The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 8, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Nov. 12.
Next up is Cloud Industry Executive of the Year finalist Bob Ritchie, who’s vice president of software at Science Applications International Corp. Here, he talks success, professional risks and other career advice.
What has made you successful in your current role?
Teamwork and continual learning. The software practice at SAIC is a microcosm of the radical collaboration that is at the heart of SAIC’s culture. Starting each day with the mindset of “How can I help those around me to be and do their best?” is paramount to the success that not only myself, but all at SAIC enjoy.
Pairing that mindset with a passion to learn something new every day as well as teach someone something new every day, and the result is an environment where our co-workers are more family than colleagues. They say: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Any success I have been privileged to experience in my career is a direct result of the latter.
What are your primary focuses areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
Secure cloud adoption, embracing DevOps, establishing a culture of perpetual modernization, and the transformation from applications/systems to ubiquitous streams of data events driving new and previously unimaginable digital experiences are the four focus areas of myself and the software practice at SAIC.
Cloud adoption and DevOps are foundationally important for every organization in terms of increased velocity to value and ability to rapidly and continually innovate. Perpetual modernization has both near term importance for our nation to escape from the current technology quagmire of years of unaddressed technical debt, but also enduring long term benefits so that we never find ourselves in such a situation again.
To that effect, embracing the fact that abstractly the world is a composite of event (data) emitters and receivers and remove dependence on any large complex technology platforms and leverage new and emerging user agents such as wearables will lead to faster and more accurate decision making in all aspects of our lives.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
Embracing each and every platform afforded to me to foster a culture of continual learning and knowledge sharing. Whether it be government and technology meetups, community of practice engagements, conferences or tech talks, I am committed to democratizing knowledge around DevOps, secure cloud adoption, digital transformation, most importantly, the power and importance of learning and growing together as a community.
Which rules do you think you should break more as a government/industry leader?
Any rules that prevent anyone from doing the right thing or making a values-/principles-based decision. At the end of the day, we are in this business to make a difference whether it be for the government, our fellow citizens or the men and women of our military. A contractual clause or competitive advantage should never come between that purpose.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
The biggest professional risks I have ever taken both centered around changing companies. The first time certainly felt like the bigger risk at the time, namely because it meant leaving the company that I had grown up with and even scarier, leaving behind an atmosphere where I was a known and respected entity to strike out on a new adventure as a complete unknown.
Looking back, I am grateful for the wisdom of leaders like Simon Sinek, whose words helped me overcome that risk/fear and look for an organization that more closely aligned with my “why.” The second time was, in fact, the bigger risk, returning to the company I had left with an opportunity to lead its transformation into the world-class software firm I know that it can be.
Failure would not only be an emphatic foot stomp on my imposter syndrome, but also would mean I’d be failing each and every superlative engineer that calls SAIC home. However, as the cliché goes, with great risk comes great reward, and certainly that bodes true for me as I could not ask for a more rewarding journey than the one that we are on at SAIC today.
What was your biggest career struggle and how did you overcome it?
My biggest career struggle has always been learning how and when to say no. As a people pleaser, I personally find it hard to ever turn down someone in need of help, advice or technical assistance. However, as a leader in my company, letting that personality trait permeate the organization could lead to overcommitment/burnout of the people in my charge as well as inconsistent delivery due to lack of focus.
As with any personal shortcoming, I have found that the best way to overcome it was to ask for help and accept it when offered. For this particular case, taking the help of my teammates to establish a Kanban board for our organization to clearly and transparently communicate our work in progress and prioritization to the enterprise empowered me to turn no into not yet.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
I received two pieces of advice early in my professional career that I really took to heart and I believe are integral to the career I have led thus far. First and foremost, on my first day of work at SAIC (age 20) my boss, a retired Navy captain helicopter pilot, sat me down and said, “Bob, your job here is to work yourself out of a job.” I was confused at first, but quickly realized what he meant.
By continually working myself out of a job, either through automation, mentoring/teaching another or any number of ways to make myself redundant, I would not only be advancing the health and prosperity of the enterprise and those around me, but would be perpetually freeing myself for growth and new opportunities.
The second piece of advice fell fast on the heels of my first promotion, where a great mentor advised, “Make sure 10 years from now, when you look back on your career so far, you have had 10 years of experience, not just 1 year of experience 10 times.”
Taking that advice to heart is what I would advise others, as at the end of the day if you commit to a life of continual learning, mentor/teach others, and open yourself up to new opportunities you are destined to feel fulfilled each and every day — which ultimately is how I would most accurately describe a successful career.