Dave Russell at Veeam explains to Business Reporter why IT is a first rate career choice for anyone with ambition to succeed
BR. Why IT? Did you always plan to make a career in this industry? How has the industry evolved since you started your career?
Dave Russell.I knew since I was very young, since watching reruns of the original Star Trek that I wanted to be involved with computers. Getting into backup specifically in some ways was by chance. I wanted to go to graduate school for my master’s degree in a specific school, and my wife and I had just graduated undergrad. She got a job at IBM on mainframe backup development, and I started my MS program. At the same time, I was working in the undergrad computing lab, doing backup, and 32 years later, backup is still with me.
When it comes to the industry, there has been a great deal of evolution, from new technologies, to a greater emphasis on what’s mission critical to protect. However, when I was a Gartner analyst and I’d talk about what’s going on, my wife would comment that these sound like the same problems as existed in the late 1980s and early 1990s – namely that we are still striving for greater recoverability and faster access to data!
BR. What skills do companies like Veeam look for when it comes to recruiting professionals in IT and more technically-oriented roles?
Dave Russell. It always depends on the specific role, but in general, a personality that could work well within the team and a strong aptitude matters more a lot of the time than technical specifics. None of us were born with advanced degrees in computer science, or a knowledge of specific programming languages. But if you are curious, a team player, move at a fast pace, and are sharp, then anything can be learned. Being a great team member is important, because while someone might have excelled in solo projects at school, in the working world, success almost always comes about partly by working well with others.
This sometimes means that the best candidates can be found internally. If someone’s already proven a willingness to learn, and demonstrated that they can work well with others, then giving them the chance to move into new roles is not only good for the employee, but a lower risk for the company as well.
When it comes to Veeam specifically, we’re in a high growth phase, and we need net new people. When looking to bring people on board, the focus is really on any specific technical skill that the someone may have that can add to what is already in the company, and definitely the desire to win, but to do so in a way that’s supportive of the wider team as well.
BR. Is it just about being technically minded, or are there other elements?
Dave Russell. We take the time to make clear that technical knowledge is just part of what we’re looking for, discussing how Veeam is a global business and a collaborative one at that. We have always been an organisation that operates in a borderless way with close-knit teams, so the soft skills that employees at a business like Veeam have is also very important.
This is particularly the case when you consider the size of a company like Veeam, which does business in over 180 countries, in every major vertical you can imagine. Teams are working with others all over the world, and we’re stronger for the variety of different cultures and backgrounds that we have within the business. Another great, non-technical skill is being able to see the larger picture. It helps you to ask better overall questions, and come up with even better solutions, rather than just focusing on a very specific aspect of an activity or project.
BR. What areas should IT professionals be prioritising for their learning and development? How can they futureproof their skillsets?
Dave Russell. Here, I would start with a good foundational knowledge of solid engineering and problem-solving concepts. Combined with some knowledge of one of the major programming languages, as well as being a motivated, supportive team player, this gets anyone in the industry far. Everything else can be learned or picked up in the role, assuming someone is motivated to do so.
There’s been some seismic changes within IT over the past few years that I’d also suggest professionals looking to get started would do well to learn. This includes new delivery models, such as as-a-Service. New packaging models, such as containerization, or emerging development models, such as DevOps, PlatformOps and DataOps. Having an awareness and appreciation of adjacent areas within IT is also useful. For example, Veeam is not a security vendor, however everyone in a corporation has a role to play in proper security (even if you are not officially within the IT team), so cybersecurity awareness is crucial.
BR. If you had to give advice to yourself at the start of your career, what would you say?
Dave Russell. I was extremely lucky as I had technical mentors in product development see my potential and offer me opportunities early on. I was often just signing up for projects based upon the respect that I had for certain people that recommended them to me. In hindsight, while that didn’t seem very planned out, and at times I did worry about that, it was brilliant because being on a strong team with great opportunities in any project was exactly what I needed to develop quickly.
Looking back, I did wonder if I should have gone into different technical areas or change a bit of my personality. What I’ve learned is that you must be authentic and do what you are passionate about. If you really love something, you will find yourself spending the time on it and being yourself.
My best advice to my younger self would have been not to worry about at least half, if not more, of the things that I worried about! Just find something interesting with good people, and you are well on your way to success and happiness.
BR. How has your experience as an industry analyst translated into your current role vendor-side? What has it meant for the skillset you’re using every day?
Dave Russell. Being an industry analyst at Gartner for almost 13 years taught me to think differently. I learned to see things from not only a broader perspective, but then to think about other aspects of the solution, other approaches, even question if something should be done or improved upon. I also learned to communicate more effectively, meaning to be more concise, to use less jargon or technical speak, and to sometimes use analogies to make points more clearly.
I started to realize that most of the time someone said “I’m sorry this is probably a dumb question” that it wasn’t actually the case, and in fact often it was a very insightful comment or query as the person was thinking about things from a different perspective. This is how projects and ideas get stronger.
BR. As an industry, what have been some of the common mistakes businesses have made when it comes to data protection in the past, and what can they do about it?
Dave Russell. One big mistake businesses make is that they think there is a quick fix. Unfortunately, there is a not a single piece of software or hardware that will magically do everything. Sometimes it is helpful to think about data protection in a broader business context, not just the technical IT context. An example is ransomware and cybersecurity. Think about how backup and availability can support and contribute to the overall security best practices of the business. From this, you may realize that there are ways to even further leverage and reuse backup data to offload production, better secure systems, and of course be restorable in case of human error, natural disaster, or cyber-attack.
It may sound odd, but in previous roles I have often used the phrase “You may not be able to fix everything, but you can improve something.” What this meant was that often IT teams know exactly what they would like to do to modernize their data protection, but they don’t have the spending budget, people, or infrastructure to do it all at once. That’s ok, just see the big picture, have a plan to eventually get there, and prioritize making improvements where and when you can. As you repeat that process, you will get there.
BR. What have been the big themes when it comes to data protection over the past year from your perspective, and where do you see it moving in the next year?
Dave Russell. The top challenges here include things that sound very familiar: data growth, increasingly demanding service level agreements, and cost containment concerns. These remain valid, and they probably always will be in the mix.
Alongside these, there have been a number of further themes that have really resonated globally over the last year. This includes an ability to respond effectively to the threat of ransomware, evolving data protection so that it can best support digital transformation, but also how it increasingly is involved in the faster rate that all of that digital transformation is happening – reusing or leveraging data for faster application development and deployment.
Dave Russell is VP Enterprise Strategy at Veeam
Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com