Colin Parris is the Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at GE Digital and this year’s Tapia Conference Ken Kennedy Distinguished Speaker. We had the chance to speak with Colin about his work and his forward-facing views on the technology currently shaping our lives. Read on to learn about his journey as a pioneer in the industry as well as his sage advice for budding professionals.
Tell me about your background and where you grew up.
My parents are from Trinidad, where I spent many of my younger years. My dad was an engineer and I attribute my interest in the industry to growing up exposed to that world. As a child, I’d see books on science and math throughout his library. Then I’d see him go off to work, and I’d catch bits and pieces of how he described his work. Between the context clues I’d picked up on, and his intentional efforts around my education, it is not all that surprising that I pursued this industry. I am grateful.
Do you have any advice for students aspiring to careers in tech like yours?
Many young people want fame, they want fortune, but what they come to realize is that it takes a while to get to that. So, along the way, you better love the process of getting there. The outcome comes only through a process — it’s what gets you there, and you have to be willing to fall in love with the process along the way.
The process where you do the math problems and the hard physics overcome them. That builds, and 20 or 30 years later, the outcome shows up. If you just go after the outcome, you get disillusioned. You may not love the process at the start, but you’ve got to appreciate the fact that the process is what gets you there. If you fall in love with the process along the way, you will get to the outcome.
In a career spanning more than 30 years, what are the most significant shifts in technology you’ve seen in recent years?
Digital technology is unlike any other. Now we have Artificial Intelligence (AI) that is telling us not only how to get better computers, but how to get better medicine, better business. At the same time, technology is increasing in performance while the price goes down– it’s transforming everything we do. Think about it– I can use my phone to pay for Starbucks, then use it to get a car to the airport, to scan my ticket for a flight, I watch a video on the same phone, and when I land I go through the same process. This technology has a profound effect on everything we do.
Why do you think inclusion and diversity are essential in technology businesses?
We now have, for the first time, situations that can destroy the planet. We are going to need some really big ideas and really big perspectives to address the divisions and issues facing the planet. What we see is that a diversity of ideas and a diversity of perspectives gives you new ideas and innovation. There is no boundary to ideas– the creativity of the mind isn’t limited by race, gender, or orientation. And there is no one group that has this diversity of perspectives and ideas– you need to get it from everywhere. This is the time when we have to embrace this idea of diversity and inclusion and really take it to heart. It doesn’t help you if your business does well and we lose the planet.
What advice do you offer young people entering tech today?
There are three things. You have to have an unending desire to learn. The second thing is resiliency– you’re going to fail, and that is something you need to learn how to do. And the third thing is awareness- because of the speed of technological change, you need to be aware of trends and look ahead. The rate of growth and the drop in the cost of technology means that everyone will be using it.
What do you hope guests will take away from your contribution to the Tapia conference?
There are two things you should take away. First, in this age of industrial intelligence, we are merging physical and digital together in ways you wouldn’t believe – way beyond cars that are self-parking. The second thing you want to see is how the power of this pairing can bring change. In this physical/digital marriage, what can we do with it? We’re making planes smarter so that they can tell us what’s wrong with them. We are making smarter buildings that can reduce power consumption and can protect themselves from a security perspective. Wind turbines are getting smarter: communicating with one another and improving performance based on observations they can then tell a field engineer.
Don’t miss your chance to see Colin at this year’s event. Click here for details on registration.