Careers: Interviews
Women in IT

As part of CIPS's ongoing commitment to highlighting and promoting the role of women in the IT field, this week we are including an interview by Stephan Ibaraki, I.S.P.

Stephan spoke with one of the first women to start a computer company, Cathy Michitsch of Michitsch Systems Inc., Raiser's Edge specialists and customized database & web site designers and developers.

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Q: Your experiences as an IT expert would be of benefit to many veterans as they walk the dynamic tightrope of technology. What personally prompted you to enter the computing field? What led you to becoming a leading provider of database services?

A: I was fascinated by the data coming out of the first IBM point of sale terminal. I don’t know if you know this but the data came out on yellow punch tape. I was 16 at the time and this fascination led to my career choice first enrolling in Mohawk College in computer systems technology and immediately starting my own consulting business while still a student. I just couldn’t wait to get inside database design and have followed this development through to the present. To this day my company, Michitsch Systems Inc. continues to build on my initial fascination developing database solutions in the not for profit and corporate sectors. I owe a debt of gratitude to my long term customers in the not for profit sector who believed in me when I was starting out and who remain my best customers to this day. I am extremely excited now by our work in web enabled database design and implementation. I guess you could say that my initial motivation is unchanged but the products and delivery methods change almost daily.

Q: Cathy, what obstacles did you have to overcome and can you share your 20 leading tips for those thinking of starting a computing-based company? Can you describe your role with your company and how you plan to shape the company one year and two years into the future, and in the long term?

A: Obstacles? …..hmmm I guess being a woman in technology fifteen years ago and a young woman at that. Picture this “ I walk into my bank to apply for financing for the company and am asked to bring in my husband to co-sign”…husband? … Who had time? I have many stories like this but I am sure your woman readers know them without seeing them written here. These days not so much an obstacle but a challenge is feeding my constant curiosity for database technology and keeping up with its incredibly rapid change.

My twenty tips include
 
  • If you give you win
     
  • Hire Co-op Students
     
  • Have an AR policy in place from day one
     
  • Hire a good accountant
     
  • Hire a good lawyer
     
  • Learn to speak the language of your customers – minimize geek speak
     
  • Interview your accountants and lawyers and get several references
     
  • Ignore buy out offers
     
  • Solidify your dreams and don’t let other organizations buy them from you
     
  • Surround yourself with knowledgeable people
     
  • Marketing, marketing, marketing
     
  • Take care of your employees – stop them from burning out
     
  • Make sure one of your team has the title and responsibility of “FUN MASTER”
     
  • Have a change management system in place from day one – that
  • is when change starts
     
  • Have a Human Resources consultant on board from day one
     
  • Have partnership agreements and personal service contracts written so that trust is not necessary
     
  • Understand your costs
     
  • Write clear and comprehensive contracts
     
  • If you win you win if you lose you learn ( a quote from one of my senior developers)
     
  • Help your customers don’t just work for them
     
  • It is all about relationship building
     
  • Give back to your community
     
  • Teach in your area of expertise
     
  • Contribute to the development of the next generation of IT professionals
     
  • Join professional organizations
     
  • Learn from your peers
Sorry Steve I realize that is more than twenty and I could go on a lot longer.

I am the visionary and the janitor also cook and guitar player. As President I hire the teams that do the work and I learn from them. Into the near term one year out, Michitsch Systems will increase its presence in the corporate sector and continue to build our Calgary Alberta office.

Two years out we will be firmly established as leaders in web enabled database solutions and .NET implementation across Canada and Internationality.

And I still get to feed my curiosity for database design and implementation.

Q: You have a reputation for being plugged into the stream of computing consciousness about where it’s going now and in the long term. You’ve also done a lot of research. Can you comment on the studies that you’ve performed and your experiences?

A: As the President of a growing company I have a responsibility to my employees and to my customers to keep up to date and ahead of what is coming next. In my day to day operational environment I am surrounded by team members who are constantly investigating and learning emerging technologies. This plus my own extensive reading and consultations with industry leaders combined with onsite solution design guides the development of Michitsch Systems. As a part-time computer systems technology instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology I have to keep up to date and in front of developments. This association and my ongoing relationship with Computer Co-op programs such as Capilano College are a research gold mine that I and my company have benefited from. In fact one of my most recent co-op students, Serena Bertolli-Haley, recently won the CIPS IT Student of the Year Award given to the top IT student in British Columbia. With people like Serena contributing to the Michitsch Systems knowledge base you can understand why we are so confident in our research and future direction.

Q: Can you comment on the integration of mainframe, Unix, and Windows-based technologies and how they all fit in large, complex, enterprise environments?

A: One of the greatest challenges facing enterprises as they face the inevitable need to web enable their business processes is the internal and external integration of existing legacy systems. From a technical and even more so from a human resources point of view this is a daunting task for these companies. Not only must they attempt to get systems designed to stand on their own to talk to each other they must convince, motivate and retrain their valued long term employees to perform in a new environment. Failure on any project is caused from the human resources side not the technology. Getting the people on side and building the team commitment first is my rule for entering into this any legacy integration. In fact if I had to give one reason for my success on projects such as this it would be my and my team’s ability to work with the people not just the project.

Q: What are your views on SQL and its future?

A: Michitsch Systems has recently assisted one its employees in attaining the MSSQL MCDBA Designation. This is an obvious indication of our belief in the future of this product. Its position as the database component of the MS .NET Framework will move it to the forefront of Enterprise Data Management. Recent research I have conducted has convinced me that in high transaction volume environments SQL 2000 in combination with appropriate .NET Enterprise Servers will compete favorably any other industry combination. I will continue to invest my company’s resources in training my team up to the SQL expert level.

Q: What are your views on XML and its future?

A: It is a necessity. If you don’t know it, learn it. It will revolutionize business data communication. Welcome to the information age – XML is the highest impact development to come along in a long time arguably in all time. Its use will only grow as we move more and more to integrated cross corporate business communication.

Q: EAI, CRM, B2B are exploding? What are your views about these in related areas for the current and future marketplace?

A: Steve that is a very good question. My whole career has focused on helping my clients use their data and information in the best way possible. The initiatives you listed are but the beginning of a huge wave of convergence in data, information and business knowledge. Companies who do not utilize some of this functionality will find it harder and harder to remain competitive. As more and more companies routinely do business with customers around the world web based business solution will be required not a luxury.

Q: For those relatively new in the computing field and for seasoned veterans, which areas should they target for future study, what are the high-growth areas?

A: If I had to give my top three I would say –XML, SQL and .NET . Not that there aren’t many more things to learn but these three capture best of all where the business internet is headed. Web based programming languages generally, for example JAVA, should also be on the must learn list. I also think it is important for all technology people to spend time studying and understand general business and also industry specific business process. The convergence of technology and business will require multi-disciplinary understanding. Those with a high combination of technology AND business knowledge will thrive!

Q: What changes do you see for the future of computing, conducting business, and the use of the Internet?

A: As I mentioned earlier I really see a convergence continuing. Even today many businesses see the internet as an. Very soon it will no longer be that, but a necessity for business success. Today’s magical tools such as Voice recognition over the internet will become a necessity for those wishing to do business for example where customers may be facing a physical disability. It will continue to be an extremely exciting time to in this business. I can honestly that I am as excited now as when I first saw that yellow punch tape.

Q: Traditionally there hasn’t been a high penetration of woman in computing but the landscape is changing. What are your views in this area?

A: You are absolutely right. As one of the first woman in Canada to start their own IT company fifteen years ago, I have seen a huge increase in women’s participation. My own team has been fortunate to have a balance of men and women over the years and I believe that this has been a strength for us. I have made a personal commitment to mentor women in technology so you can understand why I am so proud of one of my current employees , Serena Bertolli-Haley, who recently won the CIPS IT Student of the Year Award given to the top IT student in British Columbia. While I was delighted to see Serena win I was also pleased to see that other finalists were also women. We have come a long way from my early days in IT. Who knows maybe the next time I go into a bank to request financing I won’t have to produce a husband.

Q: It’s a blank slate, what added comments would you like to give to enterprise corporations and organizations?

A: Although these will sound like clich├ęs, and they are, I truly believe in the following:

Never Give Up! Quitters never win and winners never quit.

Invest in your people, they are your organization!

Encourage balance for your employees, promote ways to have fun and enjoy the ride yourself. Lead by example not by delegation in taking time to recharge, refresh and revitalize.

Sincerely care for your customers and try to understand their needs by putting yourself in their shoes.

Admit your mistakes, take responsibility for them and not only learn from these mistakes but teach others not to fall into the same traps.

Don’t live in the past, live for the present, by courageous and Dream …
 


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