From English Major to Ultimate IT Superhero: A Leadership Journey


The Connection annual IT Superhero Awards celebrate the unsung heroes of the tech world, recognizing outstanding individuals across categories like leadership, problem solving, innovation, and resilience. The pinnacle of these awards is the title of Ultimate IT Superhero, awarded to the individual who exemplifies the highest standards of technical excellence and leadership. In 2023, that honor went to Johan Dowdy, Global Head of IT and IT Security at Asana. Johan also received the Best Team Leader Award, a testament to his exceptional ability to inspire and guide his team to success. We had the privilege of speaking with this true IT superhero about his journey, leadership philosophy, and insights into fostering a thriving team. Here’s what he shared.

The Unexpected Path to Tech

Johan’s path into the tech world was anything but ordinary. “I studied English and German literature in school,” he laughs, “but computers always fascinated me.” A student job unexpectedly blossomed into a fulfilling career, proving that passion and flexibility can lead to unforeseen opportunities. His first role at a then-unknown startup called Workday ultimately propelled him to a management position. This company later became a major player in cloud computing, changing the way people use and experience technology.

Through managing others, Johan discovered that his love for teaching and mentoring—which he once thought was limited to academia—could flourish in the corporate world. By helping others grow in their careers, he found a way to fulfill his passion for mentorship, albeit in an unexpected setting.

The Evolution of an IT Leader: Learning to Delegate and Mentor

Johan’s leadership philosophy centers on two key principles: delegation and mentorship. Early in his career, he struggled with the idea that great managers don’t do all the work themselves. This realization was a turning point in his leadership style. “The leader’s role is not to do everything, but to orchestrate how it’s done,” he explains. He compares it to being a symphony conductor—setting the tempo, choosing the music, and guiding the players—even if he isn’t playing every instrument himself.

This philosophy extends to his approach to mentorship. Johan believes in actively engaging in his team’s development, fostering an environment where learning and growth are shared values. For him, it’s not just about telling people how to do their jobs, but about empowering them to learn and excel. He has created a culture of mutual growth, where both mentor and mentee learn from each other. This approach has led to the implementation of structured training programs to help his team navigate the challenges of remote work and the evolving IT landscape. These programs bridge the gap created by physical distance, ensuring that staff continue to learn and grow even when working remotely.

“The way you retain your staff is by training your staff,” Johan states. “If people are learning and growing, they’re less likely to change roles.” This belief in continuous development underscores Johan’s commitment to both his team’s success and his own growth as a leader.

The Qualities of an IT Superhero

This year, Johan’s award comes full circle as he takes on a new role: judge for the 2024 IT Superhero Awards. He’s looking forward to giving back and acknowledging the outstanding contributions of his IT peers. So, what qualities does he seek in the next generation of IT leaders?

Johan emphasizes the importance of collaboration and a customer-service mindset. He looks for individuals who foster strong partnerships with both colleagues and stakeholders, recognizing that IT is ultimately a service-oriented field dedicated to supporting the company’s success. Empathy and mindfulness, while sometimes overlooked, are also crucial leadership traits for Johan. He believes empathy is an essential skill that often gets overshadowed by the drive for results. “The best leaders lift others up with them,” he explains, and he actively seeks this quality in both potential hires and IT Superhero candidates.

IT Leadership that Inspires Change

Johan Dowdy’s story is an inspiration for anyone navigating a career in tech. It’s a testament to the power of embracing the unexpected, leading with empathy, and fostering a culture of continuous learning.

Key Lessons from Johan’s Journey

  • Don’t Fear the Unexpected: Career paths rarely follow a straight line. Embrace change as an opportunity for growth.
  • Empower Your Team: Great leaders create a collaborative environment where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute.
  • Never Stop Learning: The tech landscape is constantly evolving. Foster a culture of continuous learning to stay ahead of the curve.
  • Lead with Compassion: Empathy is a powerful leadership tool. Understand and connect with your team on a personal level.
  • Recognize Unsung Heroes: Celebrate the individuals who go above and beyond to make your organization successful.

Learn more about the 2024 IT Superhero Awards and how we recognize IT professionals who go above and beyond every day. Winners of the 2024 IT Superhero Awards and the non-profit organization they choose to donate to will be announced at our Technology Summit in Boston, MA on September 12, 2024.