Intelligent CIO gets to know what makes Thomas di Giacomo, CTO at SUSE, tick inside and outside the office.
- What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
When I think about my most memorable achievements – aside from my PhD and the opportunities to take on exciting roles – the ones that stand out have been ‘ours’ and not mine alone. These are a result of the many diverse teams I have been a part of, where each person has contributed. Perhaps, then, it’s been maintaining good human relationships, during hard times and periods of crazy growth. Hopefully, though, my most memorable achievement is still to come.
- What first made you think of a career in technology?
When I was around eight-years old, my father, who, at the time, was working on sensors to enable robots to walk, bought me a computer. Although long before 3D, VR and AR, I became instantly fascinated by the images and animations displayed on the screen. I wanted to understand how they worked and be involved with coding real-time computer graphics. Therefore, I chose computer sciences – hardware, software, networking, cryptography etc. – to allow me to study, and participate in, computer graphics research. Later, I moved into general infrastructure software for enterprise IT. Throughout my career, open source coding, software, people and mind-set have always been key drivers.
- What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
Listening is fundamental and providing a healthy, open, community-like environment for the team to participate in and evolve with, is a top priority for me. Everyone should be able to communicate transparently and willingly, about the business and corporate direction. And, in turn, individuals should be given the context around the bigger picture to allow them to do so.
- What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?
Firstly, it’s getting the code out of the door as quickly as possible to meet the fast pace of growing user demands. A wide variety of tech solutions – from IaaS, CaaS, PaaS and DevOps tools and processes etc – make this possible.
Deciphering data is also a hot topic – whether it be to understand and observe distributed systems/applications or analysing business data to improve, or self-generate improvements via learning. This also comes with a wide array of tech, from software defined storage to analytics and AI related techniques, as well as hardware to store and process data appropriately.
- How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
Stress from young kids can eat office stress for breakfast! But for me, unwinding actually includes technology – trying out new VR headsets, looking at new open source projects, (trying to) understand how new special FXs are achieved, etc.
Outside of tech, travel and being exposed to new things, cultures, people and fresh ways of thinking, especially ones that make life simpler, definitely helps me.
- If you could go back and change one career decision what would it be?
I would have more training and educate myself more, even about things I think I knew about already. Education and training require time, and so prioritising and filtering tasks accordingly would have been needed. Hopefully I am better at that by now.
- What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
At SUSE, we adapt and support open source technologies for our customers to use appropriately and successfully. And we do that ‘openly’, in our relationships with partners, customers, the way we do business etc.
Balancing security and maturity with agility is key for us, ensuring innovation is not done just for the sake of it but that it is usable and applicable in solving real life business needs. Investment in people is key as well, particularly when it comes to hiring, development and personal growth.
- What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in the Middle East?
Firstly, customers in both the public and private sectors are pragmatic: they need software and solutions that work. They need to be supported in driving forward their businesses, reducing time to market for new offerings and services, while being cost-efficient.
The Middle East region is keen on implementing new and emerging technologies. But still, like everywhere, most enterprises are not starting from scratch when it comes to technology. They have existing infrastructure, software applications, tools and processes, with this existing investment needing to be taken into account.
That’s why the industry is talking about bi, or even multi, modal IT, whereby legacy infrastructures must be combined with the new, and both have to co-exist. The main challenge here is to bridge the old with the new, to securely run, maintain and prepare those two sets of technologies for the future.
- 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 only constant in my job role is probably change. Being flexible and agile is more important than ever, as is being open to new ideas while being aware of the past – always with customers, users, and their businesses in mind. Being able to work within a team, a company, an open source community, as well as with partners, customers and even competitors, is becoming more and more important too.
At SUSE we’ve been doing that for a very long time, and I’m now seeing it done more often in the industry as a whole. This trend will likely continue, given the people and technology that are currently coming together to solve things.
- What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain c-level position in your industry?
There’s certainly not a single way to get there. I can only put mine down to a combination of luck, the people I’ve met, as well as hard work, curiosity, and trying to understand and work with people.
Perhaps above all, it’s important not to strive to be c-level for the sake of it, but to work on something you really love doing because you are going to spend a lot of time and energy on it in your lifetime. And of course, focus on putting your business, your company, your peers and your teams first – but make sure to look after yourself too, as this can also help you serve others.