Building a tech career: a perspective from the world's largest aerospace company

A discussion with Boeing's IT leader on what it takes to succeed in information technology in the 2020s. 'You won't be fulfilled if you're just looking to move up the ladder. Find your passion and where you excel.'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

To build a satisfying career in the 2020s enterprise, technology managers and professionals not only need to be proficient with tools and platforms, but also at understanding the final results the customers are seeing. It doesn't matter how complex your organization is -- even the world's largest aerospace company requires a holistic view of the business. "In IT we have a unique view of company operations that impacts every aspect of the business," says Susan Doniz, chief information officer and senior vice president for information technology and data analytics with The Boeing Company.  

In this Q&A, Doniz urges technology professionals to be insatiably curious about their businesses, keep thinking about ways to continuously improve things, and, very importantly, keep refining and refreshing their own skills and outlooks:


Susan Doniz, IT leader, The Boeing Company 

Photo: The Boeing Company

Q: What types of skills should today's IT professionals be working to develop? 

Doniz: Of course cloud, analytics and programming languages, as well as learning the next programming language is important. But I consider the most important thing for an IT professional, or any professional, is that you are a continuous learner. This means continuously improving your coding skills, staying on the edge of whatever your specialty is and being well-rounded. 

The other key thing is to understand the business that you support. If you're a consumer or retailer, understanding how people buy is a critical skill set. Or if, like me, your work supports aviation and all the amazing components that keep the biggest exporter in the US running smoothly, it is critical to know how to make the pilot's jobs easier and how to improve factory flow and manufacturing processes. 

We have to care about why sustainability and the supply chain and innovation matter so much. Be curious about your business, about what's coming next and how your work can help enable that. If you find the intersection between your work as an IT professional, and the user's experience, you'll do your job better and make yourself better at the same time.

Q: How have IT skills requirements evolved with the rise of cloud computing and digital transformation

Doniz: Much of the easier, more routine work has been automated. Before, you had to really get into the guts of a system and perform basic tasks. More automation means developers, and people working in technology today and in the future, will have a far more complex ecosystem to work in, and more complex problems to solve. This is the reason why you have to function at the intersection of who's going to use what you develop, while honing the newest development ability to use those cases so you're getting the best quality code as possible. 

More and more teams are going into DevSecOps and product models which means if you aren't developing good code you will be supporting it when it breaks down and code tends to break down at really inconvenient times in the day. It's exciting to see our teams tackle these complex challenges, and it's exciting because it means there's always more important work to be done -- it's never boring.

Q; Are there particular job roles or skills that will be supplanted by automation, AI, or low/no-code?

Doniz: I believe automation or AI will actually serve to strengthen the human factors in IT. In fact, the emergence of this technology has the power to create jobs. Data scientists or usability and design experts, for example, didn't exist 10 years ago like they do today. Now look at how critical they are to any company focused on innovation and improvement. 

New automation creates opportunity and space for good programmers and good developers to focus on high-quality work. What automation and AI allow you to do is automate at scale what a good developer or programmer would do one on one so it might have taken you a certain amount of time for one program now you can do it for hundreds of programs in the same amount of time so it is about scaling and augmenting good practices and doing it as quickly as possible. It also allows you to fail fast so you can test things and scale them more quickly. 

Q: Are there roles or skills that will become more prominent as lower-level tasks are supplanted?

Doniz: My goal is for teammates at Boeing to focus on delivering strategic solutions across the business regardless of the task. Learn how to be a good scientist and storyteller. You need to discover what the data is telling you and be able to explain it in a way that people will understand. Your job, in part, is to hypothesize. With new technology, you can run experiments more quickly and adjust your theories so you can uncover solutions faster and provide better quality products and services for your business partners.

Q: Please provide advice for IT professionals seeking to move up the management ladder.

Doniz: You won't be fulfilled if you're just looking to move up the ladder. Find your passion and where you excel and make sure you're surrounded by people who are going to make you a better leader and overall better human being. Focus first on the moment you're in -- the people you're around, the process you're supporting and how you will bring value -- the rest will come. 

In IT we have a unique view of company operations that impacts every aspect of the business. So, if we're supporting finance, how do you enable your business partner to meet their bottom line while delivering for their customers? In supply chain, how do you help enable the efficient shipment of products and parts so the business meets its needs? Understand how things work and then how you can help make it better. Driving improvement, executing with urgency and working well with others is the ticket to the top.

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