C-suite career advice: Patrick Harr, SlashNext

What are the three skills or abilities you look for? “It comes down to passion, planning, and persistence.”


Name: Patrick Harr

Company: SlashNext

Job Title: CEO

Location: Santa Cruz

Patrick Harr is CEO of SlashNext, the phishing authority and provider of real-time AI phishing defense services. Prior to SlashNext, Harr was CEO of cloud file services provider Panzura, which he transformed into a software subscription company, grew ACV 400% and led the organisation to successful acquisition in 2020. He has held senior executive and GM positions at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE), VMware and BlueCoat (formerly CacheFlow).

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Instead of going after a title, look at the role as well as the industry and sector it's in and follow your passion. When you align your passion with your work, you will excel. Escalating titles and responsibilities will happen naturally. Life is too short to spend it in an area you don’t care about or at a job that makes you feel miserable.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? This builds on the previous point. I was once advised to take a position that was a step down from what I was aiming for at the time. I passed on the opportunity, and that company went on to become a highly successful public company. Lesson learned: focus on opportunities that best match your skills and challenge you to learn. Just as important, look beyond the job title to the company’s overall potential.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? Roll up your sleeves and understand the technology. It doesn't matter if you are in sales or engineering - you must understand the inner workings of what you are dealing with and what challenges it can solve for the customer.

Did you always want to work in IT? As an undergrad, I did a double major in Economics and Russian because I wanted to get involved in politics.This political foundation taught me the power of networking and how to influence people. It also led to working on the Telecom Act and ultimately to moving over to the private sector, getting my MBA, and starting a career in technology. I encourage people to take whatever career path suits your interests, as there is no one technology career path, and your unique experiences can lend different perspectives and successes to your career.

What was your first job in IT? I joined Xerox Imaging Systems in 1995 as an intern. They gave me a pile of RFPs and computer components to build systems - the rest is history.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? The biggest is that it is easy and there is all this money to be made. People see the glamour of working at Google, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter and believe there is this pot of gold waiting for them. It takes hard work and quite a bit of luck to be successful in IT.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a C-level position? You must work hard, persevere, and have some luck on your side. With technology, if you are maniacally focused on your customer problem and paranoid about your competition, you can win personally and make money. Those that have an absolute focus on being the hardest working person are the ones that will succeed.

What are your career ambitions, and have you reached them yet? I have had great success selling companies, starting new ideas inside large organisations, and taking those to a billion-dollar level. My next focus/ambition is to take a company public.

Do you have a good work-life balance in your current role? It is better now. But even though I am still working long hours, I can recognise the risk of overdoing it. The only way you get perspective is to do other things you enjoy, whether spending time with family or just following your hobbies and passion. These aspects of life are a vital de-stressor and let you recharge your batteries.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? There are probably times I could have persevered more and could have stayed longer at some companies. Today, I use those lessons as motivation to work as hard as I can to get things done.

Which would you recommend: A coding boot camp or a computer science degree? A coding boot camp. I believe in understanding the key concepts of what you are working on and getting your hands dirty by knowing how a product works. As an example, there are so many developers globally contributing to open source. Understanding how things work and fulfil a specific goal will help you move up.

How important are specific certifications? This depends on your career path. In engineering, certification is essential as it gives you a foundation. But on other fronts, it is about understanding what a role is and getting the job done. You do not have to be certified to be successful in IT.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? It comes down to passion, planning, and persistence. I grade every candidate on those three Ps while not forgetting the importance of tenacity.

What would put you off a candidate? It is easy to tell if people are not passionate or do not have persistence. More than that, it is a lack of listening that puts me off.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? Not doing homework beforehand. It is not uncommon for people to come into an interview without understanding the company they are interviewing at. It is also important to be confident and approach the interview as if the organisation is the one that requires your skillset and not the other way around.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? It would be best if you had both, but that is something of a rarity. Even if you are an engineer, it is not good enough to only have technical skills. You need to understand what will make a product sell and design one that fulfils a gap in the market.