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Dr. J. Ajit Thomas

Decode, Reflect, Evolve: Lessons in Technology and Life

  • By Dr. J. Ajit Thomas

I typically don’t write about myself, but when “The CIO World” invited me to write an essay sharing my technology journey, I couldn’t resist as I believe I have learned a few lessons along the way that may prove useful to a future generation of technology leaders.

My journey in technology and software development began in the mid-1980s.  I cut my teeth as a young programmer and the Pascal language was my gateway into the exciting world of software development. The sense of control and determinism coding offered was simply hard to beat.  It was like playing with digital Lego blocks, where my imagination was the only limit on what could be built.  Although technology has transformed greatly over the past four decades, the joy and fascination of building something from nothing still quickens my pulse.

Today’s software is built by teams, and teams need the right mix of people, with a good balance of technical and business knowledge, to be effective.  You might think coders are socially awkward introverts, but that is not always true.  Over the years, I have worked with and taught hundreds of young developers, and have found many to be curious, artistic, and empathetic souls, making them fun to be around. Understanding that there is an internal “person” behind the external “personality” is the first step towards finding the best people.  Remember that you are the “coach” of a team, striving to convert a motley crew of “techies” into a symphonic digital orchestra.

The ability to build and freely share knowledge within the team is essential.  It’s not about you – the leader – being the smartest person in the room.  It’s about creating synergy so that the whole team becomes greater than the sum of its parts.  Honestly, if you find yourself in a place where you can’t share an opinion without fear, it’s probably a sign to pack your bags and move on. Good teams should have no room for sycophants, just a bunch of honest and creative minds.  “Don’t hoard knowledge” – that’s my tech mantra. Everyone has something to teach you and only a true digital dinosaur thinks they know it all. In today’s knowledge economy, what we know is just as vital as how easily and often we can share that wisdom.

Everyone has something to teach you and one of my favorite lessons came from the unlikeliest of sources – a cleaning lady named “Sylvie”. Early in my career, I used to work late nights in my government office, plowing my way through my doctoral dissertation, I noticed that Sylvie was more efficient than the other cleaners who would drop in to empty my trash basket. I noted that when she entered the room, she always carried an empty basket with her, that she would swap out my full one with. By making a small change to a mundane process, she halved her work by only having to enter each room once.  This simple observation showed me that you can learn from anyone, no matter what their station is in life. Human processes can and should be improved continuously and you can learn something from everyone by simply being attentive and observant.

I believe that leadership isn’t only about charging into battle.  Sometimes it is about simply being there for your team, side by side. Great leaders are humble and respectful, sharing credit and responding to failure with grace and temperance. I have found that the best leaders are “servants”, stewards to their calling.  Adrienne Clarkson, a former governor-general of Canada, once said that to be successful, one must strive to become indispensable.  Do what is needed, take items off your manager’s worry list, stay humble and respectful.  Stay grounded, as ultimately, we are all replaceable.

In the past two decades, the world has changed dramatically in terms of knowledge acquisition and information processing. In the past, programmers gained knowledge by thumbing through dog-eared books with no handy YouTube video to get you unstuck.  Experience and time invested were the things that really mattered.  Today, we live in an era where knowledge is instantly accessible, with AI and ChatGPT providing answers to seemingly any question. While convenient, these developments will ultimately challenge the notion of “true expertise”.

Three hallmarks of good leaders include integrity, loyalty, and the ability to continuously learn.  Firstly, as a leader in technology, integrity matters and it is about being honest, transparent, and keeping your promises. To me, integrity isn’t just a word; it’s an important principle, a guiding star, a Polaris that helps me build trust and credibility in an industry that’s built on code and connections.  A practical example of showing integrity would be giving credit to your team when they push out a new release and making them feel valued and appreciated.  Secondly, loyalty is an oft overlooked virtue in the fast-paced tech world, where opportunities seem to lurk around every corner. I will always be loyal to my team, and I expect them to reciprocate my loyalty.  When I first started my career, I worked with a developer who was actively soliciting our customers, building his own book of business.  It amuses me to no end that this fellow works today as a management guru dispensing advice on best practices in the workplace.  Finally, leaders need to continuously learn, by themselves and from team members.  Never stop learning because in this game, stagnation is a silent killer.  Whether it’s attending workshops, taking online courses, or just tinkering with a new piece of software, the world of technology is a playground of opportunities for the curious.  It’s not just about staying relevant; it’s about thriving and leading the way in a constantly evolving digital universe.

I am lucky to work today as the CTO of a well-respected performance management company.  Finding the right “work home” is important in a career.  Look for a workplace that is aligned with your values and where you feel accepted, trusted, and respected and the future will undoubtedly be yours.

(Dr. J. Ajit Thomas is the CTO of MaxBounty ULC, a leading performance management company working in the affiliate marketing space. He earned a Ph.D. from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.  With over 30 years of industry experience, he’s worked as an engineer and consultant with Accenture, Cognos, IBM, and other leading organizations. He also teaches part-time at Carleton University, sharing his wisdom in business strategy and technology management. Reach out to him at