The period from late 2006 to 2008 was a technology watershed

Channel post speaks with Miriam Burt, Managing Vice President – Retail, Gartner CIO Group on her leadership style and the direction in which technology is advancing.

Miriam Burt, Research Vice President, Gartner

Tell us about your leadership style and philosophy.

My philosophical approach to leading is one of being of service to the team. I believe that I am there to enable each member of the team to work to the best of their ability to do what they are passionate about. I work to build and maintain trusted relationships with each member of the team and encourage a culture of collaboration and openness so that the team works well as an integrated unit. I try to encourage an atmosphere of learning and exchange of ideas and not to worry too much about failure as that is part of the learning process.

What made you choose IT as a career opportunity?

I love the logic of coding and did some study in the field of computer science. Then I had a great opportunity to study a combination of computing and business which made me passionate about how IT could be used to make a difference in people’s live – for example, to make lives easier, simpler, better, safer.

How has your unique background prepared you for success in the industry?

I don’t believe my background was particularly unique, but more a set of circumstances that worked in my favor for success in the industry.  Where I am today is because of parents who encouraged a love of learning, two strong women managers in my early career as well as, very significantly, my husband who was very supportive during my period of learning at university – after we had our three children – and has whole heartedly backed my career choices.

What was your most interesting job?

My current role as a Gartner analyst is the most interesting job I’ve done. It combines all the elements I love doing– learning through research, making complex things more easily understandable, and, most importantly, working with clients to help them think about how IT could be used to help them solve their customers’ problems. Having the opportunity to mentor a team is an added bonus.

What advice would you give to women looking to break into the field of computer technology?

Having a passion for technology is half the battle. The rest includes the ability to learn quickly, to be able to translate ‘techie speak’ into easily digestible bits of information, to be able to communicate well as well as have a mindset and ability to share, to collaborate and work well with others. Keeping an open mind is also important as well as being able to recognize that technology, by itself, cannot do everything!

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career and what are your thoughts on the next transformation in the tech industry?

The sheer speed at which technology and science has advanced in the last 10 years when compared to the past, say, 200 years is astounding.  I believe that the 18 months from late 2006 to 2008 was a technology watershed.  This happened despite the global financial crisis going on at that time. It was during this period that we saw the emergence of companies and innovations that have been dramatically reshaping the technology landscape.

Advancements were many and included the following high profile ones –  the opening up of Facebook to a world wider than student campuses in late September 2006,  launch of the iPhone, emergence of cloud computing into mainstream consciousness, introduction of open source platform for collaborative software writing called GitHub, increased storage capacity from Hadoop, launch of Twitter, start of, Google’s Android OS, Intel’s introduction of non-silicon materials into silicon chip making, emergence of IBM’s Watson, birth of Airbnb, Qualcomm’s 3G technology enabling Amazon’s Kindle, and beginning of the ‘clean power’ revolution with the exponential rise, for example, in solar energy and biofuels. That is a list of quite stunning developments in the past ten years. By contrast, longbow technology took centuries before it saw regular military action in the 13th century!

Not only have we moved to higher speeds of technological and scientific progress, the rate of change of speed has also accelerated so that we are reaching higher speeds of development, but quicker.  Put this disruptive change alongside the impact of globalization and climate change and we have a world which is unpredictable, disorienting, destabilizing and has resulted, in the words of Craig Mundie (a supercomputer designer and former chief of strategy and research at Microsoft), in ‘dislocation’. This means that the ability of people to adapt to such change is outpaced by the velocity and nature of the change itself.

In the near-to-immediate term, we are going to use major technology trends such as cloud, mobile, social, Big Data, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, and Blockchain to dramatically change the way in which we live our lives. The physical and digital dimensions of society are going to increasingly become intertwined or “meshed” together. We are, therefore, going to need a new digital technology driven ‘infrastructure for living’ to support new ways of interacting, learning, working, conducting business, managing and legislating for the future of living.

Are you involved in any sort of volunteer work? Can you give us some details?

I am involved in a small way in supporting the efforts of the work of the Missions to Seafarers, which is a charity that has been operating in the UAE for well over 50 years. They are a global charity and our local branch operates in countries in the Gulf, in India, and in Sri Lanka. The team that works for this charity is dedicated to improving the welfare of seafarers as well as supporting their families. These seafarers often work in harsh conditions at sea and are isolated from their families for long periods of time.

I help with the mission’s fundraising efforts to support their work in providing relief to the seafarers when they find themselves in situations where they are abandoned by the owners of the ships, are at the mercy of unscrupulous agents, or have not been paid for weeks or months.

What’s next for you in terms of your career in the tech industry?

I enjoy what I am doing today and want to focus on building a great team. As part of my work, I want to learn more about how technology can help to solve some of our world’s most pressing challenges including the widening inequality gap, poverty, hunger, inability of many people in the world to have basic necessities of living such as clean water, good sanitation as well as access to basic medical services. In particular, I am especially interested in how technology can be used to improve access to high quality education for all, and particularly for our young people.