 services when Mike took over – Amex had three. When Mike asked his new team what they could reduce their services by and nobody responded, he told them “we’re going to have 10.” By consolidating hundreds of services into just 10, the business began to operate far more smoothly.

Austin agreed, saying that the biggest missed opportunity he’d had at JP Morgan was that the technology team failed to communicate the cost of complexity, or the value of simplicity. “You’ll see complexity in organizations that really doesn’t need to be there unless someone’s willing to make tough discussions. If you have a simpler environment and one way of doing something, you can increase your productivity and your profit.”

Innovation can be looked at as efficiency; it adds effectiveness. Innovation can be a life-changing moment, but it’s also incremental because it’s made up of small improvements. For example, Craigslist was an innovative site when it was created, but then people took what Craigslist was offering – goods and services – and made apps from it. Uber exists as a combination of existing taxi businesses and the ordering online concept.

“At some time in your career, you’re going to see pieces of information that’s going to show that something needs to be done better,” Austin said.

Mike agree, adding that the need to move quickly can be a challenge in traditionally slow moving business. “I think about how fast opportunity comes and go. I take my phone and look up the mobile app for Chase. We have a digital wallet now – I was talking about it nine years ago. After years of meetings and mergers, we didn’t talk about it enough – then Apple came and ate our lunch. Then, instead of being something innovative, it becomes something you have to have because everybody else has it.”

Austin and Mike then discussed the importance of having trained cybersecurity professionals entering the fintech space. “The one thing any board is worrying about is cyber,” Austin said. “Five of six panels (at a conference) ended up talking about cybersecurity. Four were scared to death because they don’t know what to do about it.”

Finally, Austin shared three things he has observed over the last few decades in his guide for how to accelerate your career. Here are his three opportunities:

  1. Peer feedback. Work in any company, and your boss only has so much time to give you feedback. If you quickly get your head around creating dialog with a peer of yours so you can say “Jack, I want to succeed and I want the company to succeed; I’d like to get constructive criticism from you. I’ll buy you a beer every few weeks if you’ll sit down with me and give me feedback. Most people won’t do it, but some will and you’ll get extraordinary feedback. We are never in reality the way we see ourselves. Getting that outside perspective is crucial.
  2. You’re going to work with people who have skills and knowledge that you want to develop. Mike is one of the best technologists I know, but when he was new to a senior CI role he worked on developing his skill. If you go to people who have the skills you want to develop and ask for 15 minutes for them to explain how they got to where they are, most will say yes. This is a real way to accelerate your learning process.
  3. Think hard about what an extra hour a week would do for you if you spent it learning about the company. It may be more fun to spend the time at leisure, but if you spend an hour or so spending your discretionary time learning about your profession and the business it will help you get so far.

    Mike Zbranak and Austin A. Adams chat with Seidenberg students
    Mike Zbranak and Austin A. Adams chat with Seidenberg students

After the discussion between Mike and Austin, there was a brief Q&A session followed by time for the students to chat with our guests in person. We’d like to extend a massive thank you to Mike Zbranak and Austin A. Adams for taking the time to visit us and look forward to seeing you at the LST Awards and in the future!

Previous speakers:

Nicholas Donofrio

Judy Spitz

LST Honoree Speaker Series: Nicholas Donofrio

The second of our LST Honoree Speaker Series took place on our Westchester campus. Butcher Suite was looking mighty full as a crowd of Pace students, staff, faculty, and our alumni and friends at IBM stopped by to listen to our spotlight day’s speaker, Nick Donofrio.

Similar to the previous LST Honoree speaker event with Judy Spitz, the format was interview style, with Seidenberg student Christian Nahshal (BS in Information Technology ’17) taking the stage alongside our guest. What followed was a fascinating conversation, where our 2013 LST Honoree, Nicholas Donofrio, shared his incredible insights, experiences, and wisdom.

Nick Donofrio led IBM’s technology and innovation strategies from 1997 until his retirement in October 2008. He spent the early part of his career in integrated circuit and chip development as a designer of logic and memory chips. In the years that followed, he advanced and succeeded in numerous technical management positions and, later, executive positions in several of IBM’s product divisions. Notably, he was vice chairman of the IBM International Foundation and chairman of the Board of Governors for the IBM Academy of Technology.

One of the first things Nick spoke about was what he gained from doing co-op assignments with IBM while he was at college. “I can’t say enough about co-op assignments, this idea of work study,” he said. One of the best things about doing relevant work while studying is that it helps cement theoretical learning with practical training.

As an engineer, it was useful to Nick to combine the two as it helped him learn to find solutions for specific problems. “You need to be more problem-based in the way you learn and the way you think, because that’s what engineers are.”

Nick also spoke about how important it was to get and maintain technical skills. Even though the higher up the ladder you go the fewer technical skills you typically use, it’s important to try to stay technical as long as you can.

He also introduced the concepts T-shaped and I-shaped personalities, and the importance of practicing the behaviors and traits of a T-shaped person. An I-shaped person is one that is an expert in one area and does not (and therefore cannot) solve problems outside of their field. However, if one takes the time to advance their knowledge in related areas, they spread their field of expertise – become T-shaped – and can apply a broader range of knowledge to solve different problems.
Expanding your area of knowledge also means you can connect two disparate ideas and create new things. “When you intersect things that don’t normally, or never have been intersected, you become an innovator,” said Nick. “It also allows you to explore the gaps,” finding new ideas within existing areas of knowledge.

“How do you bring that into a leadership aspect?” asked Christian, bringing the conversation around to Nick’s experiences in executive positions.

“Focus on how value is created, where, and how it is created,” Nick said. A good leader should see the strengths and weaknesses of their staff and assign them tasks and roles that allow them to work to their greatest strengths, individually and within the team.

He also spoke about how important it is to be honest. “Transparency, openness, collaboration,” Nick said. If something goes wrong, it is always better to be upfront about it so a solution can be figured out sooner. “We’re going to find out the truth in the end anyway. Because that’s how it works. You may as well tell me now that you screwed up, that the project is 6 months late, that you’re not going to deliver, you might as well tell me NOW so I can help you.”

He shared a saying he likes to use: “You be forthright, I will be forthcoming. Tell me the truth; I will get you the resources.”

Christian then asked about what Nick considers to be one of the most important successes of his life.

“The impact I have had on the lives of people and the impact they’ve had on me,” Nick replied, explaining that the opportunities he has had to help other people have had a powerful effect on him, particularly the ability to lend an empathetic ear or be a sounding board. “To know the answer, but to know to listen is a very important gift.”

Nick is also a big advocate of paying it forward: “I want you to remember what I did for you and do something for somebody else. Too often, sadly, that does not happen. People get where they want to be, and the first thing they do is to lock the door. Don’t be that person.”

Several members of the audience then got to ask questions, which Nick happily answered, including a question about his experiences working with Steve Jobs. He described the kind of innovative thinking that enabled Steve Jobs to get to where he did: “Steve Jobs would solve your problems a different way. That’s what innovators do. He understand workflow better than anyone – that was what his gift was – and he would start with the problem. Any time he started with the answer he was wrong. He didn’t really create anything, he just studied it from the end user perspective.”

Another student asked “What qualities do you have that make you a T-shaped person?”

“You have to know your limits and your abilities, but that doesn’t mean you stop asking the questions,” Nick responded, and went on to recommend reading up on the Medici family who were around in Renaissance Florence. They were a very rich and powerful family who brought around the beginning of the industrial revolution. “They were T-shaped,” Nick said. “They thought about combining this craft with that craft,” which exemplifies the king of T-shaped thinking described above.

Bringing his point a little closer to the present day, Nick spoke about his time as a manager at IBM. “I didn’t know how to do a lot of things at IBM, but I would teach people how to teach themselves. T-shaped people are enablers, open, collaborative, multi-disciplined, global thinkers. They enable others to be better.”

There was a final question – what was Nick’s favorite project?

“Probably the most embarrassing and the most rewarding,” Nick said. “When I became a manager back in the early 70s. I managed a group as the lead circuit designer. We were all friends. After a year, we had an opinion survey. For every group in IBM, you had the best and the worst. The best got rewarded by the chairman and the worst… we never heard from them again!”

When the survey results rolled around, Nick was dismayed to learn that he’d received a 1.2 out of 5 – from a team of people he considered his close friends. However, the more time he spent ruminating on his management style, the more he realized that perhaps he hadn’t been the best manager he could be. In fact, as his background had been doing the same job as the rest of the team, he realized that he’d spent the last year continuing to do that job, a job that wasn’t his any more.

“Now IBM wants me to go into a meeting with them and ‘find out why they think you’re a jerk, but you can’t outright ask them as the survey is anonymous’. I went into the meeting and told them, I am so sorry, I obviously let you all down. I know I must have been a jerk the last year, it’s clear to me that I was trying to do your job instead of my job. It’s clear to me that I may be fired. It’s also clear to me that if you’ll have me, I will change. I will be more collaborative, more open, the manager you want me to be. I will be a manager, not a circuit designer. To a person, they all agreed to keep me on.”

As luck would have it for Nick, there was one other person in the entire company with a score of 1.0, so Nick got to keep his job (it was decidedly unlucky for the other guy, though!)

“So my advice is that if you’re going to be bad, be bad early in your career!”

Following the Q&A, Nick stayed behind to chat with students and meet the community. We would like to thank Nick for spending an incredible couple of hours with us and for sharing the amazing stories and lessons he has learned over the years.

We hope to have you back soon! As Dr. Jonathan Hill, Dean of Seidenberg School remarked, “There is a reason why this gentleman fills a room.”

The final event in our LST Honoree Speaker Series will be held on April 19th, with guest speaker Austin A. Adams. RSVP here!