One of our regular features, “3 Questions,” gives us the chance to talk to an expert about the latest trends and insights within IT (and sometimes in related fields). We’ve been blown away by the caliber of the people who have been willing to participate and share their thoughts on topics ranging from local government to communications.

We haven’t run a “3 Questions” for the past few weeks. The feature has been placed on pause as we prepare to unveil something even better early next year. However, we couldn’t pass up the chance to showcase particularly profound responses to our 2014 “3 Questions” series. Here, our top ten favorite quotes:

Mitch Davis, CIO Bowdoin College.

What he said: “If you look at the failure of IT, it’s not the technology; it’s the inability to communicate effectively with clients. IT people shove technology down clients’ throats rather than create an opportunity for the client to pester them for the service. If the client isn’t actively asking for the service, then you’re probably in a situation of high resistance.”

Why it matters: The greatest technology in the world is worthless if the client doesn’t use it.

Dr. Jakob Nielsen, usability expert.

What he said: “Studying users—not the technology—raises warning flags. People enamored of the technology side will criticize us. They will say we think people are too stupid or too lazy. It’s not that they’re stupid or lazy, but they don’t care about technology, they care about getting their jobs done.”

Why it matters: Like Davis, he reminds us who our client really is.

Carla Gentry, self-confessed “data nerd.”

What she said: “It’s not enough when you get in front of VPs to say the analysis was successful. That’s where the business knowledge comes in. It’s not just that ‘45 percent of our potential customers are female and 55 percent are male.’ You have to do 9- and 10-tier levels deep analysis, like ‘My best customer is 45, has a dog, lives in a two-story house and drives a Cadillac.’”

Why it matters: “Big data” and data science discussions can be esoteric, but she brought it down to earth with a concrete example we can relate to.

Susan Buck, Women’s Coding Collective.

What she said: “Build a tribe. You’re going to find yourself at a lot of interviews, at conference sessions, and at meeting tables where you’re going to wonder, ‘Do I belong here?’ Often, as you look around at a majority that does not look like you, you'll really start to doubt that you do. Because of this, having a tribe of other women you can report back to, and share your experiences with, is going to be key to powering on.”

Why it matters: Buck may have been offering advice to young women who are just starting out in technology, but it’s applicable to anyone, at any stage of a career.

 Jonathan Feldman , CIO of Asheville, N.C.

What he said: “Open data is the automation of open records. That sounds simple, but it’s profound. Instead of manually pulling records that are, by law, required to be disclosed, why not just automate the process so that you don’t have to staff up to respond to these requests?”

Why it matters: While some governments have resisted moving to open data because they are concerned it will create more work, Feldman noted that it could actually save governments time and money. (And that it might be a matter of good common sense.)

Raechelle Clemmons, vice president and CIO, St. Norbert College.

What she said: “No student has ever selected an institution because of its student information system. Yet we spend of a lot of IT resources in support of these types of technologies. At many institutions, in fact, most of the IT dollars are spent supporting IT infrastructure that is important, but completely irrelevant to our core mission of educating students. As IT leaders, we need to do what we can to minimize the resources needed to support these technologies so that we can focus our time, energy, and budgets on those things that have a more direct and positive impact on our students.”

Why it matters: Clemmons put the focus back where it belongs: on the customer, in this case the student. It’s easy to focus on the day-to-day issues of keeping the network up, but the real challenge is how best to educate the student.

 Hunter Walk, venture capitalist.

What he said: “My interest in tech is grounded first in creativity and community—desktop publishing for my high school newspaper, early Usenet discussion groups. The connective tissue for me between Second Life, AdSense, and YouTube is they’re all bets on people. Giving creative tools to people; creating products and services within communities that serve as both consumers and collaborators; and providing a business model so the creators can realize economic value. You can’t pay rent or buy food with YouTube views alone!”

Why it matters: Walk reminds us that one of the downsides of new technology is that it has made it harder for some creative people to make money on their art. At the same time, the Internet has made it much easier for art to be exposed. Surely there has to be a way to use the Internet to make it possible for artists to earn a living.

Theresa Payton, security expert and former White House CIO

What she said: “I was doing a back-of-the-napkin estimate for the National Archives and they were asking how many gigabytes it would be. I said, ‘Gigabytes? I think we’ll be talking zettabytes.’”

Why it matters: She made it clear how quickly our digital world is growing, even back in the days of the second Bush White House.

Stephen diFilipo, vice president and higher education CIO.

What he said: “Any person who falls into the category of early adopter has some characteristics of a maverick, rogue, rebel, and pirate. When that same person has the political acumen to navigate the organizational ‘channels,’ the early adopter characteristics can provide significant competitive advantage. On the other hand, an overly aggressive early adopter may be too far ahead of the curve and have less-than-hoped-for results.”

Why it matters: diFilipo offered a nice reminder that there are both upsides and downsides of being “bleeding edge.”

Kelly Hoey, angel investor.

What she said: “Visionaries are a different breed. There is only one Steve Jobs. There is only one Elon Musk. Visionaries who changed industries, changed the way we work, and changed our lives are few and far between. But to be an innovator—someone who questions how we work, and our work process—I think that is a muscle that all of us need to stretch. To be an innovator you need to be curious, to listen, and to move out of that business-as-usual mode. You have to say ‘yes’ to doing things differently. That’s something people can definitely improve upon.”

Why it matters: People talk about innovation all the time, but her take made us want to actually say "yes" to change.

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