In honor of Black History Month, CX100 continued our change-makers in tech series by interviewing Tony Caesar, Head of IT at Ericsson, about his journey in the tech industry. Tony has decades’ worth of experience working in tech in high-level positions. In addition to his role with Ericsson, Tony is also a Member of the Board of Directors and Chair of the Finance Committee at ASUG (Americas’ SAP Users’ Group) with the mission to help their members maximize the value of their SAP investments.
How did you get into the tech industry?
“I was always interested in computers when I was a kid. I grew up in the early ’80s, and I liked taking apart TVs and radios to see how they work. Back then, there weren’t any personal computers like the ones we take for granted today.
My introductions to computers was during a visit to my dad’s place of work. My dad led an IT shop for a bank, and I remembered being amazed by all the tape drives going back and forth and what I called washing machines, that were disk drives in large cold rooms. I don’t recall if they called the rooms data centers back then, I think they were just called computer rooms. It’s funny when I compare and contrast those days to today, when we have smart devices that have more compute and storage than the devices in my dad’s computer room.
I think those experiences really sparked my interest in technology, as I decided to go to one of the first of its kind high school, a business high school specializing in several business disciplines, one of which was computer science. After graduating high school, I originally went to college for engineering, but then I found I had an aptitude for programming, and I liked that better. Programming let me be more creative. So out of college, I got my first job programming, and they say, the rest is history.”
What is one of your favorite career success stories?
“I have several, but the one that jumps to mind is back in 1999. I was the head of IT at a global sporting goods company. We ran a legacy system where we had the two-year date problem. We had to move to a new system because it would go to ‘00 in 2000. I remember partnering with our global CIO, who was based in Austria, and we talked about implementing SAP. Back then, I didn’t know the full capabilities of SAP, but working with the global IT leadership team, we determined that’s the ERP system our organization needed. My proudest accomplishment was when we were able to get SAP implemented before Y2K hit us, and the business never lost a day of business up-time. I am still proud of that accomplishment. It is an awesome memory for me.”
What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career thus far?
“I would say for me, it’s been growing my career in a predominantly white run business world. It has been a challenge in my career, where in many instances, I am the only one. It can be very intimidating and daunting when more often than not, you are the only one. This daily reality challenged me in multiple ways. The primary challenge was how to maintain my authentic self, because part of me wants to do so, but the other part of me was concerned that I may make others uncomfortable, or worse, I may be stereotyped. If you think about it, the question that comes to mind is, how weird is it that I am the one that is uncomfortable, yet I am worried about making others uncomfortable. I think those challenges are right in your face every day. But as you become more seasoned, I think it becomes less of an issue, and becomes more like a nag. During some of these more challenging moments, I found myself asking the following questions. Why can’t people just get it? Why can’t the world change fast enough? So, I would say the challenge has gotten easier to live with, as I’ve become comfortable to being my authentic self. The biggest power we have, is the power to change ourselves.”
What is one piece of advice you would give the younger generation regarding getting into tech?
“I talk about this all the time. When I went into technology in the very beginning, it really was just about cool gadgets and toys. I called it the times of ones and zeros, where anyone entering the technology arena was either learning how to code (writing programs in various languages), learning how to manage networks, or learning how to manage desktop and server operating systems like DOS, Novel, Window 3.1 and the dreaded, Windows NT server. Back then, we felt these were the avenues for you to build your career and grow in this world of technology. I think the world is very different today. We have AI, AR/XR/VR, automation, and low code/no code solutions. All these things have changed the technology game. It’s less about humans making decisions, writing programs or managing IT Infrastructures. Going into tech now is not that simple. You must think about what are the tech jobs that cannot be automated or offshored. Further, gone are the days when technology is a cool concept where business isn’t looking for a return on its investment. That includes its people in tech. That is why I would say to anyone going into tech today, you need to have a business mindset. What I mean by that is, you should have a clear picture of what the technology will do for the business or society and if your efforts, skills, and expertise are driving value back to business or to society at large. To be successful in the tech arena today, you must be equally adept at the business operations and its processes as the owner of said business. This will earn you the right to a seat at the table, where you will then have an opportunity to work with the leaders of the organization to plan, build and deliver services and solutions that will drive business value creation. The CEO of the company doesn’t care that his/her IT organization knows how email works or whether they know how to manage a laptop. Their expectation is that this stuff just works. No one’s going to give you extra credit for that. What they want to see is how are you going to help them grow their business, and how are you going to do that using technology.
If you focus on business first and technology second, you stand a better chance of growing a successful career in technology.”
What is something you would like to share with the audience?
“I think there are a lot of kids today that don’t get the opportunity to learn anything about STEM-based careers, as well as know what is possible. One of the areas that I have invested quite a bit of my time in over the past 2-3 years, is leading the charge to introduce STEM to high and middle school kids in the underserved communities here in the Dallas and Fort Worth area. I am working with others to teach kids in these communities about STEM and to show the kids that someone who looks like them is successful in this field so they too can see themself in a STEM career path. The reality is, most of the kids in these communities don’t think that they can be technologists. They don’t see people who look like them to role-model after, or people to mentor them and tell them they can be anything they want to be.
I hope more people who have “made it” in tech and similar occupations would consider going into their local underserved communities and share their knowledge and stories. They could inspire the next great technologist or scientist. They can also take pride in the fact they are giving back to their communities and helping bring some student, who may have never considered technology as a career path, a vision of a possible future. Who knows, they may inspire a future leader in tech.”
Getting involved to support your local community can greatly impact lives for the better. It is important to be involved and educated not just during Black History Month but every day.
8 Ways that you can honor BHM and get involved include:
- Support Black-Owned Business
- Learn about Noteworthy Black Figures and their Contributions
- Donate to Charities That Support Anti-Racism Equity and Equality
- Purchase, Read, and Share Books by Black Authors
- Support and Learn About Black Women
- Listen to or Read “The 1619 Project” by the New York Times
- Participate in Online Events
- Attend Virtual Black History Month Celebrations
“Each person must live their life as a model for others.”
– Rosa Parks
Check out our other Change-Maker in Tech Interview with Angela Benton