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In our series “Jump-start Your Job Search,” BU Today brings you short interviews with BU alums who are leaders in their field, such as banking, advertising, tech start-ups, journalism, or nonprofit organizations.

They talk about how they got to be where they are, mistakes they’ve made, and what they’ve taken away from those mistakes. They tell us what they look for when hiring and offer advice for those just embarking on a career.

This week, our featured alum is Ray Velez (CAS’92), global chief technology officer at digital agency Razorfish, a hydra-headed provider of web development, advertising, and other technology and marketing services. Velez was first hooked by technology at age 10, when he wrote his first computer program on an Atari 800 and attended a summer computer camp. Family fueled his passion, he says: “My dad was a truck and auto mechanic; watching him take apart and repair things was a big inspiration.”

An avid bicyclist and skier, Velez’s clients have included Citibank, Ford, and the National Football League. Before Razorfish, he worked at Cambridge Technology Partners and Scient.

  1. BU Today: Your company is both a marketing and a technology firm. What’s important to consider when contemplating a career in those fields or a hybrid of the two?

    Velez: I started out in software. I joined a company called Cambridge Technology Partners two weeks after graduation, basically walking across the BU Bridge to Vassar Street in Cambridge. Back then, before the browser, we were building what was called client server software programs for large enterprises. After the browser came out, we needed a stronger emphasis on multidisciplinary approaches: bringing user-centered design and creativity to building software. That’s when I joined the dot-com-consulting Scient, which eventually got rolled into what is today Razorfish. We are building technology-enabled experiences for our customers. One of the important considerations moving into this space is that things are always changing—technologies, people’s behaviors, etc. A short time ago, people still watched more on television than on their mobile phone, but just last fall, mobile phones finally overtook the big screen. Change is a big constant in what we do with software.

  2. What qualities do you look for in the people you hire?

    Number one is folks who are comfortable with change and dealing with a fast-paced approach to testing and learning. Are folks comfortable using data for better decisions? Can they use data to help drive tough debates? With the technology folks we hire, we are looking for strong computer science backgrounds, but also a strong interest in what’s next. Our clients come to us to show leadership on forward-facing technology choices. That’s what I love about software and technology. It’s always driving improvements through smart, data-driven changes.

  3. What kinds of questions do you ask during an interview?

    Tell us how you solved a tough technology architecture decision in a previous role. Tell us what excites you about where your field of expertise is headed. Having an outlook of always wanting to do something more efficiently, faster, and at higher quality is a key perspective we look for in our candidates.

  4. What mistakes have you made during your career, and what lessons have you learned from them?

    Focusing on the wrong things. It’s always a guess what to focus on, but it’s all too easy to say yes to too many things. Yet it’s also been the thing I’ve fallen back on the most. Being open to new approaches, new ideas, and recognizing when something isn’t working. Half the challenge to change with large organizations and industries like software is admitting things can be done better.

  5. What advice would you give for the first day on the job? For the first six months?

    Dig in right away. Making an early impact is always the highest priority. Target 90 days, not 6 months. The early wins will help the rest of the company understand what you can bring to the company. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get stuck in something that doesn’t help leverage your strengths.

  6. Who has had the greatest influence on your career? Why?

    Ray Kurzweil, author and futurist, has been a big influence on my perspective. He showed us, through painstaking research, that we are at a time of exponential, not linear, change. That’s hard for us to grasp, but it means our decisions have to be much more data-driven, leveraging concepts like machine learning to help show us the patterns and trajectories. Another great influence on my career has been Bob Lord, coauthor of the book we wrote together, Converge: Transforming Business at the Intersection of Marketing and Technology (Wiley, 2013). He helped me tune that optimism into focus and drive successful goals, while balancing the important things in life.

  7. When you went to BU, did you have an idea what you wanted to do for a career?

    Well, I started off thinking physics was the way to go, but it seemed like that meant a career in academia. An exciting prospect, but I was not sure it was the right fit. I ended up double-majoring in computer science and philosophy, which was, and continues to be, a perfect fit for my passions. My family always told me that I was the only 10-year-old who could hold philosophical conversations. Even today, to me the intersection of philosophy and computer-driven artificial intelligence is one of the most exciting advancements. The two majors naturally led to a career in software development and consulting. I can honestly say that I didn’t know I would end up in software, but am really fortunate and grateful that I did.

Are you an alum who would like to be interviewed for BU Today’s “Jump-start Your Job Search” series? Email John O’Rourke at orourkej@bu.edu.

Read other stories in our “Jump-start Your Job Search” series here.


One Comment on Jump-start Your Job Search: Razorfish’s Global Chief Technology Officer

  • ID on 01.27.2016 at 2:45 pm

    Loved this interview. Thanks!

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