When I learned that Atilla Tinic was DISH Network’s new CIO, I had a lot of questions. How did the executive committee define the CIO role? How did he prepare for the interview? What was compelling about the opportunity? How did he get started?
Tinic was kind enough to answer my questions on the record. Please enjoy my conversation with Tinic, who describes his approach to the interviews and the new job.
Martha Heller: In some ways, your new job begins with the interview. How did you prepare for it?
Atilla Tinic: DISH Network is a Fortune 250 company in Denver, where I’ve have lived for over 20 years, so I thought I was already pretty familiar with the company. But, nevertheless, I started to do my research. As I learned more, I began to appreciate DISH as a company that is built on an entrepreneurial spirit. Sling TV, the first live over-the-top (OTT) TV service, is a good example, as is DISH’s whole-home smart solutions, which they’ve been delivering to customers for almost a decade.
And then there is the wireless business. I learned that DISH had purchased a substantial amount of wireless spectrum with the goal of becoming the first standalone 5G network in the U.S. That was all extremely exciting to me.
How did you decide to take the job?
I did a lot of self-reflection. I saw considerable relevance between where I’ve been and where the company is going. Earlier in my career, I was at a competitive local exchange provider, Time Warner telecom, which was very much like a start-up. We built and implemented that IT ecosystem from scratch, and I got to see it flourish in the business, survive acquisition and take on a whole new playing field of products and competitors. The entrepreneurial spirit of my former company seemed to thrive in DISH. So, I realized that while the DISH CIO role was new to me, it also brought me back to where I started.
During your interviews, what did the executive committee articulate as major goals for the CIO role?
DISH runs multiple lines of business: DISH TV, Sling TV, Smart Home services, and Wireless. They were looking for someone who could drive efficiencies in each of those businesses, and they viewed my background in telecom as relevant to each one of them.
They also wanted the CIO to drive a culture of innovation, generate curiosity about technology, and look for ways to embed technology in everything they did. The DISH brand promise is “Tuned In To You,” with a focus on delivering the best experience. For instance, technology can be a means to serve our customers even better, from automated self-help tools, to utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to equip agents to answer a customer’s question more effectively.
They talked about DISH’s CPAW culture: curiosity, pride adventure, and winning, and wanted to be sure my philosophy and approach aligned with those values.
What approach did you take to your first three months on the job?
First, I wanted to learn the organization. That meant spending a lot of time with peers, with my direct reports, and with my greater team in “coffee chats,” where I sit with different groups of people on my team.
With my stakeholders, I went into each conversation with a set list of questions around their business priorities, their perception of IT, and their needs.
By meeting with my peers, I encountered what I think many CIOs hear: More IT is better. I talked about a culture of integrating technology into everything we do, and there was a visibly insatiable appetite from peers in the company. That’s job security, but also a challenge.
Also, DISH runs a program called Base Camp, where every employee, from individual contributors to C-level executives, learn what our customer service agents do every day. We learn this by actually doing the service agents’ job. We are trained on how to take a call and go into the field with technicians and help with installs of service. Through this program, I learned what it would have otherwise taken me a year to learn.
What changes did you make early on?
Some CIOs make the mistake of trying to put their own brand on the group and make overarching changes before they understand why the team operates the way it does. I wanted to embrace all of the good things that were happening to avoid disrupting the flow of delivery and alienating my team. My job, in the beginning, was to provide a third-party perspective.
Via that process, I noticed some major assets, like a very good target architecture, leveraging the cloud for new lines of business, and strong development capabilities. There were also areas where I wanted us to continue to advance, including increasing our footprint in technologies like machine learning, intelligent process automation, enhanced collaboration tools, and ongoing maturity improvements in our DevOps journey.
I spent time on overall organizational structure and program management. How well are we aligned with our business? How are we managing our programs? What technologies are we investing in? How are we weighting different technologies? And how are we measuring results?
In retrospect, is there anything you would have changed about the approach?
I am still too early in the job to see my approach in hindsight, but I did make sure to understand that because my industry background is so close to DISH’s, I might be dealing with systems and vendors that I’ve worked with before. I am doing my best to not come in with a ready answer based on my past experiences. Sometimes I think I see a path, and I want to move expeditiously, but I want to be sure I am not making any assumptions based on a pre-conceived bias.
What advice do you have for CIOs just starting a new job?
I can think of three things. The first is that your greatest asset is your people. Spend as much with them as possible. The second is to make sure you are using your EQ [emotional quotient] as much as your IQ. It will ensure you listen and empathize. Finally, make sure you understand the company culture as you set your strategy. You may have a great strategy, but if it doesn’t align with the culture it will likely fail. Just like the old adage says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
About Atilla Tinic
As senior vice president and CIO, Atilla Tinic leads IT strategy and operations for the DISH TV, Sling TV, and Wireless groups. His focus is on delivering best-in-class customer, employee, and partner experiences across the company’s brands and businesses by delivering innovative technology services and solutions. Prior to DISH, Tinic was a senior vice president, IT with CenturyLink ,as well as CIO of Level 3 Communications. His 25-year information technology and telecommunications career began with leadership positions at Bell Canada, Bell Sygma, Saville Systems, American Management Systems (AMS) and tw telecom. He received a BA degree from the University of Western Ontario and a Master of Applied Science from the University of Denver.
Martha Heller is CEO of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive recruiting firm specializing in CIO, CTO, CISO and senior technology roles in all industries. She is the author The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership and Be the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT. To join the IT career conversation, subscribe to The Heller Report.