On the lighter side of things, we caught up with F5 Networks’ SVP of Sales for EMEA, David Helfer, to find out what makes him tick.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
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 ex-pat assignment.
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. Both my family and I still live in England and we love it. What we have accomplished to become genuinely settled and integrated feels like a big and personally fulfilling achievement.
What first made you think of a career in technology?
I grew up and studied in Michigan, which isn’t exactly the heartland of technology. What really helped me progress in my career was studying overseas. I would advise anyone to jump at the opportunity to experience new environments and different industries.
It also helped that I had three older brothers already working in Silicon Valley when I left university, so it seemed like a logical step to go there myself. I accepted my first role as a sales rep 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.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
There is a huge difference between the meaning of achievement and fulfilment. A lot of executives make the mistake of getting caught up in the fast-paced world of tech. 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 do you think will emerge as the technology trend of 2019 and why?
The past few years have seen organisations increasingly moving their apps to a public cloud environment. As a result, application security is an unavoidable and critical trend as we head into 2019. The most important capital that businesses possess is their people and the apps they run. Leaving them open to attack isn’t an option.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
2018 has seen a big focus on skills gaps within the tech industry and I can’t see that issue going anywhere anytime soon. There is so much demand for talent that organisations are all pursuing the same prospects. Unfortunately, people often forget that recruitment and development are two entirely different things. The current available talent pool is clearly limited in its scalability, so 2019 will require a big reset in terms of how companies enrich their teams, including becoming more effective in nurturing and empowering existing staff.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside of the office?
I have three kids – twin 14-year-old girls and a 12-year-old boy – plus a couple of dogs, so it is usually quite hectic outside the office. We spend a lot of time together and one of my favourite pastimes is taking a family stroll around Windsor Great Park, which is one of my all-time favourite places.
If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?
I went to primary school with a guy named Lawrence and one of my biggest career regrets is not giving him a call to say I would go and work for his company. That might not mean much to you now, but it might if I tell you he is now known as Larry Page, the Co-founder of Google.
What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in Europe?
Data privacy and localisation are big challenges for companies when they implement new technologies in Europe. It can take a lot of time to plan, localise and adapt, and not all businesses are sufficiently prepared for this process.
What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?
The pace of change in public cloud has significantly altered my job role. It’s 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’s no easy way to do it. The changes in public cloud only continue to accelerate, which means next year will entail a lot of homework to ensure we stay ahead of the curve and continue to evolve with value-adding purpose.
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain C-level/executive position in your industry?
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 important to adapt your approach to work and leadership. For example, I once read a book called Never Check E-Mail in the Morning: And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Your Work Life Work. Emails are a great form of communication, but they can also be at the heart of a lack of productivity. The more emails you send, the more people will reply. The key is to always stay focused, empathetic and open-minded.