Hello VOX Readers! Last week I published an interview with Wahid Issa, Global Channel Programme Manager. Did you read it and see Wahid’s bungee jump photo from Zimbabwe? Amazing! In my latest #LifeAtVeritas interview, I catch up with Jason Gerrard, EMEA Director of Technical Sales, Mid-Market, Channel Strategy and Programmes about how he moved from serving in the British Army to working in the tech industry, that’s an interesting story. In this blog post Jason shares some valuable career advice – immerse yourself as much as possible into your role, learning and gain technical qualifications, this will serve you well. He also compares Veritas to his love of cake, which is interesting and is passionate about robotics. Jason has an interesting career journey, so I hope you enjoy the interview and please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Zoe: Jason, what made you choose a career in IT?
Jason: I started life in the British Military, straight from school at 16 years young, and wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with my life. Joining the Army was the best thing I could have done because it exposed me to so many different opportunities and gave me the ability to make some educated decisions on what I enjoyed, and what I didn’t. Having joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as a helicopter Avionics Technician I was exposed at an early stage to engineering as a discipline and found I thoroughly enjoyed it so when I eventually left the military I went to a local college in Wales and signed up for a 2 year course in Mechatronics which was a good blend of robotics, pneumatics, hydraulics, CAD/CAM, electrical and mechanical engineering – and computing. During that course, I found myself naturally gravitating towards computing (it was new and cool back then!) and at the end of the course got my first job working in IT at a local factory running their internal IT.
Zoe: Do you have any career advice for those trying to secure their first IT role?
Jason: Consider carefully what discipline you want to go into, then immerse yourself into it as deeply as you can. Unlike when I was starting out, everyone knows about IT to a greater or lesser extent these days so being OK isn’t good enough, you need to be great at something. Decide whether hardware or software is your thing and then understand the different disciplines within each option (security, infrastructure, coding, etc.) and then became awesome at it. Whilst having a degree these days is quite common it’s not compulsory (I don’t have one) so don’t be put off by people saying you must have one – if you don’t have a degree try focusing on getting industry certifications because they will be incredibly helpful. If you do have a degree, all the better!
Zoe: What has been your career highlight to date? And what are you most proud of?
Jason: I’ve been lucky enough to work at, and with, some of the world’s largest and well-known companies so there are lots to choose from – but the one I’m most proud of probably was back in the early to mid-’90s working at a company called CompuServe. I moved from my home country of Wales to England with my Army sausage bag full of some old tattered clothes and about enough money to last 2 weeks. I moved into a pretty dodgy and run-down hotel in Reading where I lived on KFC and IT manuals in the evening, whilst trying to look like I knew what I was doing at my new job. At that time there was no real Internet to speak of, most people were using modems to dial up into bulletin boards so our mission at CompuServe was to bring the Internet to the masses. That was an incredibly exciting time because nobody knew if this was going to be popular or not, we were making things up (as an industry) as we went along and hoping this Internet thing would be popular. Turns out that it was! Being there, right at the start, and helping shape and create how people accessed and consumed content on the Internet was an exciting time. I even got to work on one of the first-ever online banking applications which were unheard of at the time, but nowadays is everywhere. Mostly we stayed in the office all day and often all night, eating pizza and drinking beer, and trying out cool things which we thought might make a difference, but actually we didn’t care quite so much about the financial side of life, we were just geeks geeking out and hoped our audience also liked the stuff we were inventing.
Zoe: What do you enjoy most about your role at Veritas?
Jason: The sheer variety of my role. Most of my previous positions have been quite focused on achieving a particular thing - launching new products, selling to customers, enabling internal and external folks on new technology, building new teams, creating the strategy, working with the channel – the usual things. My new role is all of those things, and more. What I have found here at Veritas is an opportunity to combine all the things I have learned in the 20+ years of working in IT and using them all at the same time. It’s definitely fair to say that my role here is never boring! Now, with that variety comes a certain level of pressure and focus on results, as we would expect, but again that’s something I enjoy – I’m not shy of being held accountable, indeed I thrive on it. Veritas gives me endless challenges and space to resolve them.
Zoe: To some extent, we are influenced by others. Who are your role models and influencers?
Jason: Sir Ranulph Fiennes, or any explorer or pioneer. After my days in the military, I carried on with my outdoor activities and in particular enjoyed mountaineering which then progressed onto ice climbing. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world and do some climbing with a friend that I have had for years. To get to mountains usually requires some sort of mammoth trek carrying your world on your back and I enjoyed that so much that I loosely considered myself a bit of an “explorer” too – that is until you watch, read and or meet a real-life explorer; like Sir Ranulph, now he’s a true explorer. There’s a great anecdote about a time where his fingers had gotten frostbitten during an expedition and his wife was complaining he was “irritable” – so he cut them off with a Black and Decker saw! Having been in many cold places in the world and understood how difficult they can be I can associate with the challenge he faced, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have dealt with it as he did – he saw a problem, a simple solution, and dealt with it. Whether we agree with his approach or not for me the point is – spot a challenge, there’s always a solution – identify it, decide on a course of action, and get it done. Commit to your decisions and don’t look back.
Zoe: What is your leadership style? And how has this developed over the years?
Jason: I like to think I’m a reasonable mixture of inclusiveness and decisive. It’s important that people in my team feel valued, respected and included in our outcomes but there are times where, as a leader, you need to make a decision. For me, that’s key – understanding where the lines are between inclusiveness and ownership. I also think it’s incredibly important to have fun – the companies where I have seen the most success is where people are happy. Most companies don’t place enough emphasis on this from what I have seen and it’s something I would encourage any future leader, or current leader, to spend much more time considering and working to achieve. Every company I have worked at talks about it in their annual staff surveys and quarterly updates, but few really turn those observations into hard actions which improve morale and better results. Honestly, it’s a simple formula that is too often overlooked in favour of staring intently at the bottom line of an Excel spreadsheet (although I do like a bit of Excel too!).
Zoe: It is important to take time to have fun and enjoy life. What do you like to do outside of work?
Jason: I have quite a few hobbies actually. My wife and I both work full time and have no kids so we are lucky enough to have the time and means to enjoy life as we want to. My personal favourites include Amateur Astronomy (I have a mammoth telescope at home which I’m very proud of!), cooking (I have been taking private cooking lessons for a few years now – sauces are my thing), Motorbike riding (I recently bought a brand new Honda sport motorbike which I love although my wife isn’t so sure about), “exploring” or anything outdoors that involves carrying a rucksack, and travelling.
Zoe: Jason, different things motivate different people. What motivates you?
Jason: Happiness. A simple answer to a simple question. The stuff that we acquire, the jobs we do, the home life we have, our health and wealth – it’s all just stuff. Make sure that your life is filled with joy and the rest of the stuff pales into insignificance. Money doesn’t buy happiness although I think it’s fair to say that the absence of it can contribute to unhappiness – so decide what “enough” looks like (and that’s different for everyone), get it, and invest it in things that make you happy.
Zoe: Great answer Jason! Happiness is the foundation of motivation but finding that baseline of happiness is different for everyone. So, how do you define success?
Jason: It seems to me that success in the business world is quite different from success in our private lives. Often, we focus on material success - How much money do I have? What’s my job title? Did I hit the target again this quarter? How big is my house? How cool is my car? Now, don’t get me wrong, these are all things that give us a decent sense of success, and we should be proud of them, but success for me is when I go to sleep at night and I am feeling like all is well in the world – getting that warm and fuzzy feeling in my belly. If you can go to sleep at night, irrespective of what things helped you feel that way, and you’re successful in being happy – then that's a true success!
Zoe: Why should people choose to work at Veritas?
Jason: Being number one in the world at something, anything at all because it doesn’t really matter what it is, is a great feeling. Veritas is widely regarded in the industry as being the best at what we do so being part of and contributing to, the success of the company in maintaining and growing our position is a wonderful place to be. Additionally, Veritas has some absolutely great people that I thoroughly enjoy working with so it’s easy to feel part of the team. Also, and let’s be quite honest here, data is never going to start shrinking so given we’re a data-driven company our future, the business is secured and it’s nice to know that too. Finally, the company has a clear mission and purpose which it’s easy to get behind so that clarity of purpose brings a sense of wellbeing.
Zoe: What’s your favourite Veritas solution? Or product?
Jason: Oooohh, interesting question because 99/100 Veritas employees will probably say “NetBackup!”. I choose, instead, our Software-Defined Storage Appliances which, whilst related to NetBackup of course, are a hardware solution as opposed to a pure software solution – and as an engineer, I gravitate more naturally towards hardware than software. Software is cool, but it needs somewhere to store its data, and today an appliance is the best place to do that – and Veritas is number one for this in the world with our great range of appliances.
Zoe: Describe Veritas in one word?
Jason: Cake. I like cake, and I like Veritas. Right now, I can’t imagine not wanting both in my life.
Zoe: That’s funny! I’ve never heard someone compare Veritas with Cake, that’s a first. 😊 What life tip would you like to share with our VOX blog readers?
Jason: Avoid the negative people who you will always find yourself surrounded by telling you “No”. It’s much easier to be negative and down than it is to be positive and up – surround yourself in work and at home with people who are positive and avoid those negative influencers. One phrase has stuck with me from my Army days which has served me incredibly well in life is – “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome”. If somebody tells you that you can’t do something, or even if you’re telling yourself that, they’re likely wrong.
Zoe: Finally, what technology can’t you live without?
Jason: Recently I have found its robots. Finally, robots have become something that are making their way into the modern home. I have more robots at home than people (seriously!) – garden mowers, vacuum cleaners, floor moping devices, robot cameras that move around the home scanning and recording for security – I love my robots!
So, that’s a wrap for my interview with Jason Gerrard, it was great catching up and thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts on Veritas. My key takeaway from this interview is to find what makes you happy and invest your time there and avoid negativity, as this will hamper your success. If you enjoyed this Life at Veritas blog post with Jason, then do stay tuned as there will be more interview-style posts from other people at Veritas sharing their experiences and knowledge. And if this has inspired you to join our team, then check out our job vacancies on LinkedIn and apply here.
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