How I Got Here: Colin Hendricks Chief Technical Officer Rome Corp.

By ELIZABETH GARONE
Special to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

For many executives, "arriving" involves years of planning and calculated moves. But not for Colin Hendricks. He embraced the "change your mind" approach from the very beginning and says he has "stuck" to it ever since. "There was no plan," Mr. Hendricks says. "Having one would have taken all of the surprise out of my life." That unconventional approach has taken him from an early start in mechanical engineering to a Master's degree in journalism and finally to his current position as Chief Technical Officer of Rome Corporation, a Houston-based financial software company. Elizabeth Garone spoke to Mr. Hendricks about the twist and turns in his career. Edited excerpts follow.

[How I Got Here]

Full name: Colin A. Hendricks
Age: 36
Hometown: Houston
Current position: Chief Technical Officer, Rome Corporation
First job: Mechanical Engineer at Stewart and Stevenson Services
Favorite job: The one I'm doing when you ask me
Education: B.S. in mechanical engineering, Rice University; M.S. in journalism, Columbia University
Years in the industry: 15
How I got here in 10 words or less: Broad educational foundation; always took the job that seemed most fun.

Q: As Chief Technical Officer, what are your responsibilities?

A: I set the technical direction for our software company and lead our software development team.

Q: How did you go from mechanical engineering as an undergrad to journalism as a grad student and then make the leap to financial software?

HOW YOU CAN GET THERE, TOO
 
[How I Got Here]
Best Advice: Get a broadly useful technical education having something to do with building software, says Mr. Hendricks. "Learn to write and understand code. At the same time, don't give up on learning to communicate with human beings," he says. Mr. Hendricks also advises continuously improving on both skillsets. "Enthusiastically deploy them both in tackling whatever problems are before you," he offers.
Skills you need: A detailed understanding of the basics of how software works and how it is created is key, says Mr. Hendricks. You also need "an ability and desire to interact with people, not just computers."
Degrees you should go for: Any engineering degree (electrical, mechanical, etc.); You could also pursue computer science or applied math, "but only if you recognize that, in real life, you probably won't be working on compilers and arguing about time and space complexity," says Mr. Hendricks. A Master in Information Systems can be helpful, "but only if you're careful not to avoid writing actual code," he says.
Professional organizations to contact: Mr. Hendricks recommends getting involved in open source software projects as a way to make contacts and gain experience.
Salary range: About $150,000 to $300,000, depending on experience and location.

A: I chose to study engineering because I like building things, but I've always had an interest in great stories as well. I pursued journalism in the hopes of combining the two and writing about how things came to be. At the time, I really did consider going and working in journalism as a career. I finally ended up in software because I found that I like doing the building myself rather than writing about others' achievements.

Q: In five years at the Rome Corporation, you have gone from writing code to software architect to Chief Technical Officer. To what do you attribute your success?

A: Luck and perseverance. I was lucky enough to have people around me at all levels of the company who are smart, capable, and willing to help each other. I then helped that luck along by working hard at whatever task was before me regardless of its level of difficulty or glamour.

Q: You mentioned that you never really had a career plan yet you seem to be exactly where you want to be. How did that happen and what's next?

A: Flexibility, optimism, and very little reluctance to change the definition of "where you want to be." I'm sticking to my plan of not having a plan.

Write to Elizabeth Garone at cjeditor@dowjones.com

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