MATRIX Employee Spotlight: Gervais Johnson
Gervais “Jay” Johnson joined MATRIX in 2016 with many years of experience working in technology and financial services. From Software Engineer to Program Manager to VP of Enterprise Architecture to his current role as National Agile Practice Director, all of this experience has instilled humility and passion for what he does. Jay recently started Gateway to Agile, a community of leaders in San Francisco who gather to collaborate and share knowledge about Agile. Read Jay’s story below and check out his Meetup next time you’re in the Bay Area.
Tell me about yourself.
I’m an Air Force brat, so it’s hard to pinpoint “where I’m from”. I spent a lot of my childhood overseas. I was born in California and lived in Japan, Okinawa, Germany, France, Texas, and Florida before moving back to California. My education started with a nursing degree from San Angelo State with plans to go to medical school. I was going to school full-time while also working as a nurse full-time – not your typical college experience. Then, I had a brief stint in the Navy (to the dismay of my Air Force family) but from there I decided to go back to school to study computer science and business. During my second college experience, I worked full-time as a psychiatric nurse at a mental health hospital. That experience still comes in handy today - I jokingly tell people during organizational change efforts at a company, that I know how to point out the “mentally healthy challenged” people, and I can help them adjust accordingly.
What has your career path looked like?
After I finished my second degree at San Diego State University, my first job was working as a Systems Engineer for a company that builds some of the largest ships in the world, General Dynamics and NASSCO. I was a software engineer for many years and earned promotions like Chief Engineer, Database Manager, Technology Manager, and Enterprise Architect. I got to be involved with some cool projects – one of my favorites was working on the NASA Space Shuttle program at Vandenberg AFB. That project opened the door for many opportunities, which led me to work across multiple industries helping to implement bleeding-edge solutions. I spent the majority of my career leading large programs at IBM for clients. This involved implementing many solutions, including Information Architecture solutions for Financial Services companies, as well as Watson Cognitive Computing solutions for various industries. I was part of the Agile and DevOps thought leadership for IBM internal as well as our clients. Over the last 10 years, I have led many Agile journeys for countless clients. Once I retired from IBM, I was an independent consultant before joining MATRIX.
What’s the most challenging part of your career?
My passion is to find unique and innovative solutions for complex problems. That can be a difficult process with a lot of pressure with critical deadlines. Like when I was at NASA, the challenges popping up were new and first of their kind, and we didn’t know the answer – we had to experiment and adapt. The Agile Journeys for IBM and many of their clients was also a struggle and we learned quickly that we needed to focus on the organization culture. As we all know, changing organization and culture is a long and difficult process. All things considered, I’m grateful to be in a career where I have freedom to apply innovative thinking.
MATRIX stood out to me because it’s a growing, smaller company full of opportunities. It’s difficult to have a voice and stand out at a large company, but at MATRIX I feel that I can really make a difference. I get to bring my experience and add value to help MATRIX grow. That’s exciting to me.
What does your life look like outside of work?
I enjoy photography, art, theater, and movies. I’m a big fan of Science Fiction, Mystery, and Game of Thrones. I used to be more outdoorsy, but I don’t do much camping these days. Believe it or not, I like what I do, so that takes up a lot of my free time. I emerge myself in what most people call “work”, but I don’t look at it that way as it is my passion. I’m currently writing a book about the Agile Enterprise – the “CAO”, or Chief Agile Officer. It explains what a true Agile organization looks like and the need for a CAO – and how to achieve it. Another cause I’m passionate about is advocating for the LGBTQ community and making sure there’s equal treatment and representation in the professional world and our country.
Best piece of advice?
Get involved and learn. You can never know too much. There’s always room to learn how you can do better. A lot of people procrastinate and are held back by being fearful. So my advice is to be fearless – volunteer to do the hard stuff, not the easy stuff. If you fail, learn from it and apply it to the next thing.