Retiring exec offers 39 years of advice

In his 39 years with Hewlett-Packard Canada, John Cross has seen the IT industry go through a lot of changes.

“I was around in 1968 when we brought the first computer into HP Canada. At the time, it was a major event to think that we were actually going to enter that whole realm. Up until then, we concentrated on testing medical and analytical equipment,” said Cross, the vice-president of human resources for HP Canada.

Cross retired last month and offered some insights into the many changes he’s seen in the IT industry. One thing he has observed is the evolution of technology, where it is no longer about selling equipment but about solving real-life customer problems.

“Customers are now demanding high return on investments in IT. You are really a consultative sales person now in a company where it’s no longer about selling equipment but solving problems, such as ways to improve a company’s supply chain.”

Cross has viewed all of these changes at HP Canada, where he was hired after earning his electrical engineering degree from the University of Toronto in 1967. He started out in medical sales then moved onto medical equipment assembly.

But during his time at HP Canada, Cross’s career path took him away from the technical side and into management roles where, for the past 12 years, he has been in Human Resources.

“Moving up to the management ranks, there is no question that more and more of your management skills take over and the engineering knowledge is left to front-line people,” Cross said.

If there is one thing that he has learned since being in management, it is the importance of engineers to also possess managerial skills along with technical skills, something Cross believes that universities don’t place enough emphasis on today.

“There is a weakness in the school system on the business side. It is a little bit of a trial by fire when you enter the business environment especially with people management skills,” Cross said.

However, he said he has encountered engineers that are not interested in management but only in pursuing the technical aspect of their careers, such as software development.

“Engineers should learn early on the limitations of choosing strictly a vertical career path on the technical side,” Cross said.

“There is nothing wrong with somebody going vertical if they’ve got the skills, are bright, creative and out-of-the-box thinkers, but not everyone gets to be the world’s best design engineers.” There are a lot more career opportunities out there if an engineer can manage projects and people, he added.

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