C-suite career advice: George Fraser, Fivetran

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? “It’s better to have technical skills, business skills can be learned later”

Headshot of George Fraser, CEO and Co-founder at Fivetran
Fivetran

Name: George Fraser

Company: Fivetran

Job Title: CEO & Co-founder

Location: Oakland, CA

George Fraser is the CEO and co-founder of Fivetran. Fraser founded the company with COO Taylor Brown in 2012 after completing the prestigious Y-Combinator accelerator program. Since then, he has built Fivetran, a fully managed automated data integration provider, from an idea to a rapidly growing global business valued at $5.6 billion, supported by a global team of 850+ employees. Previously, he was a Scientist at Emerald Therapeutics. He received his Ph.D. in neurobiology from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? I was talking to a friend about how I did software engineering as an undergraduate, then switched to biology, but in retrospect I was better at software. He said “you should get back to it.” It seems obvious but the sunk cost fallacy is powerful, and it was hard for me to get off the science track after 7 years on it.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? The market for our product was too small and we needed to do more. However, we stayed focused and the market got bigger.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? You have to find the intersection of what you’re interested in and what’s valuable, and you can sometimes convince yourself to get interested in something a little different from what you’re interested in now.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? No.

What was your first job in IT/tech? My current role, CEO of Fivetran.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? There’s no such thing as a startup inside a big company.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Long term plans are underrated. There are some opportunities that can only be unlocked through multi-year effort.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? My career ambitions have evolved as the opportunities in front of me have changed. I think it’s important to have that flexibility. It’s a form of being happy with what you’ve got, or at least what you could get. And no, I haven’t achieved my ambitions yet.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Yes, I take my dog for a walk every day, and he’s just as excited every time.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Nothing. My path has been complicated and changed direction, and to others it might seem that some phases were dead ends, but I treasure every part. To me, my work is a journey not a destination.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Degree. But you can make a bootcamp work. The truth of software engineering is that what matters most is just how smart you are.

How important are specific certifications? Not important.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? How smart are you? How conscientious are you? Are you willing to do what’s most valuable rather than what’s most interesting?

What would put you off a candidate? If they can’t dive into the details of their domain.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? A good interview will assess whether the candidate is actually good at their job, regardless of if they’re good at interviewing. Focus on the skills of the job and don’t worry about the interview. Nobody minds if you’re nervous.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? It’s better to have technical skills, business skills can be learned later.