Ben Leonard, a York Solutions consultant, was kind enough to answer some questions about his incredibly interesting career. He shared information about his experience studying in Singapore to helping develop the first high-end inkjet printer for a software company in the 90's. Read more to find out what he had to say!
Did you always want to work in IT?
No, I didn’t always plan on working in IT, but I’ve always wanted to work with new technologies. I started my career as an engineer leading teams developing new digital printers and servers where I was able to work with chemical, electrical, mechanical, and software engineers. In the late 90s I went back to school for an MBA in MIS and Marketing, then the Dot Com Boom happened and from then on I was focused on IT.
What are your areas of expertise?
I have two or three areas that I’ve been passionate about, developing new technical products in competitive markets, working with project managers to be successful on tough projects, and working with organizations to ensure success and acceptance of new technologies with its users. The latter of which was my PhD thesis.
You are currently working as a program manager, what interests or excites you most about program management?
Programs are different then just managing projects because they have a single business objective that requires coordination across many teams, architectures, and business processes. The challenge and excitement of being a program manager is to coordinate and steer the organization towards that business objective through many different levels and groups which could include marketing, IT, operations, legal, finance, etc.
What do you feel has been the most interesting project you have worked on over the course of your career and why?
The most interesting project that I worked on was in the mid-90s leading the technical teams developing the first high-end digital printer for a software company that had never manufactured a digital printer before. This was when inkjet technology and digital printers were transforming the printer industry and the company had a vision to compete with the big printer manufacturers.
Since this was their first printer, the development not only meant developing the printer, but also transforming the company by helping set up the manufacturing line, new business processes, develop patents, establish field support teams, suppliers, etc. There are many things I would do differently if I ran that product development again, but in the end it was the transformational moment for that company, and it was the first of many products for the company that was eventually acquired by HP for its expertise in developing digital printers
What made you decide to go back to school for your MBA in Marketing and then your PhD? And how do you feel they have helped you in your career?
I truly enjoy learning and applying new concepts and approaches to my job. Each of my degrees was focused on getting better at the common problems I was facing in my job. As an engineer my expertise was around design and robotics, but as I started developing products such as digital printers and servers, I needed to have a solid base in product development and managing information systems. This was the primary driver of getting an MBA with concentrations in both Marketing and MIS.
My PhD topic had similar origins, as technology teams we were getting good at successfully delivering the new technical product, program, or project but we were not as good at ensuring it was accepted by the users. So for my PhD, my research was to understand the current knowledge on getting organizational and consumer users to use these technologies, as well as operationalize some of this research into models and approaches that we could use.
Regarding your PhD experience at the University of Australia, did you move to Australia solely to attend school or were you there for work as well? If both, what was it like to pursue a PhD and maintain a position as a Senior Director at the same time? And, in general, what was your experience like in Australia?
Actually all of my coursework was in Asia and Europe. When I looked for a PhD program, I wanted to find something that was completely out of my comfort zone. The University of Australia’s International School of Business offered a PhD program that allowed the PhD candidates to attend the courses for a week every 1-2 months at their offshore campuses in London, Hong Kong or Singapore. I chose Singapore and logged a little over 100K miles traveling back and forth for 2 years. I also took my social network analysis course in summer program at University of Venice. It was a lot of travel, but to work with other PhD students and professors from around the globe was an eye-opening experience in many ways.
Regarding working at the same time, my employer and supervisor were very supportive and flexible with my schedule as long as I could stay connected. Also, you would be amazed how much work you can get done on a 20-hour flight with a few extra laptop batteries.
The IT industry is constantly evolving, how do you keep up?
The tools and teams are evolving fast and for the better, especially for project teams. Our teams are more globally dispersed, but we are more connected than ever. For me it’s about trying to leverage whatever I can from new technologies and being willing to try something new every week.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in becoming an IT consultant?
I frequently encourage IT professionals to try out being a consultant because it exposes you to so many new experiences, technologies, processes, and colleagues. You get comfortable with hitting the ground running in any situation.
What are your interests or hobbies outside of IT?
I’m an avid marathon runner, but since I’ve got four sons under 15, I spend most of my time either coaching hockey or shuffling my kids between sporting events. I’m also starting to teach college level project management courses at night.
What do you like most about working with York Solutions?
I’ve been with York for two years now and the quality of people is the big draw for me. In addition, York is truly trying to grow the expertise of the IT community around the metro area and increasing the interconnectedness of this community, which helps foster innovation and ideas.