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Five Questions with… SolarWinds CTO Joe Kim

"Everyone operates day-to-day, often in firefighting mode"

By CBR Staff Writer

Every Monday morning we fire five questions at a C-suite technology industry interviewee. Today we’re pleased to be joined by SolarWinds CTO Joe Kim.

Joe: What’s the Biggest challenge for your clients?

Our customers don’t have unlimited time and resources at their disposal to address every IT initiative that their organisation deems a priority. They’re overworked, and face business pressure to optimise operations, while managing mandates aimed at improving performance, interoperability, and revenue.Finding this balance is both their biggest challenge and opportunity, as everyone operates day-to-day, often in firefighting mode. This is true across all our customers, from those managing legacy and traditional IT systems to those monitoring application and infrastructure problems.

SolarWinds CTO Joe Kim

SolarWinds CTO Joe Kim

We see a tug-of-war that developers, web product managers (WPMs), and DevOps teams are currently fighting: trying to innovate and expand the principles of DevOps within their organisation while spending the majority of their day troubleshooting issues.

This is prohibiting tech professionals from applying their knowledge, insight, and skillsets to transform our organisations. The challenge for our customers is to be creative in finding ways to invest in the digital future while sustaining momentum and quality against the core mission today. As a CTO, who also stewards my own company’s IT operations, I live with this challenge every day. It shapes my perspective on how our products can create even more value for our customers.

Technology that excites you most? 

I feel like this is bit of a cheat, but I’m excited about any technology that helps converge System of RecordSystem of Engagement, and System of Insight. These include technologies in the field of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, and Big Data Analytics; as well as newly mainstream patterns like microservices; and the introduction of new endpoint computing technologies that extend beyond mobile (e.g., wearables, augmented reality, virtual reality, IoT, etc.). The availability of relatively cheap and ubiquitous computing has allowed these system approaches to converge—allowing technology services to be quickly created and delivered, showing immediate value without needing a 500-page manual.

Greatest Success? 

My greatest success has been here at SolarWinds—growing the organisation to not only continue serving our established customers (e.g., Network, System, Storage, and Database Administrators), but expanding the customer base to include Site Reliability Engineers (SRE), Developers, and MSPs. We were able to achieve all of this in three short years, helping both customers (many of which migrated from central IT organisations to DevOps and MSP organizations) and the company (we recently went back into the public market in October of 2017).

This was only possible as every member of the team—from the executives to the individual developers—knew that their activities either added to the strategic direction of the company, or it took away from it.

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Worst Failure? 

My most catastrophic failure came at General Electric when I was leading the adoption of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) company-wide.

I had assumed that most CTOs and Chief Architects of the various GE businesses had extensive experience with SOA design patterns, and I rolled out a common plan that could be modified as needed by each business unit. What I had not accounted for was the variability in knowledge and skill in the technology leadership by business, which led to the plan being wildly successful in some business units and complete failures in others.

I learned two valuable lessons: (1) not everyone has gone through the same journey as you, so make sure those involved in your initiatives also quickly walk through a simulated journey; and (2) always over-communicate, as people listening to your message may interpret your words differently.

In another life I’d be…

I like being able to guide and see other people succeed. So maybe a coach or mentor of some sort… maybe a teacher in another life.

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