C-suite career advice: David Friend, Wasabi

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? "Think about how IT can be used as a strategic weapon to win business and grow the company."

Name: David Friend

Company: Wasabi

Job Title: CEO

Location: Boston, MA

David Friend is the co-founder and CEO of Wasabi, the hot cloud storage company that delivers fast, low-cost, and reliable cloud storage. Prior to Wasabi, David co-founded Carbonite, one of the world's leading cloud backup companies. A successful tech entrepreneur with more than 30 years of experience, David got his start at ARP Instruments, a manufacturer of synthesizers for rock bands, where he worked with leading musicians of the day like Stevie Wonder, Pete Townsend of The Who, and Led Zeppelin.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Learn how to sell. If you're going to be a CEO, you will need to sell people on the idea of joining your company, you will need to sell investors on the idea of investing in your vision, you will need to sell customers on buying your product.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? VCs are smarter and richer than you are, so you should always take their advice. 

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? Simplify, simplify, simplify. If somebody's already built something that works, just use it. Don't try to reinvent everything.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, I wanted to have IT working for me, though.

What was your first job in IT? I have an engineering degree, but I've been in management my whole career through 6 startups. 

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? Depends on your job. IT is a strategic asset for most companies, so if you are at the top of the IT organization, you need to be a strategist, not a techie. 

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Think about how IT can be used as a strategic weapon to win business and grow the company. Can you find ways to offer new services that existing customers could use? Can you make what you sell faster and cheaper? Can you use IT to out market your competitors, and so forth.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I'm CEO of my 6th startup in 40 years.  I always want to build a bigger, more successful company no matter how much success I've already had.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Perfect, really. Though that doesn't stop me from complaining.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Better mentors early in my career. Made a lot of stupid mistakes!

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Depends on what you want to do. For me, I would suggest a Computer Science degree and maybe an MBA. 

How important are specific certifications? They are like a resume - they certify that certain people know certain subject domains, but they are no substitute for smarts and creativity. 

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? 1) Responsiveness. When a customer needs something done, you need to be able to listen, understand, and respond. 2) Ability to find the simple solution. 3) Not going to turn the office into an unpleasant work environment.

What would put you off a candidate? Boasting, denigrating others, and entitlement.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Candidates don't make as many mistakes as the interviewer. A mistake is when you hire someone you should have passed on or fail to hire someone who is really good. The fault lies with the company, not the candidate. 

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? Again, you need all types in most organisations. You need people with a broad view who understand problems at a high level and you need specialists who know how to actually make something work.