Mike Hamilton is the IT expert to ask because he’s done it all. Build an IT organization from scratch? He’s done it, twice. Successfully navigate employees from fearing technology in the early 2000s to helping them demand more from their experience? He’s done it. Transition from technical expertise to leadership, while recognizing just how valuable people are to any tech infrastructure? Absolutely.
The Right Focus
Hamilton has been in the field long enough to have watched the long evolution of technology in the workplace. While evolving along with it, Hamilton says there’s a constant that remains as true as it did a decade ago.
“The life lesson I’ve learned in my career in technology is that it’s not really about the technology,” explains Hamilton, who is the vice president and head of IT at enterprise software company Databricks. “This entire IT field is about people. It’s about the people that use the technology. It’s about the people that serve the technology to the business and make sure it’s running. It’s about the people that create the technology for the business.
“Technology changes all the time,” he continues. “But the people are the constant.”
In stark contrast to the stereotypical quiet IT guy, Hamilton says the field has moved far past the old image. In fact, to succeed on Hamilton’s team, you need to be more than a skilled technician—you need to be a communicator.
“I look for people who have a high EQ [emotional quotient] and understand that what we’re building is for people,” Hamilton says. “When you hire people with strong EQs, you ultimately need fewer people overall, and you’re not just throwing bodies at a problem. To really understand what the business needs requires listening and guiding the stakeholders. What is needed often differs greatly from what is being asked.”
Breaking Down Silos
One of Hamilton’s major focuses over the past two years at Databricks has been helping the company become more interconnected. Having previously built out IT operations for MuleSoft, Hamilton has a key understanding for what a quickly moving company needs to get to the next level.
“All start-ups go through that period where individual departments work great within their lane, so it’s easy to keep the blinders on,” Hamilton explains. “CPQ is a project that wrecks that entire model.”
The “Configure, Price Quote” (CPQ) system helps ensure that products a company is selling are consistently quoted, and that customer entitlements created from that quoting process (and contractually obligated) can be appropriately billed. The process touches sales, legal, operations, the product team, and virtually every other part of the organization. In short, the blinders must come off.
“When you take a company that’s used to working in silos and take on a project of this magnitude, you have to realize it’s not just about technology. It’s more of a project around business processes, how those live within our system, and how you configure the systems to support those business processes,” Hamilton explains.
Given the expansive growth of Databricks, the expanded perspective is required, but it can be challenging for an organization that is quickly growing to also evolve its working style. But Hamilton says the company is committed to the change.
The Right Partners
When partnering with strategic technology consultants, Mike Hamilton says that he’d prefers to interact with the company’s leadership. This has allowed him to build and foster long-term engagements with companies such as CriticalRiver Inc, a company with rich expertise in tech including Salesforce, Oracle, business intelligence, data analytics, and cloud-based solutions.
“I like having a personal relationship with these companies, because I know that I’m going to get the same quality as if my team were doing it themselves,” Hamilton says. “These partners have been instrumental in helping drive success inside the business and making sure that our Salesforce technology is set up for long-term success.”
Winning as a Team
Hamilton’s own transition from an individual contributor to a leadership role has demanded the cultivation of a skill set that wasn’t necessarily the reason for his rise in the first place.
“I came to leadership after being used to being somebody’s right-hand person,” he explains. “When I became a leader, I realized that I have to identify as many of those right-hand people as I can. I had to be frank with myself that the paradigm of leadership has shifted, and I can’t expect to have all the answers all the time.
“I have to be able to trust my team because they have the detailed knowledge and understanding,” he continues. “My job is to guide their passion, knowledge, and energy toward the results that will drive the success of our customers within the business.”
Hamilton says he prefers to act in a coaching role, helping develop his team to make good decisions and understand what motivates and fulfills team members as individuals. It’s part of a larger philosophy he employs: no heroes and no mercenaries.
“When you see companies that have that one person, the person that feels like they can never take time off because there’s too much on their plate,” he explains. “I don’t like it. I want to drive a culture where the team looks to develop themselves through each other and to cross-pollinate skills. Nobody wins unless everybody wins.”
Maybe most importantly, Hamilton says he always keeps the same piece of advice handy: “The two flaws of human communication are that we assume we understand the other person and that we assume we’re being understood by the other person.”
“It just comes down to people, again,” Hamilton reaffirms. “I tell my team to ask questions and make sure that you’re on the same page before you even start working to find solutions.”
The technology will continue to change. Hamilton’s not worried about that. Because if he’s certain his team has the right skills to connect with the rest of the organization, any change is possible.
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