CTO Sessions: Eran Brown, INFINIDAT

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? "Autonomous cars. While self-driving vehicles will help us in many ways, it's public transport that should be on our minds."

Name: Eran Brown


Job title: CTO, EMEA

Date started current role: January 2018

Location: Israel

Eran Brown was promoted and appointed to the role of EMEA CTO at INFINIDAT in early 2018.  In this new role, Brown serves as a "voice of the customer" within INFINIDAT, enabling the company to gain a deeper understanding of the unique needs and challenges of the company's EMEA customers. Brown comes to this role with over 12 years of storage experience. Previously, he served as a Senior Product Manager at INFINIDAT for the last four years, and before coming to INFINIDAT, worked as a Pre-Sales Engineer for NetApp for 8 years, where he covered multiple verticals and territories.

What was your first job? I was a programmer for a relatively short period of time, before I realised, I really enjoyed customer interactions. I then started to shift more towards professional services and consulting roles.

Did you always want to work in IT? YES! Or, should I say, I always wanted to work with ‘bleeding edge technology'. I grew up with dial up modems and BBS, and experienced first-hand the evolution of the web from text-only to its interactive, engaged format today.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? You know the movie story about the university drop-out that became a CTO / CEO? That's me! I was halfway through my third year when my career took off, and my degree became my second priority. I eventually dropped out a few classes short of a degree. I keep thinking about going back and completing it so my Mom can frame my degree! However, today, my career, family and multiple hobbies seem more important.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. From programming I moved to professional services, working more and more with customers, until a pre-sales engineer was sick and I was asked to cover for him. The deeper discussion about what the customer's business motivation was, the need to better understand it and then tailor the solution accordingly to support their company goals, became very interesting to me. I moved one step closer to the business i.e. into pre-sales. In this role, you often work closely with product people, who (unlike your local perspective) always see a global one, and I always learned a lot from my interactions with them. My next goal became to secure a product focused position, and it required some active-searching, but I found one here, at Infinidat, nearly 6 years ago. The 4 years in that role saw some of the most interesting discussions that I've ever had in my professional career.

As my American counterparts always say: "The product manager is the quarterback of the product operation". I developed a technical depth and breadth that my pre-sales years did not grant me, and a business perspective I had lacked in previous roles. Last year, when Infinidat appointed an EMEA CTO, I was offered the position and was happy to accept it and move towards a more customer-centric role again. I've realised that while product management has been an important step in my professional development, customer facing activities are what I enjoy most day to day.

What type of CTO are you? I am a field CTO. I consider myself to be an enabler within the company to allow better and more direct flow of information between the customers and field teams to the other parts of the company (engineering, product, marketing). This position also allows me to work with our customers who are facing unique challenges; working to design tailored solutions that help them capitalise on their data infrastructure.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? I think so many areas in the business have become data rich, and compute-intensive that IT infrastructure will strain to support them without a drastic disruption either in operational methods or budgets.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Autonomous cars. While self-driving vehicles will help us in many ways, it's public transport that should be on our minds. Nothing tells the story better than a close friend who lived for two years in Amsterdam. The last thing she did before leaving Israel was sell her car, and the first thing she did when she came back was buy a new one, but for 2 years in the middle she never thought about owning a car for a second. She dropped her carbon footprint, saved money, saved time, and reduced the health side-effects of car pollution.

Efficient public transport solves so many problems at once, and auto makers developing autonomous cars will likely benefit from autonomous public transport, but at a much smaller scale than currently discussed.

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? I started dividing my time between "Efficiency time" and "Collaborative time".

Efficiency time is the part of the morning that I work from home, reaching inbox-zero (or close to), writing important documents, researching, doing creative work like building content for a large conference etc. Collaborative time happens at the office. I spend a lot of my time talking to all the key stakeholders that I interact with, trying to understand what they need, what is delaying their work and how I can help them. This face-to-face time is also when I reach out to the people I need help, or information, from. I am often surprised how many good ideas can come from these short "corridor conversations", and how many processes that were stuck can get the much-needed push in just 5 minutes.

To make it work, I always walk around with my to-do app handy, so that all these ideas and action items will not get lost.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Storage is a key component for running an IT environment efficiently, and when it has issues, they are felt across the company. The key is to move from a reactive fix to proactively detecting issues before they happen and working on preventative measures. In the past we did that internally, using proactive support. Customers liked this, but asked us to take it to the next level and push these actionable remedies out to them, so they can stay on top without depending on our support.

The initial feedback on the beta was great, and these design partners are now fuelling the next iteration of improvements and features on this cloud-based platform.

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? It's simple math, actually: For years we have been talking about the exponential growth of data as a challenge for the IT team and the IT budget. We all know that exponential graphs become near-vertical after a long enough time, and this is where we are. Relatively small companies running 10's of terabytes and even petabytes.
At the same time, scale poses other challenges. Imagine starting a small deliveries company based on scooters. As you grow you start hauling large payloads and need a new tool. You can't pull a 40-feet container with scooters after all - scale needs new tools. We help our customers get the next level of efficiency into their large datasets, enabling them to harness their data to generate a competitive advantage.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? We live in a data economy. Companies trade in data and compete based on who can leverage their data fastest to drive better decisions.

We are an enabler for these data-driven companies; generating a competitive edge when leveraging large datasets to drive their business growth.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Product teams always have line of sight to 20 things that can help the business, and it's all about making the right choice as development cycles on a system designed for millions of operations per second is long. The main challenge is where to invest your human capital, what features the market needs now versus. ones that the market may talk about but is not ready to adopt at scale. What features are your sales people asking for, considered against what features can open new markets for your company. That's where the challenge lies.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Understanding the business requirements that are driving your customers is critical. We all report to someone who reports to someone else, and it's their agenda that will drive the wider priorities and initiatives you will see 24 months from now. If your customers' CIOs are looking for agility, you will see DevOps, cloud or other agility initiatives, completely decoupled from what the vendor community may offer at that time.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? We are seeing multiple tectonic-shifts in the market, from the growth of millennials in the workforce and customer-base, to automation and AI. The CTO's role always combines a good measure of depth and breadth of knowledge integration. Now there are simply more moving parts.

Simultaneously, we are seeing many markets disrupted by small, agile competitors showing the incumbents that if they don't adapt they may lose their leadership position or even perish.

CTOs, CIOs and other technology leaders need to take traditional IT teams, that worked as separated silos, and integrate them - aligning IT not to the underlying technologies, but rather to the business goals of the company.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I joined Infinidat shortly before it released its first GA product, but then took ownership of a lot of the features that we released since. InfiniBox is in some ways my favourite child, the product I was fortunate to help nurture after its first GA to our current 4,600,000 terabytes shipped globally. It snatched away many hours of sleep then, and still requires many hours of my attention - but watching it grow and become so widely accepted makes me feel proud.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Some decisions are taken on short timelines, and therefore are easily corrected. Some decisions take a year or more to correct. My hindsight moment is a meeting I had 4 years ago when we agreed to separate two features into two separate releases to get the release out sooner - only to realise the market would not adopt the first feature without its complementary capability. We had to wait an entire release cycle to get it out.

It taught me a lesson about assumptions that are not properly tested, and how much time you may end up waiting to correct your mistakes.

What are you reading now? I am an avid audiobook consumer, and am really enjoying the "Sceptic's guide to the universe", a book that provides practical tools to identifying and handling the fallibility of our logic, and talks a lot about how to identify the kernel of truth in our modern times, where we are constantly bombarded with contradicting opinions and half-truths.

Most people don't know that I… would have probably been a teacher if I didn't like what I do so much. I love teaching!

In my spare time, I like to…Move - I am hyperactive, and sitting in meeting rooms half of the time is like charging my battery to 150%. When I get out of the office, I need to release this excess energy. Whether it's the gym, volleyball, cycling, bouldering - they all serve to clear the mind, creating space for some of my best ideas to present themselves.

Ask me to do anything but… Sit in front of the computer all day. I am a technology geek at heart, but it's the people around the technology that I enjoy most of all.