Mike Potter: “Being a leader is not just about being good at your job; it is about helping others excel at their jobs as well”

Being a leader is not just about being good at your job. Ultimately, it is about helping others excel at their jobs as well. When I was beginning my career my mentor told me, “once you’re a leader, it’s about making everyone around you successful.” I’ve never forgotten this because in my eyes, what separates […]

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Being a leader is not just about being good at your job. Ultimately, it is about helping others excel at their jobs as well.
When I was beginning my career my mentor told me, “once you’re a leader, it’s about making everyone around you successful.” I’ve never forgotten this because in my eyes, what separates a leader from a boss is the ability to ignite a spark in your team and empower them to love what they do.
Often, it’s not about technical abilities, but rather, soft skills that become increasingly more important as you advance in your career.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Potter. Mike leads Qlik’s Global Products and Technology teams, creating seamless alignment between Qlik’s product management, R&D, IT, ecommerce and security efforts. Since joining Qlik in 2014, Mike has scaled the R&D team and played a critical role in driving the technology aspects of the company’s transformation to a cloud-first, full enterprise SaaS vendor, increasing delivery cadence from one major product release a year to multiple product line releases throughout the year. Previously, Mike worked at Cognos for thirteen years, and was one of the originators of Cognos Business Intelligence products. After IBM’s acquisition of Cognos, he spent six years with the company leading global development organizations for Financial Performance Management and BI across the various Cognos product lines. Prior to joining Qlik, Mike was Senior Vice President of Engineering at CA Technologies, where he led a global development organization within the IT Infrastructure space. Mike was an IBM Distinguished Engineer and is an accomplished inventor with multiple patents and expertise in financial analytics, financial performance management, data and business modelling, master data management, OLAP, SQL and data access. Mike holds both a Bachelor of Computer Science degree and Master of Computer Science degree from the University of Ottawa.

Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was fascinated with IT from an early age. When I was 12 years old, I received my first computer. Shortly after, I knew I either wanted to work in software — or play professional football.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

An injury when I was in the Canadian Forces Military cleared my path to a career in computer science.

My first job was working for a large government software project where I helped with verification and acceptance testing. This helped train me to look at software from a user’s vantage point and look at the big picture, which helped me get ahead in my career early on.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

A technological breakthrough by Qlik that continues to evolve is Qlik Sense. This product offering contains a one-of-a-kind Associative Engine that allows for users to combine machine intelligence with human intuition, leading to bigger bolder discoveries without users having to wait on data experts to get answers. For example, Qlik’s Associative Engine allows users to uncover hidden insights by combining any data source, no matter how large or complex, into a single view. This affords users the opportunity to explore data without boundaries to uncover unexpected insights, breaking the limits put on users by traditional query-based tools which only provide partial subsets of data, are restricted to linear exploration, have slow performance and have an “ask, wait, answer” cycle.

Moreover, Qlik Sense is the only offering on the market to combine AI with an associative experience to create machine and human-like synergies.

How do you think this might change the world?

Bringing data directly to the people helps eliminate, what I like to call, data elitism. A lot of organizations face challenges around adoption and utilization because insights must be accessed by the senior levels of the organization and can only be controlled by IT instead of giving insights directly to the people.

Ironically, the most data-enabled organizations are typically oriented to the Millennials or younger users. So, when you think about data literacy and you compare it to literacy in the pre-industrial age, the people who had the books were the people who were rich and had power.

We need to begin to democratize data and allow users at all levels to take advantage of these tools/assets to even the playing field.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Qlik’s product solutions are meant to provide solutions to the world’s most challenging problems through data. One of our core design principles is about the notion of creating trust during data analysis. Too often, technological approaches focus on giving the answer, but fail to understand that the human needs to understand how the answer was achieved so that they can trust it. This is key to helping build data literacy within our customers organizations.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

I think the tipping point was around the idea of integrating artificial intelligence techniques with our associative engine, along with incorporating the human role. We like to use the term augmented intelligence to mean the combination of all three of these into an integrated approach. This delivers insights into the data that are clearly differentiating.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

For so long, the benefits of analyzing data were restricted to businesses and organizations who could afford expensive technology, limited to being used by people with special degrees. Qlik has worked to change all of that, looking instead to enable anyone interested with the opportunity to learn about data and its ability for transformation.

Today, the ability to analyze, read, write and argue data is as important as reading and writing, but we are currently facing a major skills gap. To continue to expand the adoption of this type of technology, more companies need to foster a data driven culture and improve data literacy amongst employees. Qlik has championed data literacy, spearheading an entire Data Literacy Program, which includes free courses and a certification program among other tools designed to help people and organizations understand, analyze and use data garnered from products such as Qlik Sense with confidence. We believe this will not only increase the potential for widespread adoption through a data literate workforce, but create a better society.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

As mentioned above, a data literate workforce is of high importance and real data literacy requires both a mindset and culture shift. Business leaders have a key role to play in driving this amongst employees.

At Qlik, we partnered to develop the Data Literacy Project in 2018 to establish a global community dedicated to creating a data literate world. Our goal is to place data literacy at the heart of individual and organizational success — ensuring that everyone can speak the language of data and use it with confidence to make discoveries that change the game.

The Project is at the epicenter of the data literacy conversation, where people from all industries, roles, and with varying levels of data literacy can discuss the most important and relevant topics in data literacy, share tips, ideas and solutions for fostering data literacy around the world, and inspire and support others in their quest to shape a successful data literate world.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It is difficult for me to identify a single mentor who gave me guidance along the way. I’ve had several who have played different roles in my career over time and today. The common thread amongst all of them is being candid in their feedback and helping me see things from a different perspective. I thrive on opportunities to improve and have chosen mentors who challenge me.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As mentioned previously, at Qlik, we strive to create technology for the betterment of the world. Our work with organizations such as C40 Cities, Jefferson Health, the UN and organizations like WeSeeHope and MedAir are built around improving the conditions of the world we live in.

A specific example of this can be seen through our work with C40 Cities that is helping to combat climate change by uncovering hidden insights through data around issues such as GHG emissions and climate hazards.

For Jefferson Health, we worked together to curb the 11.5 million people across the country that misuse opioids. The company used precision analytics to look at ways in which it could prescribe fewer opioids for a shorter amount of time. Additionally, our tools were used to improve patient care to drive operational efficiencies and increase productivity by centralizing large amounts of data.

To me, my success — my team’s success — is all about how we can bring the most good to the most amount of people through data.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

When reflecting on things I wish I would have known before I began my career there are several things that come to mind. My five pieces of advice for young career professions are to be objective, always ask why, take chances, learn to make new mistakes and always trust your gut.

Being objective helps make the most informed decisions with the information presented. In data, and in life, we can only do our best with the information presented. Early career professionals can lean towards idealistic tendencies and miss the overall project goal or company vision because it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day. I’ve made it a personal goal to always be hungry for knowledge, remain objective in nature and always validate the facts for myself.

Before jumping into a leadership role, always ask yourself “why?” A mistake is to believe a C-Level role means being the big boss at the company and having your hand in every decision. Everyone should ask themselves what they can bring to the table, and whether pursuing a C-Level role utilizes your skills to the best of their abilities. This is what separates a leader from a boss.

As a young entrepreneur or someone beginning to start their career, take chances! Once you become a leader, this will help you relate to people in all walks of life and push the boundaries where needed.

That being said, I’m a big proponent of making new mistakes. Don’t let past errors define you or focus too much on the promotion. My career is defined by failing fast and taking setbacks as a learning experience. I’ve found that if you perform well, the opportunity to lead will present itself.

Finally, being able to trust yourself is one of the most important life skills. It’s imperative to develop your own sense of business acumen early in your career to gain a more well-rounded understanding where the company is going. You will make better career decisions.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Data literacy is a one of my deepest passions. I strive to help create a positive data culture, where our data is democratized and accessible for all.

I’m fueled by the ‘what-ifs’ and the possibilities that data can achieve from curing cancer to fully sustainable cities. Creating access and educating people on how to use data could ultimately change the world for the better.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Being a leader is not just about being good at your job. Ultimately, it is about helping others excel at their jobs as well.

When I was beginning my career my mentor told me, “once you’re a leader, it’s about making everyone around you successful.” I’ve never forgotten this because in my eyes, what separates a leader from a boss is the ability to ignite a spark in your team and empower them to love what they do.

Often, it’s not about technical abilities, but rather, soft skills that become increasingly more important as you advance in your career.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

Qlik has been at the forefront of data analytics and visualization for 20 years. Our recent acquisitions of leading data integration platform Attunity, data catalog Qlik Data Catalyst and the Qlik Insight Bot, our open approach to data and our leadership in multi-cloud and augmented intelligence all positioned Qlik as the independent leader in the 3rd generation of data and analytics. Only Qlik can transform businesses with data the way we do, with a breadth of enterprise data management capabilities and an experienced team of data and analytics professionals like no other in the industry.

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