Peter, with your extensive background and considerable successes, we are
fortunate to have you do this interview. Moreover, with your tight schedule, we
appreciate the time you are taking. Thank you!
A: You’re welcome. I think it’s important we try to share our
Can you detail what triggered your interest in computing? What tips would you
have for those preparing for a computing career and what personal/professional
qualities make for success? How can students best prepare prior to entering
college/university and while they are in their post-secondary computing
studies—which resources, courses, extra-curricular activities would be of the
starting programming in 1976 on a Rockwell AIM 65 – my father knew to turn to a
kid to do the programming for his office’s new computer. My first program processed the results from
an HP mass-spectrometer which was analyzing hop oil. In 1977, I started to program our home Apple II
computer. In 1979, our high school got
its first computer and a couple of us tried to keep a couple of steps ahead of
the math teachers who were trying to teach computer courses as they learned to
I went to university intending to graduate
in chemistry. I took computer science as my first year elective since I’d been
programming in BASIC for four years. Even though I worked really hard in the honours section of chemistry, I
barely earned a second class mark. Computer science was another story: I took less than a page of notes for the year and easily earned a first
class. I met with the head of the
chemistry department at the end of my first year and he strongly advised me to
take computer science instead of chemistry – very sage advice, Dr Trotter!
Computer science was pretty crazy back then
– standing room only for the first few weeks of lectures. I think there were 1,500 people in first year
– about 45 graduated four years later.
The computing field is a wonderful key to
almost any field you’re interested in. Computer systems are just about everywhere – they’re your ticket into
most industries. Earning your keep once
you’re there is a different story.
As for success, I think it’s drive, backed
by talent and a love for what you do. It
has very little to do with the specific technologies you know. Doing well means doing well. It’s not
about boasting, but solving problems effectively (“you are what you do” as I
like to say).
Before you begin? Take up programming at home, or take a course
of some sort to make sure you have the right aptitude. Talk to a few people in the industry – try to
picture yourself doing what they do. It’s a unique job that requires specific skills. The field isn’t for everyone, but lots of us
wouldn’t want to do anything else.
Specific skills or languages are important,
but they’re not your foundation. You’ll
probably be using different tools and different languages in a few years. Ethics, theory, and management courses should
be your foundation. Four year programs
give you the time to build that foundation. Then, build experience on the foundation as soon as you can: co-op positions, volunteer opportunities,
whatever it takes to demonstrate what you can do.
your extensive history of successes, which specific experiences provided the
most important lessons and what are these lessons?
A: Big successes and big failures always
give you stuff to learn. More
importantly, they give you an opportunity for change – either because people want
to repeat the success or they want to avoid the pain of the failure. Harnessing change, like harnessing the wind
and currents, can take you anywhere. Calm weather means you’re not going anywhere quickly. Pilots have been really useful even if they
prove what you didn’t want. Learn from them and approach things
Planning is important. Planning doesn’t guarantee success, but not
planning almost certainly stacks the odds against you.
In the end, I think it’s the team of
individuals that makes the difference. It’s hard to beat a team of talented, dedicated professionals. That team
needs management support, but if the team is credible, they’ll get the
support. There are few great teams.
You have been in a leadership role for many years. What are your top five
leadership and top five management tips?
A: I’m glad you distinguished the two! Leadership and management are different.
Successful organizations need both, of course – and each person will have their
own mix of the two skill sets.
- Earn credibility – do what you know
needs to be done and get there as quickly as possible; break things down
into manageable pieces, prioritize, light fires, fan the fires, bring in
whoever you need to get the basics right as soon as possible.
- Create and communicate a vision –
get management buy-in and sell the message to everyone so they understand
the need and understand their role in it.
- Demonstrate the attributes you look for in others – be what’s important to you; work hard, be professional, be
positive, pay attention to detail, play, take time to have fun once in a
while, take time off to stay healthy.
- Show results – start with some
quick hits, but plan short-term successes; turn the theory into everyone’s reality by getting things done.
- Never stop – as Mike Ditka said,
“success isn’t permanent, failure isn’t fatal” so try to win as many of
the important games as you can, although you’ll lose sometimes (learn from
the losses, but never be satisfied with them).
- Survey the landscape – understand
what you need to do and who is going to help you – if you need to make
changes, make them sooner rather than later. Sometimes you have to make tough calls –
they often are best for everyone involved.
- Plan – planning helps you
appreciate what you can and cannot get done. Plans help manage
expectations. Estimates help you assess the accuracy of your plans and
tracking actuals lets you learn to make better plans in the future.
- Listen – speaking is important, but
listening is even more important. Listen to everyone but do what you
know is right. If what you do is
different, explain why.
- Communicate – manage others’
expectations of you by communicating regularly, keeping the lines of
communication open goes a long way towards keeping your customers, your
staff, and your peers happy.
- Manage – I know too many managers
who are too busy doing their own work to actually do the things that
they’re expected to do. They’re
probably heading the wrong way down the path.
Q: Can you comment on your current position within the BC Securities
Commission and what you want to accomplish?
A: I know a lot of people consider me to be
ambitious. I have always wanted to make
a difference. What has driven me up to
now is a belief that I can influence things more and therefore make a bigger
difference at more senior levels.
My first three years here at the Commission were as
Manager, Information Systems. The goal in that role was to make the IT
department credible to the rest of the organization. That meant introducing a project orientation
to our work, creating a secure and reliable infrastructure, reducing costs, and
aligning our efforts to the Commission’s overall goals.
As CIO, my focus has broadened to include records
and document management, knowledge management, and a more general application
of project management. And to applying technology a little differently. I want
to be viewed as someone who can help identify ways that information systems or
services can help others do their jobs better or that can help the organization
achieve its goals.
Can you share one anecdote or story that is humorous or surprising?
A: I quit my first job after less than a
year – I just knew it wasn’t for me. I
was young and didn’t have any commitments, so I didn’t mind not having another
job to go to right away. Anyway, I ran
into someone I had worked with a year or so earlier in the mall within a couple
of days of quitting, and mentioned it to this person. A day or two later, this same fellow was
phoned as a reference for someone who had applied for a position (and who had
been selected after a set of interviews). My ex-colleague told the person doing the reference checks, “yeah, that
guy’s okay, but I know someone better who is available.” Just over 24 hours later, I’d been
interviewed, been offered the position, and had accepted the offer. I ended up working there for more than ten
years (it was a great fit). I always
tell people to consider their references carefully.
Now choose three areas of interest to IT professionals and explain the
challenges and solutions within these topic areas.
A: Area 1: Project management
This isn’t new, but it’s still key. As long as most (or even many) projects fail,
it needs to be at the forefront. We have
to continue to get better at executing projects. (Projects don’t just fail because of bad
project managers. There are so many
other factors: the team, the environment
they happen within, sponsorship, and buy-in are a few.) Everyone needs to understand the basics of
projects – what they are and what they aren’t. And they need to understand how projects are run in your company. Everyone also needs to have an incentive to
Area 2: Cost reduction
Containing costs is important. IT needs to be viewed as a worthwhile
investment and not as a sunk cost. It’s
much better if IT consciously tries to save money than to have cuts or caps applied
from the CFO or someone else. I’ve found
it helpful to classify costs in three areas that META defined: run the business, grow the business,
transform the business.
Area 3: Business alignment
Making sure you and your department are
working on the right things is really important – you can’t build credibility
without that. IT governance goes a long
way. Get the key decision makers in a
room quarterly and have them agree on priorities based on your company’s
strategic plans. Ultimately, once IT is
engrained into the fabric of your company, there will be very few IT projects –
instead IT will just be one of the partners getting strategic projects
done. Once you’re at that point, there’s
no longer talk about “alignment.”
you were doing this interview, what three questions would you ask of someone in
your position and what would be your answers?
A: Q1: How do you plan on staying CIO for an extended period of time?
a long-term vision and spending each day trying to make that vision a reality
is important. If the organization agrees
with the approach and they can see change and start to realize the benefits,
they’re going to want you to stay. You’ll also be satisfied, which will keep you around for a while. You’re bound to run into something different
at some point, and it may pull you away from where you are. That’s what succession management is about.
Q2: How much time do you spend planning?
lot. I’ve helped to work on the
Commission’s strategic plan, and then translate that into our division’s
operating plan. Developing an overall
information management plan is a significant challenge, but it’s really
important for the organization. There
are also technology and knowledge management plans to update to ensure
everything we put in place supports the organization’s goals. All of this drives home the message that we
could be working on a lot of things, but there are only a few things that
Q3: When starting a new senior management position, how can you tell who the
think you do that assessment pretty quickly. While some people can change in some ways, most people will resist major
changes. I think you pretty well know
who should stay on your team within 90 days. Taking action in the first 180 days is important – dragging it out
longer doesn’t really help anyone.
Peter, thank you for sharing with our audience, your considerable talents, and
accumulated wisdom and experiences stemming from a wide and diverse background
A: Thanks for your time. Learning from each other is the best way to
avoid mistakes and to make better decisions every day.