On the lighter side of things, we caught up with Couchbase’s Huw Owen, to find out what makes him tick…
What has been your most memorable achievement?
Thankfully there’s been a lot of highs and exciting parts of my career but something that really stands out and will always be memorable has got to be the first million dollar deal I closed. That was a defining moment in my early career and ultimately set me off on the path to where I am today.
What first made you think of a career in technology?
I got into technology by accident – I sort of fell into it rather than it being a conscious decision. I played rugby for Leicester Tigers while I was studying and I spent my year-in-industry at the IT services company, ICL, which held a place for me post-rugby. It was while I was working at ICL that I realised the potential of a career in IT once my playing days were over.
What kind of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have held roles in larger and smaller companies, and one thing I’ve learnt in both is that you’ve got to pay attention to your customers, prospects and partners: this is what I seek to encourage in my team at Couchbase. I also believe that I need to put myself in my team members’ shoes: to understand their challenges; know the customers, prospects and partners; and make sure I’m setting an example and a high standard. Basically, for me it’s about being hands-on and knowing what the team must deal with and must do to be successful.
What do you think will emerge as the technology trend of 2019 and why?
I think one particular area of technology that will attract huge attention this year is healthcare. We’re seeing a lot of pressure to drive innovation and develop faster and more secure connected medical technologies. As an ex-rugby player, I’ve seen first-hand the consequences of a delay in diagnosis of potentially severe injuries, such as concussion. So for me, companies like SyncThink are a fantastic example of how connected medical technology, in this case using Virtual Reality, has moved the diagnosis, treatment and monitoring much closer to patients. In 2019, I expect to see more health organisations transform their data architectures in order to enable similar connected medical technologies and deliver better services.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment for your industry?
At Couchbase we are seeing companies investing heavily to ensure that mission-critical applications can perform at an ever-increasing scale. Whether in e-Commerce, travel, media or financial services, the move from legacy relational databases to more flexible NoSQL data platforms is already well under way. This move is enabling companies to embrace new ways of doing things that the old world simply couldn’t support; from real-time operational analytics to IoT devices and taking personalisation and user experience to the next level. Combined with the coming of age of cloud technologies like Kubernetes, we are certainly in for a year of incredible innovation.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside of the office?
Three small things: my young children. It’s easy to switch off at the weekends as I’m mostly a taxi driver. My kids take part in rugby, hockey and gymnastics, so there’s always something going on to take my mind off work.
If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?
Nothing. I honestly don’t have any regrets because I’ve been fortunate enough to experience a variety of roles in companies which ranged in size. It’s given me really valuable business experience and is something I’d recommend.
What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in Europe?
My belief is that Europe is actually not that different to America. Of course, there are European-centric issues like GDPR and employment regulations that are different, but companies shouldn’t fret too much about these relatively small differences.
At Couchbase, we’ve put in place customer support and engineering teams based in Europe to have proximity to our customers which we’ve made work by investing in the region. Other than that, we don’t find being a US-based company in Europe, and indeed the wider EMEA region, all that challenging from the point of view of implementing new technologies.
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?
As I mentioned, there’s been a huge 12-month shift in investment going into innovation. Decision makers are realising they need to be able to deliver ever more personalised customer and employee experiences at huge scale. I think this will only gather pace as businesses strive to innovate more and keep ahead of the competition.
Similarly, the number of IT workers attending events has increased dramatically because there’s a pressure to learn more and deliver change. You just can’t get away with being a CTO or a CIO without being a thought leader.
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain C-level position in your industry?
I’d tell them that there is zero substitute for hard work. Get up early, network and choose who you work for in the first few years wisely. I was exceptionally lucky to work with some incredible people when I first started and it’s really benefited me. I can say with confidence that those early role models and mentors define the person you’ll become later on.