Q&A: Brian Gegan, VP Technology, Eyefinity, Inc.

‘There are many ways to assess candidates, and all of us recognize resumes and applications don’t always tell the full story.’

By Sonia R. Lelii
Dice News Staff | September 2008


Eyefinity
is a Web-based business management partner to about 20,000 private
practice eyecare providers. Since provider Vision Service Plan (VSP)
launched the company in 2000, Eyefinity has been setting its sights on
building better business intelligence tools. Vice President of
Technology Brian Gegan recently met with Dice News to offer some
insight into a hiring manager’s point-of-view.

What types of IT technologies is your company currently implementing or plan to install in the next six to 12 months?

Web
Services, such as IBM WebSphere, is an area we are continuing to invest
in. We are also investing in technologies that help us really
understand our customers’ behaviors, buying patterns and preferences,
so we are aggressively growing our business intelligence capabilities
through Cognos and other approaches, including contact relationship
management (CRM).

Like many other organizations,
we’re also seeking improvements in our document and knowledge
management abilities. An area that’s very interesting involves
improving the content and user experience of our Web portals. Today,
people have high expectations for rich media on the Web. Consequently,
we’re evolving our portals to be easier to use as well as more
engaging. Fashion differentiates products within the eyewear industry
so we need to pique the viewer’s interest in our portals and rich media
enables us to do that.

What types of IT jobs are you looking to fill in the next six to 12 months?

We’re
recruiting heavily for Java developers, specifically any that have
previous supply chain experience. We also are looking for IT project
managers and business analysts. As you can imagine, the more in-house
and custom development we do, the more we need quality assurance and
testing people. We are also eager to hire more people with Cognos
experience.

What are the top challenges your IT operations currently face?

Our
biggest challenge involves addressing the talent shortage in our local
area (Rancho Cordova, Calif.) Even though the economy is weak, the IT
labor market is strong and we face significant competition for capable,
experienced employees.

Another challenge we face is
the rate of change we’re experiencing in technology. You can never
count on a sustainable, competitive advantage unless you encourage
innovation, growth and adaptability. So we continue to make big
investments in training and professional development for our employees.
I really encourage continuing education and additional skills
development that can be gained through courses, workshops, conferences
and certifications. Our business partners have high expectations for IT
to readily provide practical and effective answers for business
problems, so we have to be on our toes all the time.

Does your company have plans to offshore or outsource?

Currently,
we don’t have plans to outsource or offshore our IT work. Some
organizations have experienced success doing this, but we strongly feel
that if we provide leadership that encourages innovation, commitment
and a certain amount of risk-taking, we can hold our own in this
hyper-competitive market.

Do you find there’s a communications disconnect between your IT operations and the business side of your company?

I
don’t think there is but it can develop very quickly if you’re not
careful. To successfully manage this area, we have to consistently
engage business units in a collaborative and effective manner, and that
involves frequent, informal conversations and interactions along with
more formal communications through regular project reviews and updates.
The onus is on us to make this happen.

How do you approach an interview?

There
are several things you want to do. You want to foster a discussion
where the candidate can truthfully communicate his or her abilities and
experience. Additionally, you want to understand what this candidate is
really looking for and if your company offers it, you need to showcase
it. For me, the thought process is just as important as the answer, so
I prefer to ask leading questions such as: "How do you solve this kind
of problem?" and "If you encountered this same type of challenge again,
would you try a different approach?" Another question is: "What did you
learn from your successes as well as your failures?" The other part of
the interview really involves advocating why this candidate should want
to join your organization. 

In a very competitive
labor market, you have to sell the opportunity, the organization and
the future, and what this candidate can expect and look forward to.
What is this person looking for? Is it more than salary and benefits?
Is this person looking for a place to grow? Does this person enjoy
working closely within a team environment or being exposed to
challenging initiatives that drive personal growth and satisfaction?
You have to find out what candidates want and what is important to
them. Once you find out and you want this person, you do everything
possible to showcase the opportunity in a truthful but compelling
manner.

How do you judge a candidate?

There
are many ways to assess candidates, and all of us recognize resumes and
applications don’t always tell the full story. If we need to assess
technical skills, then we include our most experienced, technical leads
in the interview. This can be labor-intensive but there are no
short-cuts to interviewing. We also create opportunities for candidates
to examine code, spot bugs and identify modifications, and we score
their responses. If they authored code and there are no proprietary
restrictions, we may ask them to bring in the code and walk us through
it. We are also considering external tools and assessments and may
invest more in the future. 

Assuming you have a
technically competent candidate, you want to make sure the candidate
will fit in, that he or she is the right candidate for the job and will
mesh with the teams they work with. Long gone are the days when IT
people could get by on minimal communication skills. Today, they have
to be effective and empathetic communicators to be successful.

What advise would you give someone who is just starting a job search?

Network.
Network. Network. They should talk to as many people a possible, take
advantage of all the information available about the organization. They
should also have a mental list of probing questions that show some
level of research and interest. Some of the least successful interviews
I have experienced occurred when the candidate didn’t do any research
on our organization and showed up unprepared and under-informed. They
should spend time learning as much as they can and talking to as many
knowledgeable people as possible. There are many informational
resources available on the Internet and people should use them. 

Given
the number of hours we spend in the workplace and all that we invest of
ourselves, we really owe it to ourselves to be well-prepared and
well-informed, so that we make the right decision for both the
candidate and our organization.

Sonia R. Lelii is a Dice News Staff Writer. She can be reached at sonia.lelii@dice.com.

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