By Liz Parsons
Steven Wolk is the first Chief Technology Officer of PC Richard and has been with the company for almost thirty years. He has experienced the many twists and turn of working in the IT field, including the constantly changing idea of the role technology plays in an organization. From working the night shift as a data entry manager to becoming a software developer, Steven has vast experience that spans the full range of technology functions.
Working at PC Richard has given Steven many opportunities to share his innovative ideas with the business. The culture of the company has enabled his team to work as a cohesive unit and given them the ability to contribute their skill set in a productive way. Steven shares with us his growth at PC Richard and uses his own experience to give advice to millennials entering the technology space.
[Liz Parsons] You have been an employee at PC Richard for almost 30 years now. Can you describe where you started at the organization and your rise up to the CTO role?
[Steven Wolk] PC Richard & Son is one of those rare companies that provide tremendous opportunities for growth. We have many success stories of individuals who have taken advantage of the opportunities available to them for both personal and professional growth and have risen through the ranks.
I began my career with PC Richard & Son while still in college in 1986. The company had installed its first computer system just seven years earlier, and our systems were still in their infancy. I joined the team in the role of night data entry manager. I spent the next two years learning the company’s culture, processes, and existing systems. During that time I assembled and trained a team to work this critical off-hours shift. Once they no longer needed my day-to-day involvement, I transitioned from that position to working daytime as a software developer. Within two years I was leading that team as Application Design Manager, and was later responsible for the design, development, and implementation of our custom POS solution. In 2000 I was promoted to become the company’s first CTO.
"We, as IT professionals must always strive to put aside our natural tendencies to resist change, and instead embrace it.”
What has been your biggest challenge working in your current role?
PC Richard is a very entrepreneurial company. In fact, some of our greatest successes have come from small “what-if” ideas. Our culture is one of constant change and innovation. As a result we never have any shortage of great ideas, as we are always finding ways to improve and reinvent ourselves. Frequently these new innovations will include an IT component. Hence our biggest challenge is keeping pace with the enormous volume of changes and new development required.
For these reasons, our IT focus revolves around change as well. From the beginning, we’ve developed all of our own software in-house. We believe this not only provides us with a competitive advantage, but complements our core strengths in that we can – and do – change directions and react very quickly. This IT agility allows us to rapidly implement new business processes. That’s a testament to every individual on our IT team and speaks to their continuing contributions to a constant culture of change.
How has the culture of working for a family-owned company played a role in how you run your IT organization?
I’ve seen statistics indicating that the average software developer stays only two to three years in any company. Those are sobering metrics, and fortunately do not seem to apply at PC Richard.
Between help desk, operations, support, technicians, networking, and software development, we have quite a large IT team for a retail company. Just using software development as an example, our developers have been with us for an average of over 15 years – with a few over 30 years. We’re often asked why this is.
As in the rest of our company, our IT team resonates with an entrepreneurial spirit. Everyone is aware of the opportunity and potential to grow and develop. Teamwork and mutual support are part of the culture. Open door policies are the norm – everyone can talk to anyone. Our team members know they are valued, and can look forward to coming to work each and every day.
We have a saying in our company that we don’t employ any “arm-chair generals”. Everyone in the company pitches in and does whatever is required to deliver on our vision of providing world class customer service to our customers. This culture is particularly evident in our software development team. Unlike many companies, we don’t have any “coders”. All team members are considered business analysts, and are able to take a project from needs assessment through design, coding, testing, implementation, and support. This full lifecycle approach provides much greater visibility and job satisfaction.
What is the favorite part of your day to day job?
That’s a little like asking which of my two daughters is my favorite! I’m fortunate in that I love what I do. If I had to choose some highlights though, there are three.
Teaching and mentoring are among the most valuable and rewarding aspects of my job. Helping team members to reach their potential is very fulfilling, especially when I then see those individuals teaching and mentoring others.
A second highlight for me occurs whenever I have the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with our software developers designing and shaping a new project. We have a very talented team, and I always find it energizing to collaborate with them on new solutions.
When a new system or set of changes is completed and rolled out successfully, and you can see in the reaction of your audience that they are so excited to have exactly what they requested – or perhaps even more – it’s a wonderful feeling. Everyone on that team knows they made a difference and that their efforts are appreciated.
What advice would you give millennials looking to start a career in the technology field?
We all know that it’s human nature to avoid change. We, as IT professionals must always strive to put aside our natural tendencies to resist change, and instead embrace it. Certainly it seems that no profession today is changing more rapidly than IT, and in fact that pace of change is accelerating.
There is no career I’m aware of that carries with it more of a requirement of continuous learning. By the time students graduate college, much of what they’ve learned will already be obsolete. A commitment to the technology field carries with it the commitment of being a student forever. There really is no graduation, as there is no end to what you will need to continuously learn to flourish in IT. The best and brightest students should naturally gravitate toward technology fields, as this constant learning is what makes the field so fascinating and exciting.
Steven Wolk is the Chief Technology Officer for PC Richard & Son, a family owned and operated chain of 66 appliance and electronics superstores located throughout NY, NJ, CT, and PA. Founded in 1909, PC Richard has always been known for honesty, integrity, and reliability throughout it's over 104 year history.
Steve joined PC Richard & Son in 1986. In 2000, after working his way through a number of IT related roles, he assumed his current position as the company’s first CTO.
As CTO, he considers himself very fortunate to lead a large in-house team of very talented software developers. Together, they bring their combined extensive retail experience to bear in the application of new technologies to improve business processes and efficiency to create a competitive advantage for this unique company.
Steve enjoys speaking at conferences and events, and is looking forward to presenting at the upcoming COMMON 2014 Annual Meeting and Exposition held in Orlando, FL. He’s also proud to be a member of Toastmasters International.
As a published author, Steve has been interviewed by Argyle Executive Forum on his views of how technology is changing the retail experience. Most recently, an article of his on computer forensics was published by IT Jungle.
He graduated from New York Institute of Technology with a B.S. in Computer Science. Prior to joining PC Richard & Son, he earned his practical knowledge of retail directly from the sales floor, selling consumer electronics for three years and winning many awards in the process.
Steve and his wife live in Commack, NY with their two teenage daughters. As a family, they all enjoy spending quality time travelling together.