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The People Project with Todd

Interview with Todd Weidman, New Jersey, USA


Hi Todd, with all the change in the world, what has been the one constant in your life?


My love for the library. My father took me to the library every Saturday since I was a toddler. It became the place for me to explore different lives, cultures, history, all under one roof. Today, I look at the internet as the world's library, but I still visit my local branch. It has a familiar atmosphere where I can walk around, pick up a book, look at the jacket, read about the author. It’s tactile and experiential, and that keeps me centered.


What is your relationship with technology?


I've worked in Information Technology all my life, except for a brief detour into Accounting. I went to Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, right down the road from IBM. Marist was a pipeline school for IBM. I started as a computer science major, but, at the time, I was no match for programming. So on my father's advice, I switched to Accounting.


That's quite a shift from computer science to accounting.

Think of it like chess. What takes one person 10 moves, might take another just one or two moves.

I spent just a few years in accounting post-graduation. I really liked it in the beginning. It made sense to me. There are clear governing rules and principles that all companies must follow. Computer science, while logical, is a more creative discipline. There's no single way to write code. Think of it like chess. What takes one person 10 moves, might take another just one or two moves.



I haven't heard computer science described as a creative discipline too often. How did you find your way back to IT?

At that time the rumblings of the internet began

It was my fascination with the internet that ultimately brought me back. After working a few years, I went back for an MBA and majored in Information Systems. At that time the rumblings of the internet began, and I read everything I could get my hands on. I could see the possibilities: the interconnectedness, the knowledge sharing, the world’s library where everyone contributes expertise. There were no classes with a focus on the internet, but I worked with Pace University to create a self-directed course of study, and wrote a thesis on how the internet would disrupt the world. 



I can see how the idea of the internet as "the world's library" appealed to you.

Can you imagine the internet today without a browser?

That’s true. There is cool history on the beginnings of the internet. For instance, in 1991, there was an “internet”, but there was no World Wide Web as we know it today. There was no Chrome or Firefox browser. Can you imagine the internet today without a browser? Once the first browser - Mosaic - was released, things started rolling, as commercial networks (CompuServe, AOL) connected and offered access to everyone. Bulletin Boards, The WELL, UseNet groups all became easily accessible via the desktop. Everyone was given the keys to connect, collaborate on any given subject with anyone across the globe.


Did your MBA degree lead to a job in Technology?

I realized that developers did not just want to build something but were hungry to understand why they were building it.

Not right away. When I graduated, there weren't any jobs yet in the "digital space" as we understand it. But about a year later I talked my way into an opportunity with Merrill Lynch. I joined a group of passionate visionaries intent on building ML's first internet channel for retail clients. It was a very exciting time, and it was my first role at the intersection of business and technology. It was the first time I worked closely with developers. I realized that developers did not just want to build something but were hungry to understand why they were building it. They needed to understand the larger purpose.



Did you know that it's often difficult for business people to understand the dark art of technology development?

It often took months before the business got a chance to see and test the product

I understand this very well. I currently run the business operations of a Digital Factory inside a global wealth management firm. A good part of my job is building bridges between business and IT. I have a deep appreciation of both sides. Our technology partners are very smart, creative people who like to solve problems. However, there is complexity and challenges in building business solutions.


When I started out, there was a much larger gap between business and IT. Each side spoke its own language, which resulted in a long requirements and development process. It often took months before the business got a chance to see and test the product. Today, the process is much more iterative and collaborative. Agile methodologies now provide much more frequent touch-points, allowing for flexibility to make changes early. 


Is Agile the panacea? Did it close the gaps?

...it does take people on both sides out of their comfort zones!

It's certainly not perfect. It requires a lot of adjustment to new ways of working together by both sides. Agile ensures transparency and joint accountability. This breaks down the us-vs.-them mentality, but it does take people on both sides out of their comfort zones! On the bright side, there's more trust between members, and much less friction in communications and decisions.



Sounds like we've come a long way. But how do you handle the human factor?

Its vital to provide support and coaching so a small mistake or misunderstanding doesn't grow into something that will take us off track

Whether our focus is on clients or employees,