Place of residence: Chicago (the South Side), IL, USA
Position: Chief Product Officer & Senior Vice President, ACI Learning
Please describe a day in your life:
I’m up around 6:00 am. My typical day starts with coffee and the newspaper on my front porch. I have a paper newspaper delivered to my house every day, which isn’t very green, I know, but I want my news from a trusted source, and I want it contained to the finite pages found in a real newspaper. The infinite scroll of news apps is an attention trap.
I go for a walk around 7:00 am, and I try to use that time to focus on a difficult problem I’m trying to solve. Walking helps me think. I leave my phone in a different part of the house from where I sleep. Around 8:00 am, I retrieve it from its charging station and check to see if there are any critical messages before sitting down at my desk in my home office.
I start my official workday by returning all messages, emails, and correspondence. Every email is returned or categorized in my to-do list system into one of four categories: messages to send, meetings to set up, deliverables to create, or research. I’m very disciplined with my time and attention because it’s how I bring value to the company. Once I’ve done that, I close my email and identify one high-impact deliverable I want to work on.
I work hard to find ways to not run my day from my email/instant messaging inbox. The rest of my day is spent managing and attending meetings while working on a planned deliverable in the gaps of time I don’t have meetings. I find that meetings are more productive, and deliverables are created faster and with higher quality, if the focus is maintained and distractions are limited.
My day usually ends at 5:00 pm or 6:00 pm. I’m responsible for cooking dinner for my family when I’m not traveling. So, I turn on some music (usually Blues), pour a craft beer from the kegerator, and the family starts trickling in to socialize and find out what’s for dinner. I’m lucky. It’s a good life.
How many projects are you currently working on? Please describe them.
Four projects are taking up most of my time right now. First, as the Chief Product Officer at ACI Learning, I’m responsible for articulating our product vision. A product vision is not fixed at a growing company that is acquisitive. It evolves and changes almost quarterly. I spend a lot of time revising our product vision and adapting it to ensure we continue to define the market in the industries we serve.
Second, we are working on a “one platform” project to unify our user experience, increase scalability, and provide more value to our customers. One thing a lot of companies don’t do well is integrating legacy platforms with new ones. At ACI Learning, we are committed to doing this well. I’m excited about the expanded platform we are building.
Third, we are preparing to launch a new skills gap analysis tool called “SkillsGapID.” In the audit, cybersecurity, and I.T. space, skills gaps have a significant impact on businesses in terms of risk management, technology enablement, and scalability. Most managers have no way of confirming skills gaps and, therefore, can’t remediate them either. At ACI, we aspire to be the premiere authority on audit, cyber, and I.T. skills gaps and how those gaps impact businesses. This project is significant for us, and we are proud of it.
Lastly, product commercialization falls within my responsibility. We’ve undertaken a project to create new packages and solutions that can be sold to channel partners. I’m really excited about this project because it’s where the rubber meets the road. Creating commercialized solutions that solve business problems is what it’s all about.
In your opinion, who is the most influential person/company in the world of technology these days?
If you could pick one app/product/project existing now that you wish you were involved in, what would it be?
The wearables (like Garmin and Apple watches) ecosystem. The “hack yourself” movement and the “quantified human” paradigm are both fascinating and concerning to me. Either way, I’d love to be more involved in this kind of technology.
How do you see technology evolving in the next ten years?
There are three main trends I’d recommend watching. One, the ability to collect data will continue to increase. Meaning technology will continue to evolve to collect more data about you. Two, smart technology will rapidly evolve to be better, more stable, and easier to use. Three, this all leads to a completely personalized life, where every person walking on the earth expects their car to know they are walking up to it, their porch lights to turn on when the sun goes down, and for Netflix to recommend the perfect show for them. Technology will keep doing more for us, automatically. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this creates a more complicated cyber-attack surface, making it easier for hackers to wreak havoc.
What would you like the industry to look like in ten years?
I would like to see a more proactive approach from companies regarding budget allocation for cybersecurity defense, end-user training, and I.T. training. Every company should consider itself a “tech company” at this point. Someone once said, “There are two types of companies: Those who have suffered a data breach and those who are about to suffer a data breach.” It’s a matter of time. In ten years, I hope to see companies with a substantial and dedicated budget for cyber and I.T. training, including ensuring each employee has basic digital skills.
What are the three characteristics you have that make you successful in tech?
Inventing something new is exciting! I can create something from nothing. I can take an idea from a concept to a real thing with little direction. Doing this requires not letting “perfect get in the way of the good” and getting comfortable with ambiguity and chaos at times. I enjoy the creative parts of this work.
I’m a generalist, not a specialist. Some might say I’m a jack of all trades, a master of none. This allows me to think intelligently from different perspectives. How will our developers map this data? With what tools will our marketing team tell this story? How will our sales team describe the value of this product? I guess I’m well-rounded in that regard and float back and forth between the “big picture” and “in the weeds; as well as find comfort in both. I enjoy thinking without the limit of, “How are we going to do this?” I also enjoy thinking, “Ok, how on earth would we do that?”
What is the most difficult thing you had to deal with during your career?
I was initially trained as a Clinical Psychologist. I practiced psychology for a couple of years before making a career change to edtech consulting. Moving into a high-powered consulting firm environment was worrisome and a cultural shift for me. I had heard that the environment was straightforward and stressful. However, when I got there, I found that the communication style was actually indirect and passive. It wasn’t direct at all. It was stressful but not nearly as stressful as working in a clinical environment. The hardest parts for me were how people were treated interpersonally and how revenue and “the numbers” trumped just about everything else. I promised myself that if I ever became an executive, I would always treat people with respect and put revenue behind taking care of people. I hope I’m keeping that promise.
Career and Achievements
What is your greatest achievement up until today?
Professionally, I was on a team that created three online MBA programs at three different leading universities, which are currently ranked in the Top 30 by the Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report. I’m really proud of that because there are approximately 500 online MBA programs on the market.
Personally, I would say my education is my most outstanding achievement. I have a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees, and a doctorate. My mother didn’t graduate high school, and I was the first person in my family to attend college. This is one of the reasons I chose education and training as my career. I genuinely believe it is transformative. It was for me.
What do you wish for yourself with respect to your career?
I continue to create products that have the power to transform people’s lives for the better. and continue to work with people who are curious and passionate about their work. I create a legacy of leaving things better than I found them.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I hope to be a CEO in five years. I have no illusions that it will be glamorous, but I’m committed to keeping myself in a state of growth and I know that the challenges that face a CEO will give me the opportunity to keep learning.
What is your next goal?
Professionally, I’m dead set on launching SkillsGapID at ACI Learning. I believe it will be industry-defining, and I see a huge need for a product that accurately assesses the skills of I.T. and security teams. I’m proud of our work so far, and I’m excited about the launch later this year.
I think we should all have a healthy skepticism of technology to ensure its use is purposeful. Personally, I’m currently defining my own technology philosophy. I hope to implement a new digital minimalist approach to how I work and live to ensure technology enhances my life instead of getting in the way of it.
What tips do you have for people who want to start out in the tech world?
Tip 1: Make sure you understand the daily work of the role you want. Many people want to be software developers until they realize that developers stare at lines of code all day, every day! Tip 2: A struggling company could be the best learning ground—most people who want to get into tech dream of working at Google or Microsoft. However, smaller startups can be great because you get more access to high-impact projects and learn more. Tip 3: The skills that take you far in tech are usually not technical. Talk to any Silicon Valley tech company. They want people with soft skills, project management skills, and budgeting skills.
If you could say something to your younger self what would it be?
You’re good enough. As a young person, and early in my career, I thought that everyone who worked at a well-known company or that was in an executive position was a genius or a rare talent. Oh man, was I wrong?
What do you think non-tech people around (family, friends) think you do?
My mom thinks I buy and sell companies. One friend thinks I’m a hacker. Another friend is stuck on how a psychologist can even work in tech.
What is the invention of the century in your eyes?
There are many, but the first thing that popped into my mind was the Internet of Things (IoT). I say that because IoT is the foundation for many other technology systems that have brought life to inanimate objects, connected the world, created a truly “bionic” era, and fostered an ongoing ecosystem that perpetuates a completely personalized life. Without IoT, we would have continued being a people with things instead of being a community of people and things, always connected.
What can’t you do without? (app/product…)
Two things: (1) My water bottle. I drink more than a gallon of water a day. Life is water. (2) Spotify and my headphones. I listen to music constantly. It’s my therapy.
Which famous person would you like to have dinner with and why?
This is a person from history, but I would say, Henry Ford. He famously said, “If I would have asked consumers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Ford was an inventor, he not only created new automotive products, but he also simultaneously created the systems and industry to produce them. His mix of vision and operational acumen is inspiring. So, I’d love to have dinner with him to learn about that. While at dinner, I’d also ask him why he treated his employees so poorly. He is also famous for that.
Where would you like to travel next?
I’d like to go to Germany. I love German food and beer! Oktoberfest is on my bucket list.
If you were asked to stay on a deserted island for 6 months, what 3 things would you take with you?
- Water bottle
- Moleskin notebook and pen
- Fishing pole
Do you have a person who influences or motivates you?
I read and listen to Cal Newport. His fresh ideas on how we use technology in our lives and his skepticism of technologies that fuel the attention economy are compelling. I feel like I learn how to think in a new way by listening to his ideas. Amanda Gorman’s poetry stops me in my tracks and reminds me that age is not linearly connected to wisdom. My mother motivates me. I’m living the life she knew was possible for me.
Last thing regarding which you told yourself, “how come no one has ever thought of it”?
Revolutionizing the gas station experience. It’s horrible. Bad service (usually), poor product selection, not tech-enabled, and the bathrooms are a literal nightmare. Gas stations are ready for innovation investors!
Last thing regarding which you told yourself, “how come I haven’t thought of it”?
Cryptocurrency. I always thought that paper money was ridiculous, especially in the digital age. I wish I had thought of it!
What is the greatest miss? (you thought it will never work but it turned out to be a great success)
I thought the EV market would be slower to get traction. I thought it would remain a fringe technology for years. It’s caught on and been more successful than I thought.
What did you dream of creating/inventing/doing as a child?
I dreamed of being a writer.
How did Covid-19 change the way people view technological development?
Covid accelerated the digital transformation by a decade or more. The last holdouts for traditional business practices finally gave in, and now the use of technology to do work, cybersecurity, and a distributed workforce are the top priorities of every executive at every company. Covid-19 created conditions that showed companies that they must invest in technology more proactively. Companies are more open to technology experimentation than ever before. However, as previously explained, this technology acceleration event (Covid-19) has also created a more cyber risk to manage and a