March 9, 2021

From English Grad to IT CEO

In our series, Careers in Motion, we bring you interviews with alumni entrepreneurs who are innovators, thought leaders and experts in their field. This month, you’ll meet Tracey Nyholt, BA’96, founder and CEO of boutique IT firm TechJutsu, who spun the skills she learned while majoring in English into a technology company that stresses concise communication skills.

Why the name — TechJutsu?

When I was in university, I had a part-time job where I experienced physical threats from some of my co-workers who tried to intimidate me into quitting. That’s when I took up martial arts — as really a way to even out a lopsided playing field. I wound up loving Bujinkan [an international martial arts organization] so much that, ever since, I have returned to Japan several times a year to train under Ninja Grandmaster Hatsumi Sensei.

What do you like about Japanese culture?

What I learn while studying Bujinkan in Japan is how to consistently improve and refine my technique. And so I try to apply that to my work, and life, in general. I also love the focus on quality over quantity as a measure of value in Japanese culture. 

How has your English degree helped you with your current job as CEO?

Many technology companies fail because they don’t communicate what they do in a way that potential prospects can comprehend. In my current role as CEO, I ensure that all our communications with clients are clear and are written at a level that can be understood by anyone in their businesses. 

Did a professor leave you with any sage advice?

My favourite professor, Dr. Jim Black, always told us: “Words are dollars, save them.” I use this filter to edit all my client-facing communications; I strive to keep them simple and brief.

How did you go from working at a help desk to starting an Identity and Access Management (IAM) company?

Being a less-than-typical IT professional, I saw the potential of building a team that was both technical and communicative. IAM is a huge growth area as our need to validate identities as a way to secure data access, is only going to increase. I picked identity management as an area of specialization as security is outsourced less often than other areas of IT. Frankly, businesses can’t safely use technology without identity security . . . it’s the bedrock of today’s cloud-based businesses.

Do you have any advice for new grads interested in this field?

Landing your first job is difficult. Look at offering potential employers a creative value-add that will nab their attention. For example, can you provide tech support as well as help translate their website into French? Can you offer a way to save your manager time or money by recommending a better process?

What are the common mistakes people make during an interview?

People often present their skills like a matrix. As an employer, I want to know their story. When you used X in your class project, how did that improve the outcome? Tell me about the group project where you had to lift up a classmate who was not pulling their weight. I want to know you are going to do exactly what it takes to deliver. 

Do you have any tips for video interviews? 

Do a test first and make sure your microphone does not have static and that your lighting is good. Clean up the area your webcam will show; interviewers who see a tidy, well-organized space will view this as a reflection of your potential work. 

Are there many opportunities in IT for people with a liberal arts background?

Certainly. For those who persevere enough to get that first job, there is lots of potential to offer IT employers the benefit of communication and other skills that social science degrees build.