C-suite career advice: Brian Dye, Corelight

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? “Cultural fit is king. In organisations with strong cultures, alignment here dictates long term success both for the person and for the company...”


Name: Brian Dye

Company: Corelight

Job Title: CEO

Location: San Francisco, CA

Brian Dye leads Corelight, which provides security teams with the world’s best network evidence. Over the past 15 years, he has led teams ranging from startups to thousand-person companies, including at Symantec and McAfee.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Interview your boss. You should walk into any role understanding both the culture of the organisation as well as the style of your direct manager. For example, what specifically do you hope to learn from working with this person? This is true at every stage of our careers, from that most influential first manager who (hopefully!) instils great core skills, all the way through to executives and board members who are sharing nuances and helping us understand our blind spots.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? “Keep your head down.” No, no no! We are much more effective when we make connections and seek advice. Understanding the flow of information in an organisation, tapping in appropriately, and having solid mentors to help tackle key decisions are massive accelerants to achieving results.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Don’t be afraid to ask questions … a lot of questions. I was originally a chemical engineer, so based on formal education I should be more at home in a brewery than in a datacenter. In reality, so much of the barrier to effectiveness in IT is terminology: once you get that (and the concepts that they represent) the puzzle will fall into place.  

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? Not at all. I started my career developing manufacturing processes (want to know how toilet paper is made?!?). After getting into technology, what has fascinated me are the waves of innovation across both technology and the threat landscape - and the never ending job of adapting to both.

What was your first job in IT/tech? I joined Veritas to build our relationship with PeopleSoft, SAP and Siebel, when those were all independent companies. It was a great team and I really appreciated the chance to learn about the breadth of the ecosystem, in this case, from the app perspective, before diving into deeper and more narrow roles later. More importantly, the quality of the team was incredible so it was a great place to build a foundation of skills at many levels.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? That HBO’s show “Silicon Valley” is a documentary. I’ll be the first to admit that they hit a few chords, but I’ve found that in cybersecurity in particular there is a real focus on mission that overlays the industry. Corelight is an open-core company, so serving our community is both an inspiration and key part of our mission.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Carve time and identify a set of trusted peers to continually push your self awareness. Deeply understanding yourself becomes more important over our careers, as more senior roles carry increased uncertainty and a higher penalty for blind spots. Ask yourself: What do you truly want to do? What cultures and personality types do you work well with? What are your weaknesses and how do you compensate for them?

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I’ve been fortunate enough to lead some large organisations and hold a variety of roles. My main ambition at this point isn’t the role - it is the impact. How much can I help a customer, build a team’s skills, amplify a community or transform a part of the industry? There is still so much left to do on all those fronts.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Candidly, that is pretty challenging as a CEO. The main area I’ve had success with is setting a core routine that ensures I have time for both my health and my family. You’ll notice that I wrote “time” and not “lots of time” though! Within that routine, I ask one question: what can ONLY I do? If I don’t get that work done (and it is important for the organisation of course) then by definition we will fail. I invest my time there first.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Our career paths are a combination of intention, decisions and luck. As a result, even undoing a mistake (and I’ve made plenty!) would mean also taking away the learning from it as well. Despite the pain or even shame associated, those mistakes are part of our success moving forward. I wouldn’t change anything as a result.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Depends if you are applying to college. If you are, by all means jump in and take advantage of the full degree. For so many, that just isn’t the timing they may be in - so take the boot camp. You will learn, not just about a particular language but about the many paths forward in IT. Getting your foot in the door means a lot, and you will have many options to keep learning and to change your path as opportunities open up.

How important are specific certifications? Learning is what matters, not only in IT but in cybersecurity in particular so focus on learning all you can first. That said, within cybersecurity a number of the GIAC/SANS certifications align well with the actual learning tracks so those are worth looking at.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Cultural fit is king. In organisations with strong cultures, alignment here dictates long term success both for the person and for the company overall. For any technical or managerial leadership role, I look for decision making skills. What kinds of decisions have they needed to make? Which are hard or easy decisions for them and why? Last I look at agility. As a fast growing company our organisation and processes evolve constantly - can this person not just tolerate that rate of change but drive it faster?

What would put you off a candidate? Selling to me. When I talk to a candidate that wants to recap their resume, it tells me that they think I haven’t prepared for the interview. Trust me to ask the questions that will help me learn about you.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? See the prior answer. The related mistake is not using the time to learn about the organisation. How does the team operate? How are decisions made? What skills does this team have or lack? If you understand where you will fit in and what impact you can make, you are in a better position to decide if the opportunity is right for you.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both?  Depends on what you want to do. Either has a lot of value, both can be great for some roles. The points missing are influence and communication skills - those matter deeply in both cases.