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IT Career Paths at Elantis – Employee Spotlight with Julian Charles

By Elantis on November 28, 2022
Elantis-Employee-Spotlight-Julian-Charles

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on Julian Charles, Enterprise Architect at Elantis. In this interview, Julian shares how his passion for technology as a young child led him from entrepreneurial pursuits in ethics and technology, to working as a web developer, database administrator, solution architect, and eventually to the strategic role he has today. For this aspiring professional footballer, a career in IT was his plan B—but after 20+ years, it has become a challenging and fulfilling journey.

 

Andrea Nwobosi: Welcome to your time in the spotlight, Julian! How did you get to the role that you’re in today? Perhaps you could tell us about what you do in your current role at Elantis and what brought you here.

Julian Charles: In my current role, I function as an Enterprise Architect—which is actually a funny role. It’s been around for decades, but nobody can really pinpoint what the role is. The way I put it is it’s vision, strategy, closing opportunities, facilitating, and helping customers. That’s the long, short, and tall of it. Basically, functioning as a guide, as a strategic guide. Somebody who is in service of the delivery team and also in service of the sales team, as well.

For what brought me here after 20 years in consulting, I was very entrepreneurial by nature. So, at a very young age when I was very young and naive, I started a company called Ethics and New Technology. I firmly believed I could bring principal ethics to business, and we can see that now today in the green economy. I like to say I was maybe just a couple decades too early with my thoughts and that’s all good.

Eventually, I moved into a consulting role and found that in order to stay abreast with current technologies and with where future technologies are going, IT consulting is basically it. It’s one of the toughest gigs going, and if you’re going to excel there, you can basically excel anywhere in IT. It became a passion, so to speak. I’ve worked as a web designer, a web developer, and moved into the back-end role. I started dealing with the wonderful things that are the database administrator (DBA) role, a role that is highly disregarded but is a fantastic role.

Then through my experience with full stack development, it was an easy transition into a Solution Architect role. I played the Solution Architect (SA) role for the better part of a decade. It’s arguably one of the most challenging roles there is, especially from a consulting perspective when you’re functioning as an SA, with multiple customers, multiple technology streams, etc. I really embraced and enjoyed that role tremendously.

I would like to eventually be a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), so the career path for me is basically, how can I facilitate and enable our organization as well as the ones that we work with in order to embrace the art of the possible? I feel that that role can help enable and facilitate that. So sometimes I like to say I’m a CTO for hire. When somebody says, hey, what does an Enterprise Architect do? And I just basically say, I’m a CTO for hire: ask me a few questions and then I’ll go away! I’ll provide you some vision and strategy and then ideally, we get to execute and implement those for you.

Andrea: Amazing. So quite a journey you’ve had.

Julian: Yes, I’ve been blessed and very fortunate with the teams that I’ve worked with, organizations that I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with, and some of the mentors that have come through my career. I’ve worked with Fortune 100 and Fortune 500, and I’ve also worked with SMB’s and with not-for-profit organizations. I’ve really had a broad exposure to a number of business verticals just because that’s what consulting is and that’s been really beneficial. There’s been people along the way that have had tremendous impact and influence on my career as time has progressed. There are too many to mention and shout out the people that have helped and have guided me to this point because everything in my life has led to this point.

I never thought I would be here. When you get into tech, there’s so many challenges. Especially when you’re first starting out. Then even as you progress and come to understand that you will not know everything and that it is truly impossible to know everything. That was something I struggled with in the early days of my career. You kind of get imposter syndrome and get concerned about what you don’t know versus what you do know, and then you kind of get to a place where you realize it’s OK to not know everything and that you can engage with your team. You can reach out with the wonderful capabilities of modern technology today. You can reach out to basically anybody in the world and if you’ve got a problem you’ve never encountered, there’s a high probability that somebody else has and you can reach out. Everybody wants to help everybody, especially in tech. We’re somewhat guarded with our solutions, but as time progresses, I’d like to believe that we can continue to stand on the shoulders of giants. That’s really all I do; I stand on the shoulders of giants. There’s a high probability somebody else has already solved that problem. I just need to tap into that, get an understanding of it, and then adapt and make it something that works for our customers.

Andrea: You mentioned how you’ve relied on mentors that you’ve had throughout your career. You also look to other organizations or people who’ve paved the path. What are some other ways that you stay abreast of the ongoing changes in technology?

Julian: Great question. So, I’m what’s referred to as a dirty lurker these days. (ha ha!) I used to be extremely proactive on social media. I’ve kind of dialed that back over the course of the last little while. That’s just for personal reasons. I use Reddit, LinkedIn, and I use my contact sources like I mentioned previously—the ability to just reach out to somebody who’s an expert in their area and in their field. It’s at your fingertips. So, I read a lot of whitepapers and I leverage a lot of the Microsoft resources that are available to us through our partnership. I leverage a lot of the Nintex resources that are available through our partnership, as well, because these are fantastic people that have likely spent hundreds of hours researching a specific topic. With the wonders of modern technology, I can watch a 30- to 60-minute video and absorb hundreds of hours of knowledge and technical acumen in a fraction of the time.

So those are some of the assets that I like to use. I’m a big believer in the Gartner principles, as well. I’m a pretty boring guy at night; I just sit with my iPad and read a lot.

Andrea: I get a sense that for you, it’s a lot about working smarter and not harder. Finding condensed, soundbite information you need so you can just take advantage of it.

Julian: Yeah, that’s exactly it. Google-fu is an example. I remember the days when Yahoo was the search engine of choice, as an example. I’m showing my age, but that’s fine.

Andrea: I remember too, don’t worry. (ha ha!)

Julian: It’s about being able to leverage terms and the capabilities that modern technology brings in order for you to find that golden nugget. It’s really there for everybody now. If you’ve encountered somebody who’s an expert in a particular area, well, there’s a high probability that they will continue to put out forward-thinking articles and technologies, those sorts of things. So, I consider my LinkedIn network to be a fantastic way to be able to facilitate that.

Then you have the broader spectrum of what’s available on the Internet. Like I mentioned, I’m a bit of a dirty lurker when it comes to social media, but I will give a tremendous amount of credit to the open-source communities that are out there. A fantastic lesson I learned a few years back was to stop being a dirty lurker. You just solved a problem for somebody. It’s your duty to give that back and to contribute it back.

As an example, we were working on something and we leveraged some open-source tech in order to be able to solve that problem. There were a couple bugs in that thing. One of the co-developers at the time was just kind of like, “Hey, we fixed these things, we have to give it back.” There was a small epiphany that occurred. You can’t just harvest, you have to contribute, and you also have to facilitate the tilling of the land, so to speak.

Andrea: Well, that’s a good digital citizenship lesson right there.

Julian: Exactly, yeah. (ha ha!)

Andrea: Let’s take it way back. What initially sparked your interest in technology? Is this something you were always into as a kid, or when did this start for you?

Julian: People tease me because it’s like I came out of my mom with a mouse and a keyboard attached. It’s just something I’ve always been drawn to as a kid. I still remember my very first computer, which was an Acorn Electron. In order to run games on an Acorn Electron, you actually have to type it in basic, and then you would compile that to a cassette, press play on the cassette, and then you could play these games. I was seven or eight years old at that point.

Then it was just kind of a progression of things. I was just always genuinely intrigued by how something worked and what this thing was. Technology’s always been a passion. It’s something that’s just been constant. No matter what I’ve been going through in my personal life, it’s a way to connect with people. Like the whole idea of distributed networking and all those things, I’ve gone through that. So, to see this progression of tech is something I’ve always been involved in, and I love it.

How I ended up here was just, you know, everything happens for a reason. Every dark cloud has a silver lining, so to speak. I wanted to be a footballer. I wanted to be a professional footballer, that was all I wanted to do. There was a plan B because like some of my coaches said, “Hey, you are really good but you should always have a plan B.” I played at a pretty high level, but life happens and that’s OK. So fortunately for me, I was smart enough to have a plan B and have been on that road, that journey for over 20 years now.

Something I learned is if you can do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. So that’s basically the philosophy that has helped move me through various transitions in this career journey so far. I genuinely love what I do. As corny as it sounds, being able to help people is really what it comes down to. I’ve solved that problem before, and I can probably help you or be in service of other organizations that are looking for help, as well.

Andrea: I’m curious to hear about your experience at Elantis and what really lights your fire to come into the office every day. You mentioned passion for helping people. Is there anything else that has really contributed to your experience here?

Julian: I’ve been a long-time proponent of our CEO, Dave Roe. I’ve known Dave for a long time. We’ve kind of always been philosophically aligned. We knew each other from a previous organization. Like I mentioned, we’ve just kind of aligned with our thoughts, what we think things are or should be. Then the timing was just right and for me, growing something is arguably one of the most wonderful experiences you can have. Whatever that is, right? Whatever that growth is, whether that’s growing an individual, growing the organization, seeing something come to bloom, and being a contributor to that is really something to be proud of—it’s something I enjoy. They say the second time you do something, you should double what your results are. I am very excited to repeat something in an even better way, if that makes any sense.

When I was presented with the opportunity to be able to do that, I sat down with my wife and family and said, “It could be a little demanding here in the next little while. Are you guys up for a challenge with me?” And they were. I came in and it’s been a fantastic experience from day one because I knew where we were and where we wanted to get to. Seeing us achieve so much over the course of that time has really solidified what I thought it would be. It never ends up being quite what you think it will be, but it’s pretty close. It’s been a fantastic journey thus far.

The attraction was that Nintex has been a big part of my life and Elantis is a Nintex partner. Nintex is one of the first—I call them the OG of user centric design principles—knowing where and what that art of the possible was. From an organizational standpoint for Elantis but also for the direction that tech is taking, we are positioning ourselves in a way that we can take advantage of where the market’s going and positioning ourselves to be able to help people. Even if you’re only one or two steps ahead of what an organization is looking to achieve, you have to turn around and shine the light to make sure they can see where they’re going, as well. That shared philosophy was what attracted me, as well as our core values. Doing the right thing is typically the hardest thing, but that doesn’t stop it from being the right thing. Elantis has stayed true to that.

Since coming to Elantis, I’ve had the wiggle room and the trust to fail. Knowing that I’ll pick myself back up and fail again, and pick myself back up and fail again until we really succeed. It’s been great to have the trust from the leadership team to be able to do those sorts of things, especially when you’re first starting out again and everything is new. That was really refreshing.

Andrea: I think that’s great advice for anyone who’s just starting out, too—to always be able to brush yourself off and just get back in the game.

Julian: Yeah, it’s so true, especially in tech. You’re going to get knocked over. There are going to be individuals that know things that you don’t. There are going to be times when you make a recommendation and you learn some new things. It’s about the “people” part of our principles: people, process, and technology (PPT). It’s really about people at the end of the day, that’s it. Being able to function as a trusted advisor, whether that’s for coworkers, peers, leaders, other organizations—that’s established by being a human being. That’s established by knowing you’re not perfect but striving to be. To use another classic corny line, there’s a reason why Persian rugs intentionally have a mistake in every rug. There’s only one entity, being, or whatever that is truly perfect. Everybody else is basically a reflection of that perfection, but are imperfect. In order to allow negative energy to escape, there has to be an imperfection. We’re all human beings, we’re all people. That’s the most important principle, irrespective of all the other things.

Andrea: Well, I think that’s a great note to end on. Some sound wisdom from you, Julian. Thank you for your time today and for sharing your experiences, your insights along your career journey, and what’s next for you.

Julian: My pleasure.

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