Technology Leader Spotlight: Chris Judson
Chris started out his journey into technology because he “love[d] to take things apart and figure out how they work[ed]”, he explained. His interest in tinkering with things, and exploring what made them function, evolved into a desire to solve complex problems, and eventually Chris realized he wanted to “build solutions to make life easier for others”.
Chris attended Northern Arizona University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering, at which point he started his career in the cellular and satellite industry as a C/C++ developer. After several years, Chris decided to give software consulting a shot where he was “able to rapidly gain experience in many different technologies and industries”. He and a few friends even started a consulting company that they successfully ran for five years before later selling it. Running his own company was a unique experience that helped Chris not only further his architectural skills, but also allowed him to improve his business acumen.
Fast forward in time and Chris is now the VP of Engineering at Choice Hotels International, a leading company in not only hotel chains, but in technology and scalability as well. In this role, Chris works in a mixed capacity of leadership and strategy. “I manage several development teams where I provide technical leadership, help other leaders grow through mentorship, and work to make the development teams as efficient as possible”, he explained. On the strategic side, Chris works closely with corporate and technology leadership “to identify technology trends and how they could positively or negatively impact the company”. These include technologies ranging from software development and infrastructure tools all the way to things such as blockchain and autonomous vehicles and their impact on the hotel industry.
While this job comes with some exceptional opportunities to progress in technical and leadership skills, Chris admits that among common challenges, his least favorite part of the job is “dealing with office politics”. When you get to a VP level at any company, politics are part of the job, but clearing a path through political thickets to improve company strategy is one of Chris’ skills. That being said, the pros greatly outweigh the cons, and Chris’ favorite part of the job is “[solving] complex problems, trying to predict the future, and [sharing his] experiences to help people progress through their career”.
In addition to enjoying his job at Choice Hotels, Chris finds the software development industry fascinating in general. Two reasons for this fascination include the continuous and rapid evolution of the industry, and the ability “to apply technology in different companies and industries to drive business value”. The software industry is always changing, which means there are always new things to do and new challenges to be solved. When asked about his favorite technologies, Chris mentioned that he has been working with big data and machine learning recently and enjoys technologies in that space, such as “Spark, Python, Jupyter Notebooks, etc. that are used to train machine learning models”.
It takes a lot to get to the point in a career where Chris is, and an important factor in such a career path is being a great developer. When asked what it takes to be a great developer, Chris pointed out that one must not only be willing to learn but have a “growth mindset and a desire to be a lifelong learner”. With technology advancing so rapidly, developers have to keep learning, and the opportunity to stand out is always there for those who love to learn and execute on that passion. In addition to being a great developer, to get to an impactful leadership role Chris suggests one must develop emotional intelligence and empathy. “[These] are critical to being a successful leader in today’s world. If you can’t keep your cool and understand someone else’s view point, it will be hard to go far”.
Not only does Chris have advice for becoming a great developer and leader, he also had some valuable input to individuals looking to get a foot in the door into the industry as a software developer. “Get as much experience as you can from internships or open source projects”, Chris advises. When a candidate has real-world experience, such as this, to talk about in an interview, it makes the interview process much easier. While schools are a great place to learn how to code, these real-world experiences provide situations that “are hard to replicate in educational settings”.
While education and real-world experience are vital to success in the industry, it’s good to have other hobbies as well to stay balanced. In his free time, Chris enjoys playing soccer, snowboarding, and hiking.
One last note from Chris – “Choice Hotels is an amazing place to learn and grow while having fun changing the hospitality industry. We are always looking for talented people, so feel free to reach out if you are interested.”