How did you find yourself in a career in technology?
I was born and raised in a small town in Michigan called Kalamazoo, which is not exactly a technology heartland, but I was always interested in its potential applications. My love for technology was really jumpstarted when I studied overseas. It opened me up to a new world where it was at the heart of everything, and that’s where the journey really started.
It also helped that I had three older brothers already working in Silicon Valley when I left university, so it seemed logical for me to follow in their footsteps. I accepted my first role in San Jose for a small technology company that was well ahead of its time – we were selling cloud services before cloud even had a name! The rest, as they say, is history.
What has been your biggest challenge during your career?
In 2010, I faced one of my biggest challenges when I re-located my entire family and two dogs from Silicon Valley to London for my first expat assignment.
Starting a new job can be a difficult process and establishing yourself and finding your place within a new team isn’t always easy. It becomes even more interesting when combined with other relocation-related challenges such as house-hunting, adapting to new schools and getting to grips with British culture. Moving to a new country isn’t the same as simply visiting it. You don’t truly pick things up until you permanently live somewhere.
Fast forward almost nine years and my family and I still live in England. We love it, and we love what we have accomplished and experienced to become genuinely settled and integrated.
If we could give you a time-machine, what career decision would you go back and change?
I went to school with a humble guy called Lawrence but, as with many other fellow students, we didn’t stay in touch. I regret not maintaining contact and possibly asking him for a job – he’s now known as Larry Page, co-founder of Google!
What philosophy do you live by when it comes to satisfying your managerial role?
For me, achieving something and feeling true fulfilment are two entirely different ideas. Both can be achieved at the same time, but they aren’t synonymous.
A lot of executives make the mistake of getting caught up in the fast-paced world of tech and seek to innovate for innovation’s sake. This could mean getting too caught up in achieving rather than fulfilling. Naturally, achievement is a vital component of business success, but the more we focus on fulfilling our colleagues needs, the better they will perform.
What is your advice to those aspiring to a senior role?
The best way forward is to seek out the projects that will create the most impact and learn to filter out the noise. As you rise through the ranks, you also need to effectively delegate as you take on more strategic roles. Never get complacent. Throughout your career journey, it is also important to adapt your approach to work and leadership. The key is to always stay focused, empathetic and open-minded.
Where do you believe businesses should be focusing their investments this year in your industry?
Businesses should rigorously examine the potential of multiple cloud deployments to truly unlock their next levels of profit and innovation. These are exciting times but, as a result, it is more important than ever to maintain uniform security, policies and availability across entire application portfolios. F5’s mantra of delivering “every app, anywhere” has never been more apt!
It is also no surprise to me that the skills gap within the tech industry has become a significant issue over the past year. All technology businesses are seeking the same skills and pursuing the same candidates. The problem is that we are all demanding talent, but often can’t see that it is already right under our noses.
Recruitment and development are not the same. If businesses want to expand the available talent pool, they need to effectively address both. For some, this will require a big reset in terms of team enrichment, including better investment in nurturing and empowering existing staff.
How is your job role evolving in line with a rapidly fluctuating market and environmental changes?
The evolution and potential of cloud computing in all its incarnations has significantly changed my job in the past year.
It is now even more important to remain vigilant and keep pace with technological shifts to give me a crystal-clear understanding of industry trends. One of F5’s key philosophical drivers is to obsess over our customers’ needs, so we need to be on the absolute cutting edge when it comes to our insight, counsel and support. There is no easy way to do it. The changes in the multi-cloud space will only continue to accelerate, which means a lot of homework and innovation to ensure we stay ahead of the curve.
Life isn’t all about work, what do you do to unwind when you’re not in the office?
The hard work doesn’t stop when I leave the office, but it certainly gets more fun. I have 14-year-old twin daughters, a 12-year-old son, and a couple of dogs, so when it’s not a hectic day at work, it’s usually a jam-packed day out and about. My family and I spend a lot of time together and one of our favourite ways to unwind is taking a stroll around Windsor Great Park.
David Helfer, SVP EMEA, F5 Networks
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