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Expert Offers Career Guidance for Tech Professionals

Those who work in public technology can and should aspire to larger roles in governance, but they must step up their game, says Jeramy Gray, a top executive in Los Angeles County government.

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As technology takes on an ever-growing role in government, so too should IT professionals, says a key leader in Los Angeles County.

Jeramy Gray, chief deputy for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, delivered that call to action last week at the Los Angeles Digital Government Summit. Gray, who’s held a series of executive roles in Los Angeles County government since 2007, spoke with Industry Insider California Publisher Mike Driessen in a breakout session called “Bits & Bytes – Where Do Our Organizations Go from Here?” during the conference, which was presented by Government Technology*.
Jeramy Gray.
Jeramy Gray
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Gray’s advice to ambitious gov tech professionals was simple: Work with your government’s lines of business to fully understand their functions. And from there, use your tech expertise to imagine new ways for government to serve the public. In the presentation and in a follow-up conversation with Industry Insider, Gray elaborated and offered some key takeaways:
  • Today’s IT professionals should “think outside the box” in terms of their own careers. Don’t limit yourself to the IT field, he said; rather, build on your tech insights to pursue larger leadership roles in government. Gray’s own career reflects his interest in serving in capacities beyond IT: He’s served as assistant executive officer of the Executive Office of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors; as assistant executive officer of Technology and Planning; and in chief information roles from 2010-present, including time as chief information officer for the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. Find Gray’s recent One-on-One interview with Industry Insider here.
  • To ascend from the IT realm into a broader leadership role in government, he urged IT professionals to educate themselves accordingly: Pay attention to the news — not just local news, but national and world news. Understand how politics and commerce interact with and benefit from technology, and apply that understanding in navigating your own career.
  • Take a seat at the table of leadership — but “understand what that table is.” IT leaders should work for “operational autonomy” by taking the initiative in tech innovation; don’t passively wait for direction or directives.
  • In addition to following the news, pay attention to legislation and policy. Strive to understand the potential implications of new laws and how tech can facilitate elected leaders’ vision. Use their goals to guide your own. “Your goal should be … to have conversations at that next level, with your senior executives within your local jurisdictions, with your elected officials … it may be a state Assembly member or a state senator or staff. But ultimately, as you define that table within your organization, what you’re really looking for is ‘Do I influence major programmatic initiatives that have implications for the next 24 to 36 months?’ And really look at the culture and behavior of your organization.”
  • Look for ways to leverage your tech expertise at the next level to advance the goals of government. “As they are making the stew, you can influence what goes into that recipe before it comes out. … Place yourself one step removed from your operations so you understand what’s going on.”
  • In communicating with government leaders and the public, “You have to have a hybrid skill set,” Gray said. “You’re talking to members of the community; you may be talking to accountants, lawyers, HR professionals, etc.”
  • Don’t put yourself into an IT box. “A mentor once told me that if you’re ever at an event and you’re networking, people should have to ask you what you do for a living. They shouldn’t know. You have to be prepared to speak competently about the economy, legislation, human resources — whatever the case may be. You should know current events and how to be effectively articulate. You should not lead with any of the technical jargon and acronyms that we use in IT. You have to be able to speak in their terms. … That’s where true innovation in IT success comes from.”

*Government Technology and Industry Insider — California are part of e.Republic.
Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in Northern California.