PSGCNJ is happy to present a Senior IT Leader and Assistant Director of the Training Committee Anthony Dondarski.
Get to know Anthony better by reading the following transcript of the interview with Anthony, taken by our COO Natalie Lihacova.
Start of Career and the Importance of Marketing
NL: Thank you, Anthony for agreeing to meet with me. I hope this interview will be helpful for our members at PSGCNJ and will give us all a chance to know you better.
I checked your LinkedIn profile, and I saw that you started your career with education that combines both business management and computer systems. That sounds interesting, as my son also graduated with the same major. So, how did your education prepare you for your further career?
AD: On the computer science piece of it, I learned a lot about technology, how it changes the world and fits into almost every aspect of modern business.
From the business aspect of it, I learned to look at things that need to get done to run a business from a “business management” standpoint, the management side of running a business, and how to build an organization. This includes marketing, and marketing is a huge piece of the business.
NL: Right, I remember how my son was excited about his marketing class. Even being a technology guy himself, he was excited to learn some aspects of marketing.
AD: Oh yes, marketing is a key part! Whether for yourself or for a business, marketing is a skill you need in every context. As a business, you need marketing to gain clientele and create a brand, but as an individual you need to market yourself to show to a potential employer that you can do the job.
It is no different than the marketing class that we teach at PSGCNJ, where it ties into knowing your value, knowing your skill set, and how to sell those to the employer, because the employer wants to know: “What can you do for me?”
And that is your opportunity to say: “OK, here’s what I can do for your organization, here’s how I can either increase the bottom line for you, or decrease costs, etc.”
So, it’s a matter of packaging yourself and marketing yourself to that company, to land that next job. The same exact principles apply, whether you’re selling a product or selling yourself.
Corporate Career: Key Takeaways
NL: That’s a great insight, indeed!
And so, after you graduated, you entered a long career at Automatic Data Processing (ADP). I wonder – through those years at ADP, can you name a few key things that you learned from there?
AD: I actually didn’t graduate college until 1990. I started working at ADP in 1982, then went back to school in 1984 to continue my education. I was working during the day and taking my classes at night at a local college and graduated from there.
One thing ADP taught me is respect. You should respect everyone in the organization, be it the security person that you see entering the building, the person that’s changing the lights for you, or the administrative staff. Everyone is looking to do a good job and deserves respect, so that they know that they’re valued just as much as the CEO or any senior level person in the organization.
Another thing I learned was that it is important to be open to opportunities. ADP is a gigantic organization with many opportunities, many doors that can open, and you never know where your next opportunity is going to be. I started off as a filing clerk, then worked my way up into a client-facing technical consultant role where I was asked to go out and to save client relationships whenever there were issues, to find solutions and keep them happy ADP clients. I then moved to a manager position in 1987 and to the corporate office in 1992 to a leadership position within the IT department.
A Very “People-Oriented” Person
NL: Sounds like you are a very people-oriented person, is that a fair statement?
AD: That’s correct. I don’t consider myself a “techie” tech. What I mean by that is, there’s a lot more people that are smarter than me in a room, a lot more people that are up-to-date with the latest technology. I keep up-to-date, but not deep to the roots all the time. I like to work with my tech leads, my architects and other organizations to figure out what’s the right thing to do for our situation and for our organization. I pull the people together, build the strategy, and then make sure we execute on the strategy. Once in place I like to put measurements in place to track our progress. I like to consider myself an authentic leader with high emotional intelligence who builds trust and loyalty throughout my interactions with people. I make it a point to meet with every member of my organization, to get their opinion on things, to empower them. I want them to know that their opinion counts and that they are valued.
Approach to Process Improvement
NL: Speaking of strategy, you seem to be very knowledgeable and experienced in process improvement. Do you follow some specific methodology or approach?
AD: I was involved with business process re-engineering back in 1992. There was no Agile or Lean at the time; our approach was based on CMMI, the Capability Maturity Model that SCI followed. We achieved SCI Level 3, which means that you have a good repeatable process.
Right now, I am learning about Lean and just completed my Lean Six Sigma White Belt certification.
So overall, my general approach is you put a repeatable process in place wherever you can, try to automate all mundane tasks, and let people spend their time on things like learning new stuff. This gives them the opportunity to add another tool in their toolbelt to help the organization and make themselves more marketable. People are the biggest asset a company has and when they grow, so does the organization.
Speaking of which, let me emphasize something important here: Sometimes you can hear that people are resistant to change. I have found that’s not necessarily true! When there is open communication and people understand where they’re going, they get a chance to buy into the changes, they take charge and move forward with it.
NL: You touched on the subject of Agile. I wonder, how can Agile be used for Process Improvement? With Agile, nothing is repeatable, everything is unknown.
AD: Well, not everything. The initial requirements are known, but the process is iterative and pretty much repeatable: you have an initial prioritized backlog (requirements), do development, review the product with your stakeholders, then go back to your backlog and start over again. If the product is not quite right the product owner will create new user stories (requirements/changes) that get prioritized against the remaining backlog for the next iteration. Agile is both a methodology and a mindset, but the overall process is still repeatable and can be followed: working with stakeholders of the business, with the product owners, and ensuring that the backlog is always full to ensure your development team always has things to work on.
NL: Do you happen to remember the time when you first encountered this methodology? What did it take to adjust to this new mindset?
AD: I do remember. I was asked to take on the lead role of moving our organization from a Waterfall to an Agile development methodology. Our AutoPay organization was a 300+ man organization distributed across India and the US. The average age of the US folks was probably 52, with the average tenure in the organization about 25 years. We had a very good, well-oiled Waterfall methodology at that time, a lot of tools and processes and our work products were delivered with quality. When we were asked to go to Agile, it took us a while to get there. The journey was 18 months. We did our first pilot in six months, but then we kept tweaking it again and again, to make sure that we had the right things in place, the right team chemistry in place, everything is streamlined, and mindsets are changed. It wasn’t until 18 months that we finally got to where we needed to be.
Giving Back to the Community
NL: I also see that you’re involved extensively in volunteer activities. What motivates you?
AD: I love giving back to the community. I coached my children, my daughter’s softball team and basketball team, my two boys’ football, basketball and baseball teams. It’s important to give back to the community. I grew up in a small town in Belleville, New Jersey. We were outside all day playing, doing pickup games. You don’t have that today. Sports is more organized, which can push kids a little too hard. I love sharing with them the spirit of our old pickup games; it’s so much fun.
At ADP I would pull teams together for Habitat for Humanity where we worked on building houses in Paterson, to give back to the communities. Every year on Thanksgiving we would do a food bank; I used my office as a collection site where people would drop off turkeys and non-perishable foods and we would then deliver it to the Montclair Salvation Army. We would also go down to Newark and paint on the walls in schools and on the sidewalks.
There is no better feeling when you do something good for someone, and it just makes you feel good.
To Be Continued…
NL: Thank you, Anthony, for sharing with me and our readers your background and your values. Next time we will talk about your advice on how to set and achieve goals.
AD: Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today, Natalie.
 US Department of Defense Software Engineering Institute located at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA
About the author: Natalie Lihacova is a COO of PSGCNJ; she is also a co-founder and CEO of Teammate.Exec and Mr. Simon. Natalie has over two decades of experience leading people and running businesses; before switching her career to Information Technology and Business Management, she used to be a musician – a singer and a choir director. She is passionate about helping people discover their true potential as professionals.