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On-the-job training turns would-be lawyer into IT director for Condé Nast

Whether it was 'dumb luck' or fate, Justin Glatz got pulled into IT and now manages business and corporate systems at publishing company Condé Nast.

At 19, Justin Glatz planned to become a lawyer; at 35, he can't imagine a career other than the one he has now -- helping lead the IT department of a major media publishing company.

Because information technology was never something Glatz, director of business and corporate systems for New York-based Condé Nast, consciously decided to pursue, it's difficult to separate and dissect the circumstances of how he landed here: Did he back into it? Did it sneak up on him? Or was it, as he characterized, just "dumb luck?"

What's easier is pinpointing the moment when a career path other than law popped up. Two years into his undergraduate degree at Boston University (BU) and in his pursuit to understand corporate culture and the nuances of office life, Glatz took a temp position at Zeneca Group PLC, a pharmaceutical company now known as AstraZeneca PLC.

"I was involved in [HR management software] PeopleSoft support development and other back-office applications," Glatz said.

When I look back, I think, 'I could have monumentally failed.'

Justin Glatz, Director of business and corporate systems at Condé Nast

The temp position turned into an internship, and by the time Glatz graduated from BU in 1999 with degrees in philosophy and psychology, the internship had turned into a full-time offer that was too good to refuse.

'Sucked into IT'

In those early years, Glatz, originally from southwest Philadelphia, still had his eye on the lawyer ball. He planned to take the LSAT and wanted to continue racking up experience that would pay off later. He wanted to pay down his debt from undergrad, and maybe, just maybe, figure out a way for the company to help pay for law school. Despite the planning, he ended up "getting sucked into IT."

"Once you're in that environment, everything gets lost and time seems to go away. Very quickly, you get wrapped up in the tactical planning of your life," said Glatz. "It wasn't intentional. My legal future was on the back burner, and the back burner was getting turned down because I wasn't paying attention."

Glatz, who was a programmer and engineer for the pharmaceutical company, learned early on that Zeneca valued efficiency. With the help of his supervisor and mentor, he strove to acquire as many skills as he could and remain relevant in his post -- striking a balance between depth and breadth. He mastered PeopleSoft, learned how to code and build products. But one of the most memorable projects he worked on was upgrading Windows Registry when the company transitioned from Windows 95 to Windows 98.

"[It's] one of the more significant things I had done -- getting an understanding of how software works between servers and desktops," he said. "Those technical skills were the building blocks I could relate to any software registry no matter what it was."

His efforts were appreciated and garnered positive reinforcement, which motivated him to push forward with enthusiasm and acquire additional skills. And so, without even realizing it, Glatz was building a foundation for a career in IT.

Merger and moving on

The skills propelled Glatz's IT career forward, into bigger and more challenging positions.

In 2000, when Zeneca became AstraZeneca through a merger, he decided it was time to move on, accepting an offer from Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) and human resources management services (HRMS) administrator. The nonprofit organization and its nearly nonexistent IT staff were hoping to undertake major plans of implementing PeopleSoft, introducing ERP, tying HR and financial software into the main system and deprecating smaller systems.

It was a leap for Glatz because some of the tasks were beyond the range of his skill set. ERP, financial planning and accounting -- he wasn't well-versed in any it. "When I look back, I think, 'I could have monumentally failed,'" he said.

But he didn't. Instead, he racked up another two years of experience, which included acting as system administrator. More significantly, his perspective on a career in IT changed.

"I committed to the path of IT," he said. "And that's when I realized … the back burner on going to law school got turned off."

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With newfound acceptance, Glatz continued to push himself, accepting an offer from Condé Nast, which publishes dozens of titles, such as The New Yorker, Bon Appetit, Traveler, Vanity Fair and Wired.

"Coming to them, I didn't have a great understanding of how large a company they actually were," he said. But he was enticed by the opportunity to shed system administrator duties, which meant he was on call 24/7, and become a developer.

Weeks in, Glatz noticed Condé Nast's IT department was undergoing a pretty significant transition. With a newly hired CIO and a push to expand both the size and maturity of its systems, as well as the number of employees running those systems, the department was a little chaotic -- but for Glatz, exactly where he wanted to be.

"Seeing that some of the other areas hadn't been staffed up yet, I started working with a big system integrator for the project," he said. "I pitched in where I could, being the new guy."

Moving up

It didn't take long for the company to notice Glatz's initiative. Within a year, he was offered a managerial position, and he decided to accept. It may not be an obvious move for someone dedicated to coding and having recently embraced an IT career. But Glatz, who has been with Condé Nast for the last decade, knew he could continue building his technical experience while stretching himself in yet another direction.

"The biggest hurdle -- and this is kind of an 'after-school special' -- in anything and everything that I've ever been challenged by has been myself," he said. "Like most people, I find myself at times fairly change-resistant."

He struggled with letting go, as he was no longer the one building the product. Instead, Glatz had to trust his team's ability. But he also had to step up to the plate and become an advocate on how the company could best grow and support the department. That's where he learned one of the most important skills to have in the technology field -- how to communicate.

"Many problems businesses face today aren't solved by IT, but they aren't solved without it either," he said. "Bringing that level of reality into the conversation with business leadership and partnering with them to become part of the business is a practice that takes evolution and maturity."

Dig Deeper on Business intelligence team