Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Dr. Joe Perez, Senior Systems Analyst of NC Dept of Health & Human Services, located in Raleigh, NC, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Although I'm a senior systems analyst by trade, I was an educator for ten years before I got into my current information technology career. So it should not come as a surprise that, on the side, I'm an international keynote speaker. So while I really enjoy my IT/data analytics job, in which I get to liaise between high-level business partners on one side and high-level technology partners on the other for transformational solutions, as well as spearhead some pretty exciting business intelligence initiatives, I can't help but marvel at how all that ties into the dozens of speaking opportunities that come my way each year. The same thing holds true for my fractional role as Chief Technology Officer for a startup cybersecurity firm. This has only enhanced my standing as a thought leader in the larger technology conference community. My background as an educator feeds my passion for speaking about data storytelling, driving decisions with data, bringing data to life, fostering integrity in leadership, strengthening professional development strategies, facilitating innovation, and more. And whether I'm delivering a keynote to a room full of developers, a bunch of data scientists, members of the C-suite, a group of educators, IT managers, software end-users, or anybody else in between, I'm going to approach these "customers" as ordinary people with ordinary needs whom I intend to serve in extraordinary ways. Because I view each opportunity with an educator's heart through the lens of an educator's eyes, seeking not only to communicate knowledge but also to ignite my passion FOR that knowledge within their hearts and minds. For you see, no matter who these customers are, I'm going to give them my individual, personalized, specialized attention to ensure that when I'm done, they will be better off than they were before I walked onto that stage, or into that classroom, or wherever we meet.
Tell us about yourself
As I said earlier, I was an educator before I got into my current technology career, and that "educator's heart" that I mentioned will influence, inform, and pretty much dictate what I do and how I approach each situation. But to understand this, we need to go back to the beginning. Even before I started my professional career as an educator, I was always interested in communicating knowledge. I've had a passion for doing so and still do. Part of that communication and education included an understanding of the educational process, which entails knowing your material (the subject you're teaching) and, more importantly, knowing your audience (the student WHOM you're teaching). Part of that includes knowing how to make connections with multiple senses of your audience, with a major part of that being doing so visually compellingly.
That translates REALLY nicely into technology and data. It started off as a side gig during the last six years of my teaching career. It was actually in the form of my taking on increasingly responsible IT-related jobs during the summer months to supplement my teaching income from the school year. My minor for my master's degree was actually in computers, so each summer, I got better & better at what I was doing. That spilled over into my running the computer lab at the school during my last year. And then, when a computer analyst job at a local university presented itself, it was the perfect marriage of tech and education, so the summer jobs turned into a full-time second career. As I rose through the ranks at the university, from analyst-programmer to computer training manager to business intelligence specialist, all the while leveraging my communication & instructional design skills by getting to put together all the training programs for my department and speak at university workshops & conferences about the reporting solutions we designed.
This also ignited a passion for data reporting since it touches all those hot buttons I mentioned. So that passion for learning, for communication, for ensuring the people to whom I'm communicating "get" what I'm telling them THAT is the motivation that drives me to put 120% of myself into every speaking opportunity with which God blesses me. It's my driving force, my burning passion, my HUGE desire to see the lights come on in the eyes of my audience. To be honest, I'm not satisfied with merely expressing my passion to my audience. I won't quit until I have IGNITED my passion WITHIN my audience. This is something that will make their day a little brighter.
That drive for excellence was ingrained into my way of thinking ever since I was a kid. My parents were honest, hard-working people who taught me the value of a work ethic (that is, you give it your very best and do it with integrity, excellence, and passion). My wife's parents brought her up the same way, and we've both passed that on to our children, who have grown up to be fine, upstanding young men of honor and integrity. Seeing them have that same drive and desire to give their best is another HUGE source of motivation for me to stay on the right track.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
There's no single accomplishment that stands out, but from an educational standpoint, I had a goal of completing my doctoral degree before I turned 30. By the grace of God, I was turning my tassel six months before my 30th birthday and about two or three months before my oldest son was born. It took a little more than eight years of some pretty intense hard work to finish both of my graduate degrees, but I'm grateful for achieving that goal.
From a professional standpoint, you've already heard about my passion for teaching. Part of that passion is an overwhelming desire to share knowledge with others. A couple of topics that really light my fire are about using actionable data the right way to bring your ideas to reality, seeing the urgency of adopting an innovative mindset & refusing to be satisfied with the status quo, and finally, rethinking the way you go about the training & retention of your staff. As I said before, more than anything, I want to ignite that same passion within the minds of my audience. To that end, over the last few years, I am still amazed at the way speaking opportunities have literally been dropping into my lap, as I'm now speaking at dozens of conferences every year at venues across the globe, impacting thousands. By the end of 2022, I will have spoken at conferences hosted by cities in about 24 countries on every inhabited continent on earth! The fact that I'm NOT a famous person at all makes me feel exhilarated, amazed, surprised, humbled, and bewildered -- all at the same time! It's all by the grace of God.
Lastly, from a personal standpoint, I'm sure you have picked up on the immensely high value I place on family. Nothing in this life can make me prouder than I am whenever I look at my wife and the two boys God has given us. From literally cutting their umbilical cords to hugging them when they graduated from college, it has been a wild ride. We've had some rough spots, ups & downs, the good, the bad, and the ugly! But through it all, I have a better wife than I deserve. Nobody on this earth could ask for a finer, stronger, better pair of boys who have grown up to be exceptional, hard-working, fun-loving, godly young men! I've been blessed beyond measure.
So to sum it all up, although these things could be considered "accomplishments" in the conventional sense of the word, I don't think I've done anything to deserve any of this. You see, any good you see in me, any high achievement, any lofty goal, any amazing feat, any grand accomplishment, is TOTALLY by the grace of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. HE gets the glory for any accomplishment I might enjoy. Now I hope that doesn't offend anybody, but the way I figure it, if He was man enough to die for my sin, I should be man enough not to be ashamed to give Him credit where credit is due!
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
I see the toughest thing to do is maintain a courageous spirit. Let me explain what I mean by that. I've learned that courage isn't the absence of fear but instead getting victory over it. I don't think fear is something you can ignore or try to deny. These fears need to be dealt with rather than denied. I have found that the best way to deal with my fears is to acknowledge them and master them rather than allow them to master me. And for me, as a Christian, the only way to do that is to put my trust in God, knowing that He alone will give me the strength to overcome my fears. Scripture tells me that whenever I'm afraid, I trust in Him. Scripture also tells me that perfect love casts out fear and that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Now, this might sound a little counter-intuitive, but I see fear as a healthy thing because it reminds me that there are things in life that are too big for me to handle alone. It further reminds me that I'm NOT alone because I have an omnipotent God who promised never to leave me and give me the wisdom & strength to be MORE than a conqueror. There's no enemy too great, no problem too hard, no fear too intense, and no issue too complicated that He can't help me get through it.
How has that changed throughout my career? Well, as I gain more & more experience and go through both victory and setbacks, I'd like to think I've learned from the mistakes I've made, the times I've failed, the situations where I didn't trust in God, where I gave in to those fears, and how miserable I was whenever that would happen. When you know you're going to fall flat on your face when you go that route, you eventually learn NOT to go that route! You learn to avoid that trap and are better off because of it.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
If you want to be successful and enjoy life, especially if you're big into the world of "all things data" like I am, I would recommend you stick to what I'd like to think of as the three L's of success and fulfillment: LEARNING, LOVING, and LIVING. Here's what I mean by each of these.
First of all, LEARNING. The only way you'll be able to deliver business value is if you know your data and learn what you're doing with it. Especially if you're looking at a large number of reports and you're trying to tease out some sort of meaningful pattern to drive your decision-making. If you see some anomaly in that pattern that doesn't quite look right or doesn't fit what you're expecting, you should question it. Dig deeper and look at the underlying data. One might object, "Oh, well, I'm a high-level leader; it's beneath my dignity to get bogged down with that level of detail." I agree with leaders delegating responsibilities for the details to others so they can concentrate on the high-level strategic picture. However, there's a difference between delegation and dereliction. Delegation is where you have entrusted others to handle details, but you yourself know that you're ultimately responsible, and you should still have a working knowledge of the underlying business processes that are expressed, quantified, summarized, or otherwise amplified by the data. Dereliction is where you give it to somebody else, but disengage yourself from the equation, take your hands totally off the steering wheel, your finger off the pulse, or whatever metaphor you want to use, and remain totally clueless. With that attitude, you're inviting disaster over for dinner, and you will definitely NOT deliver business value. Just remember: dereliction leads to disengagement, whereas delegation leads to discovery. So, stay engaged, stay with the program, and be in the KNOW.
Secondly, LOVING. People need to LOVE what they're doing. Perhaps another way of saying it is to be passionate about your organization, which in turn drives you to have the necessary dedication to ensure the right chess pieces are in place to deliver that business value you're talking about. Steve Jobs once said, "The only way to do great work is to love what you do." I'm a firm believer in this, along with the adage that a job worth doing is worth doing right, and if it's something you care about, you'll do it even better. This passion is infectious, so it'll benefit the team that reports to you in that you'll motivate others to give their best if they see their leadership setting the example and doing the same. It intensifies your focus and concentrates your effort. It enables creativity and stimulates others to be creative as well. Consider this: if you are a leader, the team you lead needs to see you as the person who is out in front, who gives 120%, keeps morale high, produces quality work, and exceeds expectations.
Last of all, LIVING. Does the work you do add practical value to life? Does it help people to make a decision, answer a question, or solve a problem? How do you add value? What practical, actionable benefit is there from relying upon the data you are producing and/or the way it's fulfilling the mission, vision, and goals of your organization? This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. This is where you can tell the difference between fact and fiction, form, and function between something that may or may not enhance the bottom line and something that will make your team better off in the long run. To keep yourself a step ahead and a cut above the rest of the crowd, rising above mediocrity, I think it's important to view it with this mindset and LIVE it.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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