What is it like to work in the finance department of tech companies? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
I sit on the board of a healthcare information technology company, and have found it to be an unusual nexus of talent that pulls in three directions: healthcare, technology and finance. The team is unusually bright and talented, but depending upon each individual's role, potentially motivated by different objectives.
Former hospital department administrators and supervisors now employed in product development and / or business development roles view the product as a tool to track patients and manage workflow. Meanwhile the software development team may be interested in transitioning to a new platform or developing new features that will pay dividends in the future, but are less critical today. The challenge is making sure these groups communicate. Cool technology is of little value if user input doesn't guide direction. And then there's the quest for profit. In a board meeting it can at times feel like three different languages are required to solve for sustainable and profitable growth.
A great description of this dynamic can be found in former Pixar CFO Lawrence Levy's book:
It is perhaps easy to look at Pixar's film accomplishments and imagine that they emerged in a blaze of creative glory, that Pixar was created as a storytelling, artistic utopia. This wasn't my experience of it. The making of Pixar was more akin to the high-pressure grinding of tectonic plates pushing up new mountains. One of those plates carried the intense pressures of innovation: the drive for artistic and creative excellence in storytelling and the invention of a new medium, computer animation, through which to express it. The other of those plates carried the real-world pressures of survival: raising money, selling movie tickets, increasing the pace of production. These two forces ground ceaselessly against each other, causing many quakes and aftershocks.
The takeaway is that communication is paramount, and the culture needs to be embraced by everyone involved. Respect and patience are required when you have to explain simply what you require from an equally intelligent colleague that operates in a different sphere of expertise. The group I have the privilege of working with excels in this capacity.
As an anecdote, early on when we were making new hires, a suggestion was made to the software development team that they start spending more time at hospitals observing how the product is used. In this process, one of the developers noticed that every time a new patient arrived a nurse would take a photo of the patient with a digital camera, connect to a computer, print the image and then scan it into the system. After seeing this take place a few times, the developer approached the nurse and asked if she would like a feature that would permit taking the photo with a tablet directly in the application. The simplest modification made all the difference in the nurse's day-to-day activities.
The nurse did not know that it was an option to make such a request, and the development team would have never realized what a burden it was without taking the time to quietly observe how the product is used. It's not always the complex solutions that make a difference.
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