C-Suite Career Advice from Protegrity CEO Rick Farnell

June 28, 2021
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IDG Connect recently published a Q and A with Protegrity President and CEO Rick Farnell, who shared his life and career experiences and offered advice to other C-suite executives. The following is an abridged version of that article.

1. What was the most valuable piece of advice that you received during your career?  

“Don't blink.” At my first job in tech, my boss told me, “When you’re asked a question, always look at the person, hear them, and then respond with an insightful question if you need clarification. Then answer with confidence. Sometimes you won’t know the answer to what they ask and that’s okay, but don’t let it fluster you.” He also told me to be aware of what my body language, facial expression, and tone of voice are communicating.   

Bottom line, don’t let difficult questions rattle you. 

2. What was the worst career advice you have received? 

To compete with my peers. At the time, I was in a very competitive environment. However, looking back, I realize the key is not only to stand out, but also to remember that you are all on the same team and working toward the same goal. If you want to advance in your career, you always want to think about your peers in a positive light: how can you help them and how can they help you? You shouldn’t ever look at your coworkers as competitors that you have to “beat.” Remember: A rising tide lifts all boats.  

3. What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT or tech?

For someone starting their career in a more technical role, my advice is to find someone they respect and to emulate that person. Ideally, find a colleague who has previously worked in your position and has since been promoted. Learn how this person goes about their job. What questions do they ask in technical meetings? What is their note taking style? How do they structure their day? All of this can set you up for equal success in a technical position.  

For those starting in a business role at a tech company, I recommend learning the company’s “marketecture,” which depicts the architecture of the company’s product and services from a marketing or sales perspective. You need to not only understand your company’s technology, but also how it fits into the broader market landscape. 

4. Did you always want to work in tech? 

When I graduated college, I started out in finance – working at a bank – and doing personal training at a health club. It was during my time doing personal training that I was fortunate enough to meet a number of technical professionals who graduated from MIT, Harvard and worked in technology startups in the Cambridge area including the president of Cambridge Technology Group (CTG), Professor John Donovan. Eventually, CTG invited me to come and work for them. At the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it turns out that technology became my passion.  

5. What was your first job in tech? 

Cambridge Technology Group, where I started out in a research and education role. At CTG, we hosted seminars for executives on how technology and business were intertwined and how their companies could take advantage of the latest innovations in the market. I was tasked with researching and compiling background information on each executive that was attending a CTG event. Prior to the event, attendees would fax over information sheets with their business questions and I would use these questionnaires, plus additional research, to identify trends and then create a binder for Professor Donovan, which briefed him on each executive and allowed him to prepare for conversations and personalize presentations. I did that for about three months before Professor Donovan witnessed my interactions with our executive clients and promoted me to a sales role.  

6. What are some common misconceptions about working in tech? 

The most common misconception is that you have to be technical. Everyone assumes that you need to be a programmer or have programmed in the past, but 60% or more of successful people in the tech industry are not programmers. That said, you do need to understand how all of the componentry works and be able to talk about the tech landscape, but you don’t need to be a programmer.    

To read the rest of Rick’s interview, please go to IDG Connect.