January 29, 2015, Dave and Jacqueline of Technology Expresso interviewed Ken Reaves about his journey through the IT industry. Visit http://www.technologyexpresso.com for our podcast archive.
Transcribed and Edited by Anisah Muhammad
Dave: We are speaking with Ken Reaves of Charter Global, a global servicing company. Jacqueline will kick us off by telling us a little about Ken.
Jacqueline: First of all I want to welcome our guest, Ken.
Ken: Thanks Jacqueline and Dave. I’m excited to be here and to talk to the various people out there.
Jacqueline: Let me tell you a little about Ken. He is the Managing Practice Director at Charter Global. Prior to joining Charter Global, he achieved a great level of success by managing multi-million dollar projects for organizations like Cox Communications, Macy’s, InterContinental Hotel Group, TSYS, S1 Corporation, ProAct Technologies and Matrix Resources.
He has left his mark and made an impression on some very large, recognizable organizations. Ken started his career with Charter Global in 2005, and he has been instrumental in the IT professional services division. Ken is going to be one of our recurring guests. He’s going to tell his story, and we’re going to hear some exciting announcements about himself and Charter Global. Ken, can you take us back and tell us about your journey?
Ken: My journey started back in college. I earned my degree in Computer Science from Florida A&M. I was a graduate in the computer, information, science degree program. From there, I joined IBM (The International Business Machines Corporation) as a developer. That was a foundation for me and my career in the technology field. I was able to work on some of IBM’s large projects. As a senior developer, I went to work for a company called Cigna. I stayed within those two organizations for 5-7 years. At that point, I had to make a career decision. There were two tracks to take. One was to stay in the development career path and work my way as a developer and architect. The other was to work my way up into the management ranks. I decided to work my way through the management ranks.
I left Cigna and began to work at a consultant company called TIP TSE based out of Chicago. I started to work with various clients doing management consulting with TSE. I really focused in on my management skills, and I was able to work with other corporations in the project management arena. I got myself certified. Within the project management rank it has always been technical. Some project managers are PMP (Project Management Professional) certified, but they are certified in certain areas. My career track focuses, primarily, on technology. I was working for TSE, and we did a lot of traveling. We went from airport to airport and city to city. I did that for several years. From a personal standpoint, my wife and I had our first child. I started looking for opportunities where I could stay a little closer to home. I started doing some independent consulting. My goal was to work on various large projects that would enable my skill set. I either helped start projects from beginning to end or helped people who were having problems work projects to completion.
Along the way, I worked for some other companies, and I eventually started working with Charter Global. At Charter Global they had quite a few large projects with their clients, and they asked me to work with them to make an impression on the clients on behalf of Charter Global. I did that for several years, and as a result, I ended up establishing a good relationship with Charter Global. That relationship has been on-going for 5-7 years, and I got to a point where I was having conversations with the leadership teams. They saw the track record I was able to accomplish by working on these $10 to $20 million dollar projects for them. I was able to do well, and I had conversations with the leadership team that defined what we can do together next. I came on board as the Managing Practice Director. Part of my role as a practice director was focusing on driving additional revenue and helping clients complete projects successfully. About 2 years ago I was promoted to SVP of Clans Service and Strategy. Part of that role focused on the theme concepts under my previous role as the Managing Practice Director, but it was more larger in the sense of focusing still on revenue but also providing strategy around how we can get Charter Global to the next level. I would say within the past couple of years, we’ve been able to do that. We had a great year in 2014. We were able to obtain several new clients across the U.S. 2015 is looking really bright
One I chose to go the management route. I got my first job in Connecticut, and I didn’t realize that the various universities manage their curriculum based on the companies that are within their geographical location. At Florida A&M I was trained in Cobalt. My colleagues who went to school in Connecticut were trained in PL/SQL because those schools were focusing on companies in that area. If you’re in college, do a little bit of research and fact-finding. If you are looking to work in a particular area, keep in mind that if you go to school in one area then go to another state, the curriculum might be different. I had a lesson learned from that standpoint.
Jacqueline: What’s interesting is you took us through 20 years, and in those 20 years a lot of key decisions had to be made. I’m going to rewind a little bit because we have a diverse audience. We have young people starting their careers, and we’re trying to encourage high school students to think about STEM. Can you take us back to your high school years? When did you discover what your major was going to be in college?
Ken: What clicked for me in high school was in 10th grade they had a program where students could learn about computers. It was a class for students good in math, and it was the introduction to computers. I took the class, and as a result, I got really excited about computers. At that time, it was something new. Even today computers are popular. The reason I’m in computer science today was because of that one class in 10th grade. Part of the STEM program, when reaching out to middle school and high school students, is trying to educate and give children, teenagers and young people that exposure to avenues out there they might not have been aware of.
Jacqueline: You said exposure. That really resonated. We had a town hall meeting with Technologists of Color here in Atlanta, and we kept coming back to that. The young people have to be exposed. They don’t know what they don’t know. STEM is very broad and open, and a lot of time people think it’s just one thing. That kind of speaks to your journey. You started out learning development and coding, and some people think that’s all IT is. We went into all the different tracks you took and some of the decisions you made. That is exposure to opportunities. Let’s go to college Kem. How did you prepare for your first job or opportunity, and what was your next big decisions like?
Ken: In college, it’s all about internships. They gave me exposure into various companies to understand what it will be like in that profession. During my latter days in junior year and in my early senior year I focused on the interviewing process. I was doing a lot of interviewing. You only can get one job, but by doing something on a consistent basis, you get good at it. I was able to project not only a little about myself but to share and communicate with potential hiring managers. In terms of location, because I’m originally from Philadelphia, Connecticut was close to the Pennsylvania area. It influenced my decision to work at IBM.
Jacqueline: How did the interview and selection process help you stand out and differentiate yourself to be picked up by a prestigious organization?
Ken: During that process, there were several offers on the table. At the time when I conducted the on-site interviews, IBM was a little slower in making decisions. I actually had accepted another job. There was one job offer on the table, and they gave me a deadline. Even though I liked IBM, IBM, at the time, wasn’t ready to make their decision. I had to go with my next best choice. Interestingly enough, a week later IBM came back and made me an offer. I kindly said to them, “I already accepted a job. Thank you very much.” About a couple of days later after I had a conversation with the recruiter or HR person that called me, a senior person working at IBM called me and said, “Ken, I think you’re making the wrong decision.” He proceeded to share with me how IBM had many locations and opportunities. He talked about how wherever you wanted to live in the world, you could do that at IBM, and he told me I should reconsider. I said, “I believe you, but I already accepted this position. I really don’t go back on my commitment.” A lot of conversations went on about that, and I had a lot of conversations with my family, my mom and dad. Eventually I did recant the prior offer and went with IBM, but that was the interesting events for my first job.
Jacqueline: There are a lot of pivotal moments a young person has to make. You don’t know what you don’t know. You can look back in hindsight. The person reaching out to you means in and of itself that they must have clearly thought highly of you and your credentials. Can you talk about mentors, coaches and sponsors and how they have influenced you and your career path?
Ken: That gentleman who called me back and convinced me to work with IBM was definitely a mentor. He had already spent 20 or so years with the company, and he was able to give me some guidance. It’s key to have a mentor to whom you can have a conversation with, especially a mentor in your profession. If you’re fortunate to find a mentor, I encourage everyone to have one.
Jacqueline: Do you have mentors, coaches and advisers, today?
Ken: I don’t have any coaches or mentors right now. What I have is a few people in which I will run things by. That’s important. Even though I actually don’t have any mentors right now, I would encourage everybody that no matter where you are in life, you can still benefit from a mentor. They will take you to the next level. If I am trying to go to the next level, it’s probably good to reach out to those individuals who are at the place you are so that you can have that connection or ladder to get there. That’s what mentors and coaches can do. I have mentored some people, and they will ask me questions or advice. I can see where they’re going to go based off of the decisions they make.
Jacqueline: Now you’re the person people are looking up to. You’re a VP, you have a nice, corner office with a beautiful view, you’re the shot-caller, and you do a lot of strategic thinking behind the practice that you’re over. People look up to you. What would you say to the people that look up to you and want to be where you are?
Ken: If my 3 boys wanted to be in the IT space, I would encourage them, when they get out of college, to potentially work for one of the top 5-10 consulting firms. The reason I say that is because when you’re working for one of those consulting firms, they will put you on multiple assignments. You work with many clients. That will you give a lot of exposure very quickly as opposed to if you just worked for one company. Everyone can’t necessarily do that, but this is just a tip on how to jump-start your career. What will happen is you would be able to touch various companies, and at that point, you will be able to determine which clients you like and which ones you don’t. If you do a really great job, that client will take notice, and you will get hired after working at that consulting firm. That’s one track I would recommend.
The other track depends on what you really like to do. Let’s say you are really big on a particular retail store, whether it’s Wal-Mart, Macy’s, Federal Express or UPS. I have seen various colleagues of mine start out with UPS as a driver. They had a chance to learn the business. They weren’t drivers for a long time, but it was just a process to know how the business functions and runs. When you know that, you are more able to make business and leadership decisions. I would say that’s really key because not only will you know the business, but you’re able to make decisions based on things you saw that either didn’t or did work right within the organization. I have seen an individual who started as a driver with UPS and became a controller. It was within a span of years.
That’s two tracks in which I would recommend. One is more of a fast track; the other is a little longer, but you will become an industry expert in that particular field. Each track has its own positives and negatives, but those are 2 tracks young people starting out in their career should be aware of.
Jacqueline: I still feel a theme around that exposure. One track is exposure with multiple companies, or you could expose yourself to a particular area and learn that business. Earlier, you talked about internships, and again, that’s exposure. That’s a recurring theme from high school and through college. I think that’s something innate to we who have been in IT for awhile. You have to stay on top of the changing – the ups and downs and the highs and lows. Let’s talk about that. Being in this industry for 20 years, we’ve seen the industry change, and you have to know how to go with the flow. Can you think of an instance in your career where things went in a different direction or you’ve had to adjust?
Ken: I really didn’t see any ups and downs as it relates to my career. What I’ve always tried to do is lay out a plan for the things I want to do. When I decided to do that management track, I focused on getting a Master’s in project management, and I focused on getting certifications in project management. My goal was to be the best in that particular area. I shared with you about that track working for a consultant company and getting exposure to various companies. When I was doing independent project management consulting, that’s exactly what I was doing.
I got exposure to various companies, and I was challenged every time I went to work for a company because I was always coming in new. My role and goal was to be able to jump in immediately. I didn’t really feel any ups and downs about what was going on, but I will say that you need to always continue to push yourself. You always need to educate yourself, and you need to be consistent about what you do. I’ve been pretty consistent in terms of the career path I’ve been working in. It has always been IT, development and project management. My being in the industry for over 25 years has been some form of management.
Jacqueline: We’ve seen people coming in to the IT industry through the encouragement of STEM. People are starting to transition in. They may have had other career paths prior to coming in. What advice do you give to people who are in transition?
Ken: The beauty about IT, and we touched on it but we didn’t go into details, is there are so many different roles. You have the developer role, which is the most common, well-known role, but you also have the business analyst role, the quality insurance role, the project management role, the database administration role, and some support roles. What I would advise someone willing to get into technology is to understand all those roles. Based on their own skill set and work, go after certain roles. Let’s say you are really good at leading and talking to people. A project manager role would be a good role. If you are good at talking, listening and writing, the business analyst role might be the best role for that. If you are good at looking at different things and finding the problems, maybe testing within the quality insurance role is the role for you. I think a lot of people, when they think of IT, focus on the development role, but there are so many other roles you can play to make up a team.
I would encourage people to understand where their strengths are. From there, they should understand what the different roles are and go after one. When going after that role, you need to make sure your goal is to be the best at it. If you do that, you will have a life-long career in that profession, and you wouldn’t have to worry too much about the recession. With the recession, projects slow down and some come to a halt, but they don’t necessarily stop. They will always pick back up once things get moving. No matter what industry you’re in, whether it’s retail, hospitality, food and beverage or any other industry, IT is always the backbone of the foundation.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. Whatever your passion is, you would be surprised, whether it’s sports, fashion, the airline industry, the lottery industry or hospitable information. You can find an industry you’re passionate about, and the substance is the technology thread. You can marry the two, and with your technology skill, you can travel from industry to industry. You would have a long career because there are a variety of opportunities. You were independent and also did the corporate site, so you would be a good person to talk about the pros and cons. Some people are afraid of that independent track, and some people feel like that’s the only way to go. What was your experience?
Ken: I was very afraid and concerned when I went the independent track, but at that time, I was already the Vice President of another company. I was not trying to climb the corporate ladder anymore, but I wanted to focus on how I could work on my own. The first assignment is probably the biggest hurdle you’re going to face. My first assignment lasted for about a year. I realized that in the IT world, projects and assignments last between 6 months to a year or longer. You are able to work somewhere on a contract basis. The first job was the toughest, but once you complete that one and move on, you don’t think about it as much. It’s sort of like that first baby step you take. You feel like you’re going to fall, but you actually begin to walk. I advise people who want to do independent work that before they do, make sure you’re good at what you’re doing. It is challenging and competitive. Make sure when you are doing contract work that you’re prepared. Charter Global is a company where you can work at different companies and still be under their umbrella. You could allow us to help you find projects as you are going from project to project. When I was working, I was getting assistance from companies like Charter Global.
Jacqueline: I’m opening up the mic. Do we have a caller on the line?
Dawn: Yes. My name is Dawn. I’m enjoying the show and all of the information you provided. You were speaking to those who want to make a transition into the IT field. You raised good points when talking about honing into your skills you currently have and translating them to a business analyst, a project manager or even a tester. Once a person has done that, would you recommend them to volunteer at various organizations within the IT industry, or perhaps reach out to companies themselves and try to volunteer to get noticed?
Ken: Once you pick a particular role, there are organizations for every one of those roles. They even have certifications. Join those groups in order to network. Work on getting certification. I would recommend that instead of doing the volunteering, go and work for a company at a beginner or junior level role. In every role they have a junior level, mid-level and senior level. Each of those levels has a different pay-grade. The difference of them, in addition to pay, is the expectations of the position. If you came on board as a junior quality insurance or tester role, that’s your way to get your foot in the door. You are then able to show that company you can do the job. You also gain additional skills. As you are progressing, you can then command more dollars and jobs. You can definitely do the volunteering, but I would encourage you, from a transition standpoint, to see if you can actually get a job in that role you want to work in. Start at a lower level where the expectations aren’t that great, and then you can really shine and over exceed.
Jacqueline: Thanks Dawn. We also have Dave, who had to step away. Are you there?
Dave: I’m here, thanks Jacqueline. Ken, I have a question about the transition between two contracts. Sometimes you’re fortunate to have an umbrella company, such as Charter Global, to fill that space in. What are the different ways you’ve seen that transition occur, and how do you suggest an individual handles that transition? Should they start looking for another position before the contract ends, or should they wait until it ends? What’s your advice in that scenario?
Ken: My best advice is when there are times you know your assignment is going to end, around 45 days prior to that end date, start having conversations with your current client to understand whether or not they want to extend your contract. If they know they don’t want to extend, begin to look for other opportunities. That’s a very tricky time because when you’re doing contracting, when you begin to look, clients want to bring you on board a lot faster than a permanent position. It’s a dance, and you don’t want to start looking 90 days ahead of time because that’s way out. That particular contract job will not be available by the time your contract ends, and you don’t want to leave your contract too early. You also don’t want to wait 2 weeks before your contract ends because that’s not going to give you enough runway time to make sure you do your interviewing and get hired. Around the 45th day, I begin to have conversations with the client. At that point, transition occurs. That’s when you actually know when your contract ends. The other track is let’s say your contract gets cut short. At that point, the goal is for you to have at least 30 or 45 days worth of dollars set aside so when you are out to look for another opportunity, you have that runway time to find your next assignment.
Dave: Thank you.
Jacqueline: Those were some great questions. Ken is going to be joining us again. We have so many other areas to dive in to. You’re in the area of professional services, and a lot of people may not fully understand what professional services is. Can you give us a teaser and share about the area you oversee?
Ken: When we say professional services, professional services could be different for each industry. For our industry, it’s all about providing opportunities for people who are looking for jobs. We also connect clients with the right person for them. We do that through permanent placement and through contract work. When someone is looking for their next assignment, our goal is to connect them with the right clients. Because we’ve been in the business for a long time, we are able to communicate with that particular candidate and say, “Here are some opportunities. Here is the way this client works. Here is the environment. Here are the advantages and disadvantages.” We are able to help the client shorten the time they are looking for a candidate. We have more than 60 recruiters that can zoom in closely. We do screening and background checks to make sure that when the client begins to interview, it’s a good fit for both the client and the candidate.
Jacqueline: I think of it as a match-maker between the client and the right candidate. It’s a win-win situation on both sides. I wanted people to kind of get to know Ken Reaves, and that way, we can really explore. The next time you join us, we can talk about some of the trends and skill sets in the industry. Maybe you want to touch on what you have seen.
Ken: What I’ve seen and what is continuing to be seen in 2015 is really around mobility, big data and sales force. Those are 3 core topics that we’re seeing a lot of growth in. Big data has come about with all of the different mediums that exist through Facebook, Twitter and all of these feeds. Companies are now having access to a large amount of information that when they say big data, it’s really lots of information. From there, it’s about what they are doing with it and how they can provide additional accurate information to their customers. It’s also about how they can understand what they need to take in to be able to help their business run a lot smoother. With mobility, everyone has a phone. From that standpoint, companies and organizations are now building apps in order to provide different interactions in order to communicate via mobile phone. There is a tool called salesforce.com that is a big customer relationship management tool. They’ve been able to change the map, in terms of customer relationships, around the interaction with sales as well as connecting with their customers. As it relates to roles, even back in the previous years there has always been developers and engineers. What we’ve also been seeing is that clients are looking more for engineers to help them navigate around these various tools and applications such as java.net.
Jacqueline: It has been great talking with you. Thank you. It has been great hearing about your background, and you’re someone our audience looks up to. There’s a lot more we can talk about about Charter Global. It’s an exciting organization that is doing some great things. We’re definitely going to have you back, and we’re going to explore. To our listening audience, thanks for joining us. Look through the Technology Expresso archives to see other shows with other thought leaders and leaders in the IT industry. As always, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a question or topic or if you want to be the person on the other side of the microphone. Thank you, Dawn, for dialing in. Dave, are you still there?
Dave: Yes I am, and I want to extend my thanks to Ken as well. Yes, there will be more. There’s other questions, and there’s a lot about Charter Global we have yet to hear. We look forward to having you back on.
Ken: Thank you very much for having me.
Go to http://www.blogtalkradio.com/techexpressocafe/2015/01/30/career-and-job-forecast-series-with-ken-reaves-of-charter-global to listen to the full interview with Ken Reaves.
This interview was transcribed and edited by Anisah Muhammad. Anisah is a 17-year old professional writer based in the Montgomery, AL area. She regularly writes for the Final Call Newspaper (http://finalcall.com/) and she has published some pieces of poetry. To read more of her pieces, visit the website https://original7.wordpress.com/.
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