Executive profile: Steven J. Nevill

Steven J. Nevill discusses his success on a limited IT budget.

Cliff Berg
VP and CTO, Digital Focus, Inc.
Herndon, Va.

Title: VP / CTO

Company: Digital Focus, Inc.

Location: Herndon, Va.

Industry: E-business strategy consulting and development

Educational background:
  • B.S., Physics, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.

    Years in IT: 20

    Experience:
  • 1995 - present, Cofounder and CTO, Digital Focus, Inc., Herndon, Va.
  • 1995, senior engineer and graphic designer, Olympus Group, Inc., Alexandria, Va.
  • 1992 - 1994, research sabbatical, developed 3-D relativistic simulator, consulted to Paramount Pictures Corp., Washington, D.C.
  • 1991 - 1992, consultant, Washington, D.C.
  • 1988 - 1991, senior engineer and project manager, CAD Language Systems, Inc., Rockville, Md.
  • 1979 - 1988, nuclear engineer, American Electric Power Service Corp., New York

    Career advice: Do what you are most creative at. Create opportunities; don't wait for them. Take time off now and then to reflect and plan.

    Toughest career challenge: Discerning when to change direction and when to stay on course. One challenge especially has been to keep from going in the direction of product development. In our business, we are constantly bringing together people who are up on the technology, and we have a lot of product ideas. For example, we developed a Java application server before there was such a thing.

    Solution: We stuck with our original decision to be a service-based company. It's been hard not to go down the product path, but it takes a huge investment to make success of projects like that. There can only be a few winners in product development.

    Technical philosophy: Thoroughly test a system in any way you plan to use it. Many of the products that we end up using are new, because product companies come out with major releases every six to 12 months, which is astounding. The vendors would have you believe that you can slap this stuff together and write business code, but for Internet applications that approach doesn't work. Our applications have to be flawless in terms of their transactional behavior, so we spend a lot of effort on testing.

    Staffing strategy: Disseminate expertise of key staff members by having them teach others--that is the best form of reuse. Also, I have learned that for senior people, the specific area of experience doesn't matter as much as the breadth of experience. For example, if we were considering hiring someone who had built distributed systems effectively but had not learned Java, that wouldn't be a deterrent because the issues are the same.

    Last two books read: Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy, by Philip Evans and Thomas S. Wurster; and The Worm Ouroboros, by Eric Rucker Eddison

    Last vacation: Vienna, Austria

    Hobbies: Reading about science and technology; wind surfing; tennis; driving with the top down; and sipping good coffee

    Family: Daughter Ariane






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