Mentors = mobility for this PNC chief information officer - Technical.ly Pittsburgh

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Mentors = mobility for this PNC chief information officer

Chris Johns started at PNC 23 years ago as an entry-level developer. Here's how her career evolved with the financial institution.

Chris Johns.

(Courtesy photo)

As an introvert without a computer science degree, Chris Johns did not anticipate managerial promotions when she started in the online banking development arm of PNC Financial Services 23 years ago. So how did she land in the C-suite?

For one, stepping outside of her comfort zone. Plus, “mentorship and my network have been very important parts of my career and professional development,” Johns said.

Johns is the chief information officer of PNC’s Asset Management Group and Staff Services functions. Her day-to-day entails discussing with PNC business partners how technology can support their evolving objectives. Then, she works internally to identify the best solutions to deliver on those needs.

This is Johns’ fourth managerial role at the company since joining PNC as a software developer in 1998. Prior to PNC, Johns studied biomedical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh and Duke University. She was a biomedical engineer in cardiology research, her first post-grad job.

“I learned so much about programming on the job at PNC. People shouldn’t be afraid of moving into technology or software development if they don’t have a computer science degree,” she said. “I think all it comes down to is that desire to learn and aptitude for creativity and problem-solving.”

The financial institution has grown, and Johns’ role has changed since she started at the company, but she said there’s been one constant.

“It’s always been a really supportive environment to work in,” she added. “I feel like there are a number of people any day who I can reach out to, to bounce ideas off of to get feedback, to brainstorm or to just talk to. Any number of people would pick up the phone and say, ‘Yes, what do you need?’ It’s been that way for 23 years.”

In the following Q&A, Johns answers more questions about her career growth and what she’s excited about looking ahead.

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What attracted you to team-leading roles?

Initially, I went into engineering because I thought, “Oh, I don’t have to necessarily worry about the people side of things.” When I started my career, I realized I can be an introvert and still enjoy teamwork. I was good at helping guide the team and naturally stepping up in conversations. The more I did it, the more I enjoyed coaching and building teams.

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It was pretty organic and not at all what I expected to be doing, but it’s one of the things I enjoy the most about my current role.

What was the biggest adjustment when you started managing people?

Learning to let go, step back and delegate. Not only did I need to rely on the team more, but I also needed to get out of their way to support and encourage them.

What excites you about your team’s work?

There are a couple of things we’re really excited about, like the power of machine learning and AI combined with data about customers’ usage. Feedback on our online banking is constant since we track how long users spend on certain features and what they’re not using to understand what we need to change.

What really drives me is creating easy-to-use experiences for our clients. If I download an app to my phone or I go to a website and it’s not really easy to use, I just don’t use it. There are lots of emerging technologies that we’re planning on leveraging to make PNC’s digital and mobile spaces really fun and engaging.

You’ve cited mentorship as a big driver for your career. How does mentorship play a role in your current position?

My mentors are how I got to where I am today. In my current position, I prioritize making space for mentees through Women Connect, one of PNC’s Employee Business Resource Groups (EBRGs).

When I mentor, I share my own experiences and lessons I’ve learned along the way in the event they might help somebody. I always find it interesting to hear what folks are interested in and what they’re struggling with. It’s really rewarding to be able to be there for somebody and be that sounding board, that safe place where they can bring ideas and have open conversations.

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