I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean William Jones, a Senior Architect with thyssenkrupp. For a little over a decade, Sean has proven himself to be one of IT’s “Rising Stars” applying his skillsets across a number of different industries for some very large global organizations like thyssenkrupp, General Motors, Sony Electronics, Bank of America, and both Federal and State Governments. Sean has not only been recognized and awarded within the organizations he’s been a part of on various occasions, but Sean also has been recognized for his creativity outside of the workplace, having his short film debut at the Black Film Festival in Miami.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I grew up a child of the 80’s in the city of Dorchester which is in Boston, Massachusetts. I was a pretty sick kid with an extensive health record at Children’s Hospital in Boston, and I spent a majority of my childhood either hospitalized or at home for school and care. I remember the hospital in those days would have this “game cart” that they would bring around to all the patients and it was here where I found my inner gamer and intrigued with problem-solving specifically. Solving complex problems would eventually lead me Technology and pursuing my BS in Computer Information Systems from one of the greatest HBCU’s in the nation, Clark Atlanta University. Before graduating CAU, I was presented a unique opportunity to attend Sony Electronics’ annual business conference. There were individuals who had been with the company forever who had never been invited so I jumped at the opportunity and I am very glad I did. That conference led to me accepting a role with Sony and being relocated to their headquarters in San Diego, CA. Being a part of such an Innovative company really jump started my career in Information Technology and led me to roles across many different industries from Manufacturing, to the Automotive Industry, to even working with the Government.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Outside of work I’m actually wrapping up on a few scripts for films I will be shooting soon. One of which is called “Perp” which is drama set in the 90’s about a group of college con artists who attempt to make their biggest score yet. Another film I am working on, “Beautiful Lonely Creatures”, is a film centered on these 7 attractive characters, all of which have a different mental health issue or social disorder and the various ways it affects their ability to create and sustain meaningful relationships. I think there are a lot of topics we tend not to talk about like mental health and I am hoping to spark dialogue and awareness with the things I create.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Live your buzz words! If “Innovation” is truly an initiative of your organization, understand that innovative ideas are likely to come from the bottom upward, not top down.
Continue to foster a collaborative workforce and you will undoubtedly unlock the power of your employees. Always make sure you have the latest and greatest collaborative tools and platforms.
Embrace your IT Employees ability to truly work anywhere at anytime and they will exceed your flexibility ten fold!
“Hack-a-thons” are great ways to exercise other parts of your IT Employee’s brains. There are many other ways to spark creativity. Buy an office 3D printer, Host a “Drone Day”, or even have your own annual “Bring your Cos to work” cosplay day.
There is but so far that cross training and cookie-cutter internal learning and development sites can go. If you want the best out of your employees, train them with the best. Remember everyone learns different.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
There are so many people who have helped me to this point in my life… my family, mentors, friends. However, my greatest supporter would have to be my beautiful wife. Even now with 3 children and one on the way she manages to work full-time and is finishing her Masters Degree at Emory. I don’t know how she does it and honestly, I don’t believe I would be where I am today without her as an example of many things for me and our children. Having the type of inspiration by your side everyday makes you believe that anything is truly possible.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
At an early age my mother instilled the idea of “giving back”. In my adolescence I gave back in the form of youth outreach with a local group in Massachusetts called “The Junior Leaders.” This group’s focus was volunteering and touring the state discussing topics with kids related to the prevention of Teen Pregnancy, STD/AIDS, Drugs, and Smoking. In my college years, I was fortunate to join a service organization of brothers who’s main focus is to impact the world in a positive way through giving back to our communities. Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. has been an integral part in bringing goodness to the world. My next initiative is to start a non profit called “LIT!” (Leaders in IT) which will work with large organizations to provide IT/STEM focused funding, equipment, and mentoring to children in at risk communities around the country to start and then the world.
Can you share the top five lessons that you have learned from your experience as a “Black Man In Tech”.
1. More is Less: The more work and initiatives you make upfront will ultimately become less work for you in the long run. This is specifically related to due diligence up front with IT related projects. I’ve learned the more “heavy lifting” and really engaging a project before it may even kickoff (where applicable) the less headaches you will have down the line because you get yourself ahead of the curve and can even anticipate future project risks.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions and thoughtfully challenge your leadership: There have been too many situations than I can count where my leadership be it a manager, director, or even the CTO wanted to do something from an IT perspective that from my professional experience was not best practice or could potentially create problems down the line. When these situations arise, I look at them as opportunities to open dialogue up truly look out for the best interest of the organization I work for. Some people see these opportunities as potentially “career suicide” however the company that hired you and pays you a salary does so because they want your skills and knowledge. The right leadership not only welcomes challenge but rewards it. With all things, pick your battles wisely.
3. Get Up! No seriously, take several planned walks around your office (or your neighborhood if you work from home) during your work day. Sitting all day and staring at your screen is probably one of the worst things you can do in our industry. Many organizations have health focused programs for employees and if yours does not, you should create your own with your colleagues!
4. Being a Jack of all trades doesn’t mean you need to master them all. Sometimes it’s not about what you know but who you know. Collaborating with your team and truly engaging others will give you insight on who to go to when you may not have all the cards you need in your deck. Also understanding that this will likely become a two street and you may become someone’s “goto”.
5. Mentor often, and don’t just mentor within your own company. I have been fortunate to have many different types of mentors in my life. I’ve seen what the right type of “blueprints” can do for people. It is extremely important to mentor not only other employees within your organization but also reach out to your communities and mentor youth (especially). You can even mentor people at other organizations. Everyone has some type of “lessons learned”. You not only can share your experiences, but you may even learn something yourself in the process.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
I have a few :
Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. — Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward. — Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
If you have no critics you’ll likely have no success. — El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. — Buddha
Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try — Yoda
Never write down your dreams in ink or any other medium. These things can be stolen. Instead write your dreams down in your blood, sweat and tears… Nobody can take that away from you. — Sean William Jones
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
Oh wow, just one person!? Ok then Satya Nadella the CEO of Microsoft. It would be amazing to sit down with Satya and pick his brain on a number of things related to Microsoft. Microsoft technology and collaboration platforms have been a part of my daily life for as long as I can remember and it would be incredible to learn more about where Microsoft is headed.