Sayeed Reza, VP, Software Engineering at Optum believes that a good understanding of the business and its customers are the first key steps towards becoming a successful IT leader. In his career, he has worked on building search engine platforms, forming product delivery and cloud services organization, and is passionate about managing and delivering technology products that touch lives one way or another.
Sayeed is a member of the Think IT Association, York Solutions’ peer professional development network composed of 3,500 members nationwide. Think IT offers IT leaders the opportunity to develop their skills, build relationships, and share ideas and challenges in facilitated discussions.
We spoke with Sayeed about the importance of company culture and what excites him about the technology world.
Where did you start your career and what experiences led you to the industry?
I started at Thomson Reuters as a software engineer. Back then it was Thomson West. I majored in computer science, and I had no doubt in my mind after I graduated from high school that I would pursue an IT career.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing IT Leaders/CIOs as a profession right now?
There are more than one. Transforming the technology organization to be nimble and being a strong driver for business growth is on the top of any leader’s mind. There are many disrupters in the marketplace, and they move fast. How do you stay ahead of those disruptions and have an organization that can quickly act to bring a game-changing product, platform, and services to the marketplace? That should be on top of any CIO’s mind. DevOps, Agile, Cloud, Digital transformation are just the means. Adopting and using those frameworks and tools for better business growth is something all IT leaders striving for. Change Management is something a lot of CIOs are trailblazing in many companies.
How can IT Leaders get business partners to think differently about the importance of IT?
Well, the business definitely understands the importance of technology and how technology could enable the business. In some businesses technology platforms play the biggest role in the business model such as Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, etc. The real issue here is to have technology folks have skin in the game of business. We need a seat at the table. Once we have that seat, we can offer better, faster, cheaper solutions to the problem the business is having. We can’t act like a cost center and expense to the business. I believe that a good understanding of the business and its customers are the first key steps towards becoming a successful IT leader. We need to strive to find creative ways to enable the business to achieve their goals with a simple solution that involves Information Technology. Establish trust with business partners, make their lives easy, and contribute towards the vision and mission of the company. Let’s just start with this.
What is important to you about a healthy company culture?
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” a phrase originated by Peter Drucker and made famous by Mark Fields, President at Ford, is an absolute reality! Actually, culture eats everything for breakfast. Culture makes or breaks a company. Every organization should have a vision, mission, and operating principles. Operating principles are the culture that lets you exercise the mission in order to reach the vision. The principles below are important to me as part of the culture:
- Know your customer and be obsessed with them
- Be accountable, trust will follow
- Hire the right people and nurture talent
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Fail fast
- Innovation, think outside the box
- Celebrate Wins
- Foster values such as respect, integrity, etc.
What tips can you share to develop the next generation of IT leaders?
I will say the same thing I have stated before. A good understanding of the business and its customers is the first key step towards becoming a successful IT leader. A leader must have a winning strategy and execution plan. Align IT strategy and goal with the company’s goals.
Keep a good pulse of the industry outside of your company, follow the trend, observe what the most innovative companies are doing (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.), network with other progressive and innovative leaders, stay open and don’t get disrupted.
Cloud, DevOps, Agile, Digital Transformation, RPA, AI/ML are not a bubble. Adapt them, implement them to have agility and speed.
Tell us a little bit about your specialties and passions within IT. What’s been your favorite project you’ve worked on over the years? What about your position in the industry gets you really excited?
We are truly living in an interesting and exciting time of civilization. Self-driving cars are not a myth anymore, Netflix happened right in front of Blockbuster, Airbnb happened while traditional hospitality industry was watching, blackberry was the first smartphone, but they forgot secure email is not everything! All those innovations at the end of the day benefitted consumers, set the bar higher, and took the consumer experience to the next level.
I immensely enjoy being part of the industry where technology is the vehicle for disruption and business transformation.
I have worked on a number of projects over the last couple of decades. Key contributor to building search engine platforms, forming product delivery and cloud services organization, championing digital transformation with the delivery of several digital entities, and self-service data consumption platform is something I am very proud of.
Tell us about your personal brand.
Leader | Business Person | Innovator | Transformer | Technologist.
My money is always on people. There is nothing more I value than the people I work with.
I have a balance between EQ and IQ. I have a knack to build and nurture very high performing teams. Work should be fun for everybody, and I foster the right environment for it.
I try to be very accountable and result-oriented. 90% of the time innovation is nothing but getting the stuff done faster than your competitor in the marketplace. I live by this principle.
What in the world of technology are you most excited about?
I believe technology has a greater purpose. It makes you free, entertains you, let’s you connect with others, solves complex problems, and saves precious lives. I feel passionate about managing and delivering technology products that touch lives one way or another.
Currently, I am super psyched about the potential of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning. Possibilities are endless, and we are just scratching the surface. Think AI/ML first whenever you have a business problem to solve.
How did you become involved with Think IT?
I was one of the participants of the Link2Leadership 1st or 2nd cohort. I was also familiar with ThinkIT through its York Solutions services company.
What has been your most valuable experience as a Think IT member thus far?
Networking, building relationship with leaders, giving back to the community, mentoring the future leaders, and staying up to date with the work other leaders are doing at their respective companies.
What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
Go for a very long walk or take my daughter for a treat without my cell phone with me. She is 10 but speaks like 18, so I got a mature company.