The Touro College Graduate School of Technology (GST) recently hosted a panel of information-technology executives who shared their experiences in the industry. The five panelists recalled their paths to success, debated best practices in IT, and offered career advice to the students.
The panel consisted of Abe Cytryn, chief technology officer at Magzter; Shay David, Ph.D., cofounder and chief revenue officer at Kaltura; Hal Friedlander, chief information officer for the New York City Department of Education; Evelyn Fuhrer, managing director at the Promontory Financial Group; and Phil Teplitzky, chief technology officer and managing director of HPSquared.
Among the topics covered were which skills one must learn before entering the job market; how to prepare for interviews; the differences between working in the public and private sectors; professional etiquette; and tips on becoming valuable employees.
Hal Friedlander spoke about how he started his career in the “dot-com boom,” building websites for small businesses and startups. He described how he and his friends went knocking on doors of different shops around the corner. “We went to our friends and family and asked, ‘Hey, do you want us to build your website?’”
“Meanwhile,” he says, “we were still figuring out how to do this.”
He stressed that it’s important students believe they are making an impact, no matter how small their position or company is. “I am crazily optimistic. I really believed that we were making a difference to the bottom line,” he said. “I didn’t care that we were building Garden State Lumber’s website—I just cared that we were working.”
Abe Cytryn advised students to ask themselves where they will enjoy spending most of their time and energy. “Know your key attributes, and choose a field you’re passionate about,” said Cytryn. “I have been very fortunate to have never worked a day in my life, because from day one I have spent it on growing and learning.”
On this point, Evelyn Fuhrer said that throughout one’s career, it’s essential to take what you learn at each job for use at future stops. “When you move from the first job to the next one, try to articulate how your skills in your current position apply to the next position.”
The main qualification to landing a job in tech, she said, is one’s skill set. “Don’t underestimate skills. If you don’t have the necessary skills, you can’t get through my door.”
Fuhrer added that students should research how the organization they want to join provides value in the greater context, a sentiment repeated by Shay David. “Any agency is trying to provide value. Coming into the interview, you have to profoundly understand that, and how you’re going to contribute value to them,” David said. “When I interview somebody, I need to know that they have some special capability of providing value—whether they can write algorithms better than anyone else, whether they’re a database administrator or instructional designer. Could you do something that no one else on the team can?”
Phil Teplitzky had many of the other panelists nodding when he noted that the value of college is not in job training. “You learn how to learn,” he said. As an example, he said that one can’t learn “soft skills” like business etiquette or communication in a classroom. “Becoming a good listener is three-quarters of your job. When you’re trying to build a system or change it, [it’s essential that you] understand what they really want you to do and translate it into something that works.”
At the conclusion of the 90-minute discussion, students had the opportunity to speak with the panelists individually for career advice and networking opportunities.