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The Grill: Qwest's Pieter Poll says why being a CTO is his dream job

Carrier's chief technology officer talks of joking about being paid for his job 'because it's fun', and outlines where Qwest is headed

June 12, 2009 03:43 PM ET

Computerworld - Pieter Poll is Chief Technology Officer at Qwest Communications International Inc. in Denver, which serves business customers nationally and residential customers in 14 western states with telephone, high-speed Internet, fiber-optic Internet and DirecTV services. The company is also serving as an agent for Verizon Wireless services. Poll talked about his career and the directions Qwest is taking.

You have an education in math and a graduate degree in physics. As CTO, you are now responsible for technology strategy at Qwest. What do people in your line of work need from an education? My bachelor's is in math and physics, and my doctorate is from Cornell in physics. So that meant making a transition from theoretical physics into the telecom lab at Bell Labs. There was a logical segue between the way you approach problems in physics and with problems in the lab. The first graduate degree, the master's, is not there to teach you material. It teaches you to think critically and that's a key skill we need in any technology industry. People are not just turning a crank and answering a problem. They are thinking critically. Also as a technologist you need to learn about business, as well, since you deal with business matters.

What is the hardest part of your job? The hardest part is ensuring you are building consensus, or support, for what you are proposing, because there are always other points of view. There's also always tension between what is right strategically in the long run and hard to do in the short run because of finances and economics.

Dossier

Name: Pieter Poll.
Title: Chief Technology Officer.
Organization: Qwest Communications International Inc.
Location: Denver.
Favorite technology: "The home PC."
Biggest pet peeve: "Anyone who thinks delivering less than their absolute best is acceptable."
Favorite book: The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik.
In high school, I was known for: "Being a geek."
Something people don't know about him: "If you couldn't guess from my favorite book, I am a somewhat serious birder and have a goal to see all of the roughly 700 species of birds in North America. Birding dovetails nicely with my nature photography and fly fishing hobbies."

Has the recession been frustrating in your sector? Actually, the recession has not been frustrating for Qwest. As a company we have grown revenue in the business space, and revenue in the consumer and wholesale part was as planned. The wholesale channel business is focused on making margins, since revenue is easy to get, but we want to make sure it's profitable. Qwest has flourished if anything in this economy. It's an opportunity that's probably true for all telecom. There are challenges facing the service industry in telecom, yes, and some companies are diminishing a bit, but it's not the same as some other industries where the bottom has been hit.



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