C-Suite Career Advice: Andrew Peterson, Signal Sciences

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? "The three skills I look for in prospective candidates are drive, social skills, and culture fit."

Name: Andrew Peterson

Company: Signal Sciences

Job Title: Co-Founder and CEO

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Andrew Peterson is the CEO and Co-Founder of Signal Sciences, one of the world's fastest growing cybersecurity companies. Under his leadership, Signal Sciences has become the leading and most trusted provider of next-gen WAF and RASP technology. As CEO, Peterson is responsible for overseeing all business functions, go-to-market activities, and attainment of strategic, operational and financial goals. Prior to founding Signal Sciences, he spent over fifteen years with companies such as Etsy, Google, and the Clinton Foundation building leading edge, high performing product and sales teams across five continents.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? The most valuable career advice I've received is to seek out job opportunities that make you afraid you might fail. If you're offered a job that scares you at least a little bit, it's probably the right one to take if you want to stretch yourself, grow and learn.

I've been lucky to have the opportunity to take on a number of jobs where this was true, and I'm still learning and growing every day.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? The key consideration for making big choices is that everyone will always have an opinion about what you should or shouldn't do with your career, life, company - this list goes on. What I've had to learn the hard way, is that you can't rely on what others have done or think you should do. You have to make every decision for yourself based on what's right for you in a given situation. Following the advice of others without considering your situation is not only disempowering to you, but it is likely to lead to different outcomes than those you were promised.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? Anyone starting their career in IT should learn some coding - even if you're not going to code full-time. Understanding how software is built, how long it takes and how hard it is to get it right will put you in a position to understand what problems are possible to solve with software, and how long it may take to build those solutions.

Did you always want to work in IT? I have always been into computers (even to my social detriment at times). In fact, when I was in third grade I was a computer lab instructor at my elementary school! This was back in the early 90s when the internet was first entering common use. I remember writing down website addresses I'd find in magazines or billboards to put into Netscape just to see what would show up. It was this magical experience, so, yes, I guess I always wanted to work in IT.

What was your first job in IT? My first job in IT was helping people in my neighborhood set up home networks. I took a series of Cisco Networking Academy classes offered through my public high school, which led me to start a small business doing that. Printers were always the hardest part of the job and probably still are one of the hardest parts of IT. Some things never change!

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? One of the most common misconceptions about working in IT is that you have to know how to code to work in the industry. I think coding is a really important skill to at least get some exposure to even though there are a lot of IT-related jobs that have no coding involved at all.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Anyone aiming for a c-level position should start their own company. Growing into leadership roles requires (a lot of) experience, so it is a tough road to try to rise up in the ranks within a larger organisation. The fastest way into a c-level position would be to start your own company and run with it. However, quick disclaimer: starting and running your own company comes with incredible stress and time commitments, so be careful what you wish for.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? In my career, I've always been driven by two things: personal growth and social impact. I've been fortunate enough to have worked in many roles (my current position included) where I get to stretch myself and learn as both a person and a professional, all while simultaneously impacting some important social issues facing the world. As long as I continue to have these types of opportunities, I'll always have more ambitions to strive for in my future.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? When it comes to work-life balance, some days or months are better than others. Building and running a company requires a variety of skills, and every day requires different amounts of time and energy. Most of the time, I focus on making time for my family and for myself, but my free time can be very dependent on the needs of my role and the company at any given point. The number one thing I do for myself (and I suggest it to others) is to get enough sleep. I'm never my best when I haven't gotten enough sleep, and my coworkers, investors, and customers deserve my best.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I have absolutely loved my career path so far and wouldn't change a thing. I've also been very disciplined about identifying when it's time for me to move on from jobs and try something new. And I've even left jobs without having my next opportunity lined up. When you know it's time to move on, listen to yourself, trust yourself, and know that change will lead to good things.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Hmm. That's a tough one. I think secondary education - and education in general - is changing, but I don't think we're far enough along that path that a college degree isn't worth it. That said, if you've already got a degree, and you're thinking about making a change to get into software development, I would not go back to school for another undergrad degree. Instead, I'd go to a bootcamp or take night classes through a more vocationally focused program.

How important are specific certifications? Since they're known standards, certifications are more important earlier in your career or if you're trying to change industries. But after you've had some experience, their value falls quickly.  

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? The three skills I look for in prospective candidates are drive, social skills, and culture fit. More than anything, though, we consider if you've had prior positive work experience with an existing member of the team or someone we know and trust. The best predictor of how well someone will do on the job is not how they perform in an interview, but how well they performed in a previous role that's similar to the one you're hiring for. If you have access to understand their previous performance first-hand or second-hand from someone you trust, that tends to be the most valuable information in making a successful hiring decision.

What would put you off a candidate? Poor communication skills and lack of clear, numerical examples of achievement would put me off from a candidate.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? One of the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview is claiming you know the right answer to scenario-based interview questions. The point of these questions is to identify your work process as there's rarely a clear right answer to a complex scenario. I see this a lot from business school students who share an answer with intense conviction that is not based on personal experience.  I have to remind them that this isn't a classroom, and I'm not looking for a right answer. The answer could easily be, "I don't have experience with that, but I have two close friends who do so I'd call them first to learn about their experience and then I'd apply what I know about our team, company and this specific scenario and put a plan together." That would be an awesome answer because it's both practical and effective. 

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? The balance between technical and business skills in your arsenal depends on the job you're targeting. Regardless of the job, it's good to have a mix of skills in both. Context about the business will help you make better decisions on what technology you're building. For example, when I was a product manager working with engineers, if they grasped the business problem we were trying to solve and understood the customers, I'd ask for their participation and technical expertise in designing what it was we were building. Additionally, they appreciated that I knew the principles of coding. This meant that I knew how long it would take so that I wouldn't design or plan for features that were too hard to build or not worth the effort from a business perspective.