Mark Smed started as a self-employed consultant, integrating computers into small business in 1989. The range of work expanded into installing networks and consulting with businesses on the fast paced changes in technology. As his career progressed he taught Network Administration at a small business college and continued to build his base of clients.
Today, Mark works for Northern Computer Inc. (http://www.northerncomputer.ca) as a consultant, specialist and technician. His client base continues to grow and many of his clients have worked with him for over 15 years. In 2001, Mark joined the Network Professional Association (http://www.npa.org) and now sits on the board of directors and is responsible for publishing the Network Professional Journal for the association. Recently he started writing a column for Castanet.
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Congratulations, you just received a special Global Award for outstanding service, Top of the Mark - Volunteer Award—can you tell us more about the award and how you feel about receiving this special honour?
"....The Network Professionals Association (NPA) seeks to recognize professionals in the field of IT for contributions that promote the ideals within the NPA....I was very surprised and deeply honored to have been nominated and to receive the award...."
You are the publisher and chief editor for the NPA Journal. What are some of your highlights from your work on the Journal?
"....I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I started editing the NPA Journal, but the two most significant things that I've come across are the number of organizations like GITCA and CIPS (there are dozens of professional organizations working in the background to develop standards, professionalism and to provide resources for professionals)....The other thing really has been the amazing people that are involved in IT...."
You are a long-time leader within the NPA. Can you share with us some of your leadership lessons?
"....Leadership has really opened my eyes to the amazing experience it is to have accomplished something as a group rather than working as an individual...."
Tell us more about the NPA organization and why IT professionals should get involved?
"....The NPA for me has always been about our Code of Ethics and it's where I'm passionate....We work for the client. It's not just about making a profit; profit obviously is important, but in the end it's our clients who have to be profitable and we have to present the best solutions and let them make the choices that they need to make...."
As a networking expert what are your top lessons and solutions?
"....It's important to get an understanding of the technology....Work very hard to understand a client's needs....I find 'cutting edge' technology a little less reliable than solutions that have been around for awhile, so it's important to balance what you are doing....Probably the most important lesson I've learned is how important stability is, I think it's the most important thing that we provide to clients....Nobody remembers that the network was up for seven hours today, everybody remembers it was down for one...."
What are some special technical tips?
"....Research is really critical in solving problems....Isolating the problem is the first step in the solution....The most cost-effective solution for me has always been in the middle and it's usually the most reliable as well....I always take the time to make sure that the user tests whatever I put in....Another really important tip for me is 'a second set of eyes'....If the customer doesn't understand what's wrong, you haven't finished solving the problem....Restarting does actually fix most problems....I've often found myself in situations where I'm doing training — if your hands are on the keyboard or the mouse, you are no longer training, you're fixing...."
What are your recommended Microsoft technologies and why?
"....The segment of the market I'm in is Small Business so a typical client for me is probably five to ten users. Putting in servers has been pretty dramatic for some of these businesses....Probably my second most favorite technology that's been implemented has been Microsoft Exchange....I think SharePoint is going to be a really big revolution for Small Business...."
In each of your business roles (past and present), describe three major challenges you faced and your solutions to the challenges that would be of value to businesses today?
"....I think adapting to change like innovation is really a challenge....Learning new technology can really be a challenge, especially with the fast pace of change....Educating clients is always a challenge as well. Technology is always that big grey cloud to some users...."
What five future disruptive innovations should business executives be watching? Are there any surprises you think are on the horizon outside of things like Big Data, the Cloud, mobile devices and things like that, something that perhaps people aren't aware of right now?
"....Cloud-based technology offers some real advantages and prices are coming down....The internet is like a sidewalk for Globalization. There are new markets evolving and suddenly your storefront has 6 billion potential customers....Education. Data is becoming a commodity and it requires some education to manipulate and process data and educating a workforce is going to create a factory for processing data....It used to be that you had a business and you provided a service or you hired people to complete jobs, but now it seems that we're building teams. With the highly mobile workforce and people changing careers/jobs all the time it seems to be the way things are going....I was in a retail store looking for a toaster oven (there were probably 20 people in the store) and I was the only one who was pricing things out and reading reviews on my smartphone. Retailers haven't adapted to that yet and I think that's going to be the next revolution....You are going to start to see a service become more important than price...."
Do you find any areas of controversy in the areas that you work?
"....Maintaining relationships with existing clients and having to choose to sacrifice relationships with new customers where it's more profitable....It's hard to get people to change (being technicians we embrace innovation) and some of our clients are not that way and that creates some controversy....Juggling time....Developing some professional standards within the organization is really important, but difficult. There's a lot of conflict there...."
Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials? [See www.ipthree.org and the Global Industry Council, http://www.ipthree.org/about-ip3/global-advisory-council]
"....Yes I think so....Something that will improve the overall acceptance of IT is a higher level of professionalism...."
Mark shares some stories (amusing, surprising, unexpected, amazing) from his extensive speaking, travels and work.
"....I've always found it funny that I'm paying to take a class and I have to fix the technology so that we could have the lesson...."
If you were conducting this interview, are there any questions that you would you ask and then what would be your answers?
"....IT is a lot of fun and a really interesting profession and I would encourage anybody looking to get into it to look at it as a profession and developing professionally. It's not just about learning the technology it's about learning so many different things...."
Mark, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.