Technology doesn’t conquer all, teams do.

This C suite career advice from Callum Adamson, the CEO and co-founder of Distributed, is well worth a quick read. 

From my point of view, the key point for business leaders is twofold;

  1. That speed of improvement and speed of execution is critical.
  2. That technology is not the most critical factor for success, great teams are. 

As Callum says, “An incredible team with a mediocre product will beat a mediocre team with an incredible product – speed of execution and speed of improvement are the two most important traits in great teams. It’s not the technology, it’s the team that changes the world, technology simply enables the change.”

A great little interview and plenty of advice for those excited about the prospect of a career in technology, or perhaps those relying too much on their technology and not enough on their teams within their own organisation. 

You can read the full interview here or I’ve pasted it below for ease:

C-suite career advice: Callum Adamson, Distributed

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? “I think it depends how you learn best. Degrees and academic qualifications are not the be-all-and-end-all anymore.”

Don’t get a job, do what excites you instead. 

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? I left my engineering degree to join a startup (before they were even called startups). I did it because I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else except on the internet. If you feel the same way, you don’t need my advice – just follow what gets you excited, the industry is so big and still has so much growing to do.   

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? I always wanted technology to be a part of my career, but actually started out studying for an aeronautical engineering degree. But in my final year I was more interested in the internet than in planes – and not in the typical, procrastinating way you might normally associate with students. I became excited about the evolution of the internet and its impact on the broader technology industry. Even so, there are so many more areas that haven’t been tapped into yet which keeps me excited.

So, I took a risk and dropped out of university to join a tech start-up in London, and the rest is history.

What was your first job in IT/tech? My first job was for a start-up that couldn’t afford to pay me, so I actually slept on my friend’s floor in his university halls for the first few months! I started off building content management systems for clothing companies, eventually moving on to a big developer shop, and then becoming a freelance consultant.

I knew I wanted to start my own company at the time, but needed to identify a problem that I was excited to solve. After building on my experience while consulting for companies going through big business transformation, I realised how much I enjoyed improving people-orientated systems and that became the basis for Distributed.  

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? That technology conquers all… it doesn’t – teams do. An incredible team with a mediocre product will beat a mediocre team with an incredible product – speed of execution and speed of improvement are the two most important traits in great teams. It’s not the technology, it’s the team that changes the world, technology simply enables the change. 

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Be careful what you wish for. 

The responsibility and accountability required at c-level is immense and should always be taken seriously as it’s not for everyone. Make sure that you’re making strategic decisions that represent meaningful futures for your teams and your customers, learn and embody servant leadership and hold yourself to the highest standards. At the same time, be sure to admit mistakes and correct them as fast as you can, hone the ability to explain complex strategies and narratives in an inspiring and thought-provoking way, and above all else – look after your teams!

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? For the past decade, I’ve been focused on building better ways for businesses to build software and for talent to have more meaningful futures. At Distributed, we’re rebuilding work and re-telling its story, and over the next ten years we’ll drive towards making our vision statement true ‘ Where the world works™’. Achieving this will represent a huge milestone in my career – but as far as ambitions go, as long as I’m improving the tech industry, working with high performing teams, and building better futures for talented people, the score will take care of itself.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? In my opinion, yes I do – but for others it might seem like I don’t. Distributed isn’t a job for me, and working on the internet has never felt like work, but that does not mean I expect the same from our team members.

Distributed recently made the decision to become a remote-first company, and we encourage our customers and other businesses to follow suit. But, more flexibility doesn’t and should never mean that employees consistently work overtime. Businesses still need to put boundaries in place to avoid antisocial hours and burnout, even if they’re not working the usual 9-5.

For our freelance community, having access to developers around the world means that there is always someone in a new time zone to pick up on a project when the working day is over. But, the flexibility and better work-life balance goes beyond the ability to work to a schedule that suits them. It can also help to create a more diverse workforce by giving more opportunity to groups of people that have previously been held back by the rigid office structure, like working mums. The money saved from office expenditure could even go towards new, improved and more meaningful employee perks that could enhance the remote working experience.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I didn’t come from a very tech-savvy family so ended up getting into tech a little later than most of my peers. The only thing I’d change would probably be that I would have liked to start building on the internet earlier in life. 

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I think it depends how you learn best. Degrees and academic qualifications are not the be-all-and-end-all anymore. If you learn and work better in a practical, hands-on bootcamp as opposed to three years in lectures, then applied experience is not something to shy away from. It’s important businesses realise that university degrees are not the best approach for everyone and overreliance on them can restrict the talent they can tap into.

How important are specific certifications? If it’s in a subject you’re interested in, or pertains to a specific role you aspire to – go for it – but it doesn’t replace demonstrating the passion and aptitude to apply and develop your skill set to drive your career forwards.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? For our internal team, we actively look for candidates who have broad interests that make for well-rounded humans and can work with people from a range of different backgrounds. We’ve built Distributed to level the playing field between companies and freelancers so everyone gets what they need – so understanding people and creating better careers for them is essential.

What would put you off a candidate? There are very few red flags – as I said, we’re welcoming to a broad spectrum of candidates and actively encourage variety. As long as you have a growth mindset and active curiosity, you’ll be a great addition to the team!

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? The biggest mistake is not being able to discuss and demonstrate passion for the role you’re interviewing for. I don’t care what school you went to, or what grades you got. Show me your passion for the changing way in which we’re working and technology’s role in the future of work and we’ll be on the same wavelength. It’s so easily remedied too – read around the subject, the company and our competitors and show you can hold a conversation. If you can do this, it automatically demonstrates a willingness to learn and work with people, and that’s a crucial attribute we look for in our employees.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? A mix of both would be the perfect blend – but everyone brings something different. This is why leaders build teams with a variety of experience that can work in tandem. I naturally had the business skills mixed with a passion for, but not necessarily the in-depth knowledge of, tech, moving from an aeronautical background to eventually starting a business. To make a success of Distributed, I needed technical experts around me. And at its core, our business is about people and so there will always be a place for those skills.

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