Broad Institute CIO: 4 ways to stay happy in IT

Broad Institute CIO: 4 ways to stay happy in IT

Our IT team has articulated four key components of what we think it means to enjoy your work. From this, a powerful sense of possibility begins to emerge for individuals – and the team

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More than three years ago, I attended an IT town hall meeting on my fourth day in the office as CIO. After my short introductory comments, someone asked me what my plans were. I told them two things: “First, you should run for the hills if I have well-formed plans already because I don’t even know where the men’s room is yet. Second, I plan on thoroughly enjoying myself in this role.”

I learned over the years the importance of really enjoying what you do. I had decided to make that second bit a central tenet of my time at the Broad Institute – and in the months following that initial meeting, we worked to articulate four key components of what we think it means to enjoy your work.

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We have grounded ourselves in these, displaying them on the opening slide of that same monthly meeting for more than three years. Over time, we have each reflected on what they mean to us personally and in our careers. Here’s a look at what we came up with:

1. Be good at what you do

Your skills, attitude, and understanding of the business problem that you’re solving all matter. 

The trick is you need to be good at the full “stack” that makes up your discipline. This includes the specific skill you were hired to perform, say being a Python programmer.  It also implies a host of other things. For example writing clever code without documentation isn’t being a good programmer. Similarly you need to understand the context of the business problem you are solving.

Continuing up the stack, if your shop practices Paired Programming techniques, you need to be able to articulate your designs and work with others. You need to be able to architect appropriately for your environment – say a microservices approach or cloud-based architectures. If you are in an Agile shop, you need to embrace concepts like “frequent delivery” and “welcoming changes, even late in the process in support of customer satisfaction.”

It’s great if you’re a good Python programmer. But to really be good at what you do as a software engineer, or any other discipline, you need to master the full relevant stack of skills.

Finally a key part of what you do as a programmer is learn. You learn new business challenges, design patterns, and languages. So we value curiosity, thoughtfulness, and discipline – the hallmarks of a good learner. And, of course, as you grow in your career, you must be able to mentor others who are just starting on their journey.  

It’s great if you’re a good Python programmer. But to really be good at what you do as a software engineer, or any other discipline, you need to master the full relevant stack of skills.

2. Be up to something big

If you are truly good at what you do, meaning you take pride in your accomplishments and strive to constantly improve, then it helps if you are doing something you are passionate about. Our mission at the Broad Institute is to accelerate the discovery of the underlying mechanisms and treatment of disease. That’s a mission that we can get behind. But it doesn’t mean only scientists are doing big things. Being up to something big can work at any level. 

Being up to something big can work at any level. 

For example, providing excellent support is big. We position our service desk in the physical center of the institute and staff it all the time with dedicated, knowledgeable, friendly support staff. They process thousands of questions per year, and in the process, keep countless labs and scientists optimally productive.  

Within IT, we bring amazing technology to science everyday. We strive to excel everyday: From excellent customer service to peta-scale, high-performance compute capabilities; from a smooth onboarding process to excellent financial management systems; from building a partnership with a lab to running a high throughput network. This work doesn’t end up as a scientific breakthrough paper, but it is a critical component of the overall delivery of science, and it is our “something big.”

3. Be on the right side of history

We all know the stories of companies that have been blindsided by technology from photography to transportation. The same thing happens within companies. From the days of mainframes to mini computers, client server, virtualization, to public cloud, we are on an unending (and I think accelerating) quest for new solutions that address the shortcomings of previous generations of technology.

But we must be aware that just because we know it won’t be perfect doesn’t imply we can stop that relentless wheel of progress.

This is what the wording for our third tenet tries to capture. We can believe that any given solution is a less than perfect way to address current problems, and at times, we can even see in advance the problems that a new solution will introduce. But we must be aware that just because we know it won’t be perfect doesn’t imply we can stop that relentless wheel of progress. It’s much better to embrace change and steer it to address the most pressing challenges in your situation than to spend any effort resisting it.

4. Be part of a team

Liking the people you work with is nice – genuinely respecting them can be transformative. This extends to respecting them as individuals, respecting their skills, respecting that they are human beings with complex lives that extend beyond the office, and respecting that they have goals and ambitions. It also means knowing that they see all the same richness in you. I get an amazing energy from the people I work with everyday and the astounding things they can accomplish together. I want that for everyone and I strive to be that for my colleagues. This for us is what it means to be part of a team.

From this, a powerful sense of possibility begins to emerge. One where every team member is respected for who they are and are truly good at what they do. Mix that with a strong sense of purpose and a deep appreciation for the direction you need to travel, along with how technology is shaping that path, and anything is possible – even enjoying yourself at work.

[ Do you make thoughtful decisions? Read also: 4 styles of decision-making: A leader's guide. ]

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William (Bill) Mayo is the Chief Information Officer of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge Massachusetts. He also serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Ascentria Care Alliance, and as an advisor to a private silicon valley technology company. 

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