Kirk Bresniker is a "technical steward", but also fronts up to customers, analysts and development partners all over the world -- "talking about everything from operating system calls to photonic interconnects".
His direct reports -- a team of seven that includes technologists and master engineers -- are based across the globe. "In the past three years we have never once been all together in one place and I am not sure we ever will be."
But this works fine for Bresniker, vice president and chief technologist of business critical systems at HP.
"My day-to-day role is divided into two parts: external communications and product development," he says. The technical side of his job covers a couple of key areas in HP's enterprise servers, storage and networking products. On the hardware side, there is the ProLiant Industry Standard Server line, and the software side covers all of HP's operating system software products including HP-UX, OpenVMS and the NonStop fault tolerant operating environments.
Bresniker is also an HP Fellow, and he says it is uncommon to hold this title while being VP and chief technologist. He meets with the other Fellows to provide technical guidance and leadership through their own lines of business, and mentor and guide the career of other technologists at HP.
He considers himself fortunate to be able to take on this parallel path for career development and advancement. It allows technologists to stay technical, but to gain responsibility and rewards on par with their management career path peers.
"Part of the challenge in advancing in a technical career path is that there will always be pressure to advance and move up. You need to be able to operate beyond the scope of your current management team. That is where finding a career-path mentor can help you work through the transitions and know when you are ready to approach your management team for an expanded role. The more accomplished you are, the more likely your current manager will be relying on you to help on current projects."
Bresniker had always wanted to be an engineer, taking after his father who was a mechanical engineer and a "born problem solver". In high school, while his friends worked in retail, he landed his first job in IT, writing a PC-based application to automate bid development at his brother-in-law's company.
He joined HP right after finishing his electrical engineering degree at Santa Clara University. He worked on a series of investigations on major platforms that "didn't actually go anywhere".
His manager at that time gave him this sage advice that provided a turning point in his career at HP: 'You need to see the development cycle through to learn how our customers shape our design, how to transfer a platform into production and how to follow it through the service and support process.
So rather than sign up for the next big blue sky investigation, find a smaller project you know is likely to ship and work to make it happen.'
"I was able to learn the entire development cycle, but being part of a smaller team meant that we cross-trained and supported ourselves across every discipline - mechanical, electrical, firmware, operating systems. It also led to deep interactions with our sales, service and support teams as we trained them on the new products."
"I still manage to dash off a patent application most years, but not nearly as many as I used to," says Bresniker who holds 23 US patents, with seven more pending, and 10 European patents.