My answer to the best interview question ever

Keith TownsendI’ve become a pretty big fan of LinkedIn over the years and the other day I saw a post that gave me a little pause. It was click bait to be sure – The Best Interview Question

The question stated basically what is the most significant contribution or project I delivered in my career. If you are pretty young in your career this isn’t too difficult of a question to answer. But my tech career has some gray hairs growing on it. I started off in tech back in the late 90’s and have been involved in some pretty cool projects and worked for some major corporations. I’ve led data center migrations, nationwide desktop deployments, managed projects that were on the verge of cancellation to success. Heck, I was part of the whole Y2K thing which was no walk in the park.

But, with all the projects I have led or I’ve been a part of the one I’m most proud is a project from last year. While at Lockheed Martin we had a contract to provide real-time video to all of the desktops within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Our customer had some extremely high expectations. They basically expected a TV quality experience for each of the 12,000 desktops within the Agency. If you’ve ever watched Netflix or Youtube you adjust your expectations according to that medium. This wasn’t our customer’s expectations. To compound the issue they had legacy cable plants, interesting IT organizational challenges, and ran an ATM network. If you are not technical that translates to someone telling you that they want a modern cable TV experience with a 10 year old TV.

To this point we had been failing in our mission to meet our customer’s expectations. To compound the issue, the HUD Secretary would deliver these quarterly Town Halls that would be viewed by most of the Agency. To say that they were high profile would be an understatement. The 12,000 desktops were spread across 85 sites with connections ranging from DS3’s to T1’s.  The technologies involved included a broadcast studio, High Definition video conferencing and the traditional PC infrastructure.  Our failure to meet expectations led to the customer warning to cancel the contract. This has huge implications from a corporate perspective. The money in the scheme of things wasn’t much. However, the two pressures I had were – real people would lose their jobs and the corporation would have to make mention of the canceled contract on every Federal bid for the next few years. Let me tell you, you don’t want to be “that guy” in a corporation that’s the largest provider of IT services to the US government.

As the program’s Architect, I drew the short stick as both the project manager and technical lead for remediation. We got a lot of “help” from the mother ship on this project. Managing the redesign and remediation of this fixed fee service was one of the most stressful and gratifying experiences of my career. At the end of the day, I believe my team became the foremost experts in streaming video within an enterprise. Jobs were saved, the customer was happy and help stopped coming from the mother ship.  It hasn’t been long enough that I’m nostalgic.  It was one of the more difficult projects of my career.  (Well there was the DLP roll out at the same Agency)

Looking back there’s some great opportunity for self reflection (something I learned to do from DePaul).  It re-enforced that while I love technology, I only care about it enough to get the job done and meet the requirements of the customer.  You can tell by most of my posts that I’m a little all over the place with the topics I write about.  I’m not an expert in any single technology.  My tech skills are very broad and knee deep as I like to call it.  I enjoy the challenges of fixing complex business issues with all kinds of technology.  That’s why I took the job I have now as management consultant.  It requires a good mix of the two worlds of IT and management.

Now if I was asked this question, I’d ask the interviewer the question how would this position fulfill my desire to solve complex problems using technology and do I get the job 🙂

Published by Keith Townsend

Now I'm @CTOAdvisor

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