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Get to know: Derek Rast of Fastly

Get to know: Derek Rast of Fastly

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On the lighter side of things, we ask Derek Rast, Area Vice President – Australia and New Zealand at Fastly, what makes him tick.

What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?

One area where Fastly has done really well is in media and publishing. Our platform can purge content incredibly quickly – that’s one of its killer advantages. Historically, when media organizations had breaking news, they had to handle that massive server load themselves, whereas, if they’re Fastly customers, they can publish a story and know we will deliver it from our servers within milliseconds. I inked the company’s first major publishing deal in 2014. It was a tough sell, walking into the office of the CTO of one of New York’s biggest media organizations to tell him about this IT company no one had ever heard of, but that deal led to many more. Our network has grown 100-fold since then and our revenue from that industry is in the tens of millions.

Derek Rast, Area Vice President – Australia and New Zealand at Fastly

What first made you think of a career in technology?

I grew up three hours outside Silicon Valley and was a kid during the rise of the personal computer, and in high school when the Internet took off. There was an extraordinary sense of optimism in the air at that time – and a sort of pervasive myth about technology and the possibilities it could open up. That notwithstanding, I headed down the scientific track, studying and working in bio-engineering in San Diego. It wasn’t until I broke up with my girlfriend – and my band! – that a friend in San Francisco persuaded me to come and check out the cool things happening there. I went and slept on his couch and he helped me to navigate the industry and find the opportunities that have led me to where I am today.

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

I’m very collaborative. Having entered the tech space a bit later in my career, I’ve always valued others’ opinions. I know I don’t have all the answers: I have a valuable perspective but so does everyone else in my team. Being open to their input has been beneficial from a cultural perspective; it’s helped make my move to Australia a successful one.

What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?

It’s become very cliched but, at the moment, it’s definitely cybersecurity. In recent years, the buzz has been around Digital Transformation. That’s happened and now you have all these companies that are completely dependent on their online presence, so the question has become ‘how do you protect that?’ Developing security products which safeguard the business, while not interfering with the performance and deliverability of applications, is the big challenge for security vendors.

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

Being relatively new to Australia, I enjoy exploring. The pandemic has offered my partner and I the opportunity to do more of it because I’m not jumping on planes all the time. Hiking all over NSW and taking road trips to see some of the really interesting, beautiful parts of this country is one of my favorite things to do. I love just looking at a map and being caught up in the wonder of what a place could be. Broken Hill is the furthest we’ve been so far. The Outback is absolutely enchanting and beautiful and interesting. It’s also funny having to plan your fuel stops, so you don’t miss a crucial one and end up stranded!

If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?

I would have left San Francisco sooner. I spent six years there, with an infrastructure-as-a-service company and then with Fastly. It’s very much the case that technology is celebrated for technology’s sake there. Moving to New York, as Fastly’s first East Coast employee, helped me re-focus on the value technology provides to the world, not just on the cool things it can do.

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

How do we make security smarter? How do we automate it? How do we create solutions that continue to evolve, not just for the sake of it but so they’re easier to use and perform well in a continually changing threat landscape? Companies in our industry are investing massively to find answers to these questions.

What are the region specific challenges when implementing new technologies in APAC?

One of the biggest ones I’ve noted is that, unlike in the US, markets in this region tend to be dominated by one or two vendors. Their technologies become entrenched and so evaluating the options regularly and actively choosing the optimum solution can cease to be standard practice for customers. It means new vendors need to work hard to communicate the value they’d provide, to mitigate the perceived risk of ‘changing horses’.

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?

When I arrived Down Under in 2018, I was employee number one in the region and it was all about getting our name out and building a brand. Our team has grown since then – we’re now 15 people across Australia and New Zealand – and, in the past 12 months, many of my early responsibilities have been taken over by experts. Courtesy of my longevity with Fastly, I’ve become the foundation that holds us together as we grow, and that will hopefully continue in 2022. I’m committed to creating a strong corporate culture, so the team and our customers think of us as Fastly Australia, rather than an outpost of the head office.

What advice would you offer to someone aspiring to obtain a C-level position in your industry?

During my time in San Francisco, the most successful leaders I saw in our space were the ones who really understood the minutiae of the solutions they were developing but who could also ‘zoom out’ and understand the business problems that technology was trying to solve. Most people lean one way or the other – technical or commercial – and being able to counterbalance your natural tendency and provide both perspectives will help you go far. And remember that relationships matter. In the ICT field, we’re always trying to find ways to supersede everything humans do with some sort of technology but I think it’s become even more evident in the pandemic that human connections and trust are critical when you’re doing business.

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