C-suite career advice: Luan Tran, Cyara – IDG Connect

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Name: Luan Tran
Company: Cyara
Job Title: Co-founder and CTO
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Luan Tran is responsible for the development of the Cyara Automated CX Assurance platform and related solutions. He is passionate about innovation, technology and getting a team together to create the impossible. Prior to founding Cyara, Tran was with Genesys Professional Services for 8 years, working with all its major clients in the Australia and New Zealand market. He was also in software product engineering for National Australia Bank, NEC, and IRESS.
What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? The best career advice I received was to follow you’re my intuition and act based on what I feel is right, even if it’s not necessarily the easy or the popular move. I have found that if you make decisions with your heart that feel right to you, don’t be afraid to stand by them.
What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? It’s not advice per se, but the worst thing someone could do in the workplace is to say “I told you so” to their colleagues. I try my best to avoid that sentiment, when there isn’t anything you can do to change the result after the fact. When your business decision was based on all the information you had at the time that you made it, you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it too much because humans can’t always get everything perfect. If you make the wrong call or make a mistake, remember it, learn from it and move on with your career.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Always be inquisitive and soak up as much information as you can while you’re still learning the industry. We can all learn from each other regardless of what we think we know. Especially in IT, you’ll think you know all the technology ins and outs, but it evolves rapidly. Even in 2-3 years, the technology changes significantly. It’s important for IT leaders to learn from the younger generation and stay up to date on the latest advancements. To stay on top of IT trends, I like to read books, blogs and newsletters from technology publications. If you’re looking for a book recommendation, my favourite book right now is Leadership is Language by L. David Marquet, which focuses on how to communicate as a leader.
Did you always want to work in IT/tech? I’ve always been a software programmer, developer and engineer, and that background helped lead me to where I am now as Cyara’s CTO. Before founding Cyara alongside the CEO, Alok Kulkarni, he and I worked for leading contact centre solution company Genesys and before that, we had been friends for a long time since we worked together at NEC.
What was your first job in IT/tech? My first role out of university was at IRESS, which was a startup at the time. Working at IRESS is what gave me the drive to start a company of my own because I joined when it was only six employees. Years later, Alok and I started two startups before Cyara, which both failed. From these failures, we learned that we needed a better understanding of the sales/marketing side of a business plan, in addition to just the technical aspects of the business. This also taught us that for our next endeavour, we had to determine what the market really needed so we could meet that demand.
What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? The most common misconceptions are that IT roles only require technical skills, and that the IT field is entirely male. While there is still much progress that must be made to make it completely equal, there are more female engineers and technicians in IT now than ever before. Today, every kind of business needs an IT team to prevent from falling behind the competition. Even finance and real estate companies are rebranding as technology companies now, so you don’t necessarily need technical knowledge to come up with a great idea for a tech company. However, if you have the best technology, but if you don’t have the skillset to market it or sell it, you’ll get nowhere.
What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Be confident in your decisions, learn how to communicate clearly to all the different levels in your organisations and be sure to build strong relationships with your team. Even if you’re an IT leader, you must understand the business well and learn how all the other departments work to get a cohesive picture of where the organisation stands. Being a leader is a life-long learning journey, so you must not lose your appetite for knowledge. It’s important that you always find time to think by yourself, even when you are busy all day, you need to set aside time to think about what and how you and your team can improve.
What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? Right now, my career goal is to help scale Cyara to take the company to the next level, because we are at an important growth stage. It’s no easy feat to be easy to scale rapidly since once companies scale up to enterprise level, there can be a more technical issues and communication silos that need to be overcome. This is an exciting stage to be at for us.
Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Since we have been working from home during COVID-19, I feel like I have more personal time than I did before. To help me stay calm and recharged during the pandemic, I took up yoga and jogging. It’s important to get outside for fresh air before resuming work to help you to think better. For C-suite executives, it can be particularly difficult to unplug and take a break from work. To maintain this balance, you have to plan ahead to take the weekend off, get away and spend time with family and friends. Early in my career, it was hard to switch off because at a startup, you’re constantly on call to solve technical issues at all hours of the day. Then, later in your career, you can make sure to hire good people who can resolve most issues and only need to bring you in on the toughest challenges. 
What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I wouldn’t change anything because then I wouldn’t be where I am now at Cyara. I do believe that things happen for a reason and even the bumps in the road have played a key role in teaching lessons.
Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Both are equally important, but theory alone won’t cut it. Working on a coding project for something practical is a good way of learning and then you can also get familiar with other applications. Coding and learning at the same time is the most effective way to learn it.  
How important are specific certifications? While certifications are beneficial, there are other important factors that IT leaders look for. There are outstanding coders that don’t have college degrees, but are experts because of their vast experience. While it all depends on the individual and their skills, it’s usually best to back up your software engineering experience with a degree and/or certifications. An impressive resume, plus multiple professional certifications is a major plus that companies look for when hiring for IT.
What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates?  First, we look for initiative. We want to hire a candidate that are always raising their hand for a challenge and wants to learn, since knowledge and motivation are so critical in the IT field. Second, resiliency is critical since we want someone on our team who doesn’t give up easily, overcomes adversity and always rectifies their mistakes, because everyone makes errors sometimes. Lastly, confidence. We want to hire an employee who believes in themselves, will fit into Cyara’s fun-loving, yet driven team/culture and has a sense of humour. In addition to those three qualities, loyalty is a key quality that I look for in a hire as well.
What would put you off a candidate? I tend to avoid people who are arrogant or overly confident without being able to back it up. From the interview process, you can usually tell when a candidate acts like they have all the answers, but when you dive into the questions, they have vague or textbook answers. Or, they may have plenty of certifications, but lack any relevant experience. To ace an interview for an IT or engineering position, you must be able to concisely explain coding projects that you’ve worked on and how you did it.
What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? A common mistake that candidates make is including every tech buzzword on their resume, even if they aren’t well-versed in those areas. Those keywords are usually written on there so that automated bots can scan their resume, but make sure you’ve actually worked with all of those technologies first. For example, many applicants put DevOps on their resumes, along with all the tech tools they’ve tried at other workplaces, but they haven’t used any of these technologies in-depth enough to qualify as an expert.  
Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? Definitely both. While it’s impossible to be an expert at everything, you need to be passionate about the technical side of the business and understand marketing and sales as well. Be sure to think about the why not just the how to create the product. What is the business value? Once you understand the market need, then you can craft technology that is best suited to solve that problem and provides business value. Many engineers tend to overlook this when they are developing applications, but you should always consider how useful the app is before spending time on it.
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