C-suite career advice: Bill Richter, Qumulo

C-suite career advice: Bill Richter, Qumulo

Name: Bill Richter

Company: Qumulo

Job Title: CEO

Location: Seattle, WA

Bill Richter is CEO of Qumulo, where he brings over 20 years of leadership experience to his role. Prior to Qumulo, Bill was a Venture Partner at Madrona Venture Group, where he invested in and advised emerging businesses across multiple categories. Before joining Madrona, Bill was President of the Isilon Storage Division of EMC, where he grew the business to $1.5 billion in annual revenue in 2014. After Isilon, Bill served as COO of EMC's $4 billion Midrange Storage business. Bill holds a BA in Business Administration from the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? While some people might appear to luck into great careers, most of the successful leaders you see worked like heck for their success. Someone told me early on to "be all in" - meaning commit 100 percent. If at some point you find you're truly not "all in," then try to change the situation or change or career. In this world, half effort will never cut it.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? About 20 years ago, I was sitting with a group of colleagues and they were complaining about a particular division of the company, whose employees got to live overseas, received the best assignments, the best pay and most promising career prospects. The person complaining was highlighting how unfair it was that the other division got all the perks and his didn't. Everyone at the table agreed. I came home that night, looked up the division leader and asked her if I could join the team. It took about a year to get in but I eventually did. The "advice" on that day was to complain in solidarity. Instead of complaining, I reached for better opportunity.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? IT and especially emerging tech companies afford people enormous opportunities to build their careers. Since so many traditional roles are effectively unfilled in a growing business, anyone willing to raise their hand and take the reigns gets the responsibility and potential to learn. While it can be scary and often messy, people are often surprised by their own results.

Did you always want to work in IT? No! I started my career in professional services as a financial auditor. That work was a little dull for my taste, but it did come with two important benefits. First, I achieved an early mastery of business mechanics. Second, I was exposed to a wide range of companies and industries. I happened to be assigned to tech companies and that's really what started my path to where I am today.

What was your first job in IT? Right out of college I worked in an accounting firm, and all of my clients were emerging tech companies. From the day I graduated, I was exposed to the hottest startups out there - each different and more exciting than the last. What a time to be involved. As such, I found passion in wanting to work for one of those companies and, well, let's just say I'm no longer in the accounting field. The rest is history.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? People unfortunately stereotype tech as a place for men, which is a shame because it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where men hire other men, and steer women away from the profession altogether. I've been working in the industry for 20 years and have never seen a job that is inherently more "suited" for a male rather than a female. Tech offers some of the best paying, fastest advancing and most flexible jobs of any industry, and our businesses and communities would be far better served if we did a better job of creating more opportunities for women.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a C-level position? People often assume leadership means knowing a lot about something. Sure, knowledge is important, but since it's developed based on past experiences, it also has limits when applied to new problems. For me, leadership is really about building the right teams of people and uniting under a common vision and mission. That has little to do with subject matter expertise. Some of the best founders start companies in industries they know little about.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? At this point in my career, my primary goal is to build up the next generation of tech leaders and visionaries. It is critical that people in senior level or executive positions think ahead to a time when they will need to pass along the torch, and begin harnessing junior employees' strengths and supporting their career trajectory early on. While I've served in a variety of roles and and proud of my achievements to date, I'm passionate about making sure others are well equipped to take advantage of their own opportunities.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Absolutely, I use simple rules to allocate my time between work and personal life and never let one infringe on the other.

Just kidding! Anyone that tells you they have perfect work life balance is either lying or doesn't really care about it. These days, it is particularly hard, with running a global business and multiple communication modes -- social media, e-mail, slack, texting, etc. My approach is to be "all in" during the week and then try to make weekends family time. When I'm at home with family or friends, instead of taking constant pauses to look at work (the constant iphone flip), I try to allocate a single hour or two -- often after the kids are asleep -- to catch up. That way I'm focused on one or the other, rather than poorly focused on both. 

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Nothing. I think forecasting a career path will lead to ho-hum results. Lassoing and harnessing opportunities leads to exciting and often unexpected results. I have always ascribed to that viewpoint.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? For those that have the opportunity and resources, I would strongly recommend a computer science degree. It's certainly not for everyone nor is it the only way to have a big career in tech. But those degrees garner a lot of value on the market today. Of course, there are many counterexamples of people that learned through alternative channels are self taught!

How important are specific certifications? Things move so fast in the tech industry. Basic certifications for specific applications are a plus but not a requirement, as they could quickly become outdated. I prefer a curious, fast learner over a stack of dusty credentials.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? First, I look for passion. People that give a damn about something -- I don't even necessarily care what that passion is geared toward, as long as they have a fire inside of them. Second, I look for commitment. In a fast growing tech company you need people who won't just dip their toe in the water, but dive right in. Third, I look for collaboration. Very few people drive results on their own -- we all achieve success with and through others.

What would put you off a candidate? Recently in an interview, I asked a candidate about their best year ever. They listed all of their accomplishments and all the smart things they did to kill it. Then I asked about their worst year. They immediately talked about bad luck and circumstances beyond their control. That was a real put off for me. It's a red flag when all good things come from "I" and all bad things come from "they."

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? When candidates are presumptive they have a job in the bag just because they have served in a similar role before, it tends to be a red flag. On the opposite end, candidates who are either looking to advance to the next level or pivot their career shows they have something to prove. They are curious, instinctively open to learning and potentially willing to work harder.

At Qumulo we pride ourselves on finding people that don't necessarily reflect the traditional or stereotypical characteristics of a particular role. When we meet a candidate that is perfectly qualified and has done the job before, our skepticism goes up -- not down.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? It's better to have a mix of both. One of our hiring criterion is to be curious and always learning. The ability to learn and adapt is better than just having extension technical or business skills.


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