Interviewed by Nisha Ramanathan
Nisha Ramanathan is a sophomore at Lynbrook High School. She is involved with FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) Club and hopes to major in Business.
The following is an interview with a successful technology leader, Anand Ramanathan. Anand is currently a Vice President of Product Management at McAfee. His recent startup SkyHigh Networks was acquired by McAfee and he leads all of SkyHigh cloud security products.
I interviewed Anand to understand his career journey, next generation opportunities for today’s youth and focus areas for high school and college students. We also talked about success and failures and how one should turn failures into opportunities.
My biggest takeaways from the interview include…
- One should have passion and dedication towards anything they choose to do
- Failure is a step towards success and it is extremely important to be patient while pursuing one’s dreams
- Understand industry trends. Read technology and business articles to see where technology field is moving towards.
- Don’t chase success, instead follow your passion. It will automatically lead to success
- Be empathetic towards people. It will go a long way in building stronger relationships.
Below is a transcript of my interview with Anand Ramanathan
Nisha: I am here with Anand Ramanathan, VP of Product Management at McAfee. Anand is a technology leader and has had successful rides in the last couple of decades. He did his education in engineering but later moved to business, which he thinks has been the main reason for his successful career.
So welcome Anand, thank you for your time today.
Anand: Sure, glad I can be of help
Nisha: So, my first question is, what made you switch your career from engineering to Technology, and how did you go through that process?
Anand: Hmm, interesting question. Ever since I was young, I had a passion for playing with motors. This is what resulted me in pursuing my bachelors and masters degree in Mechanical engineering. But you know, Nisha, interests change and involve into new passions as you mature over the years. It was then the golden era for technology where technology was revolutionizing the industry with newer products. And I wanted to be part of this change. That is when I used my business background to technology where I could create new products and be part of this transition.
Nisha: Do you ever miss going back to mechanical engineering, given that was your first passion?
Anand: Forward thinking Nisha, I see technology is a big player in anything we do in our lives, including mechanical engineering. If you see electric vehicles, e.g. Tesla, it is a huge revolution in the car industry. More and more vehicles are coming out in the market as hybrid and truly electric vehicles. Also, technology plays a vital role in self-driving cars. There is a newer concept called “Connected car” in automobile sector, where data analysis plays an integral part of enabling huge technology role to make these cars intelligent in the future.
Nisha: So, how long have you been in technology field?
Anand: For the last 18+ years, I have been in the hi-tech space riding the technology wave. It fascinates me how technology can change future and make lives lot simpler than it was in the past.
Nisha: Currently, you are in SkyHigh Networks, which just got acquired by McAfee. Is this something you anticipated before joining SkyHigh Networks? In other words, there are so many startup companies, how does one know if the startup will eventually make it a success?
Anand: Haha, that’s a good question. It is important one does not chase after success, because it is very hard to predict the outcome. My strong advice would be to follow your heart, your passion and be smart about where industry is heading towards. I chose SkyHigh because I believed in the company, people and the space it resides – cloud security. As more and more companies move towards the cloud model, security becomes a key challenge. I joined SkyHigh because I thought there is a huge market for that space, and eventually success followed me. Hope that answers your question
Nisha: Is this your first startup? Have you had other successes in similar startups?
Anand: Previous to SkyHigh, I was at ProofPoint, which is an email security provider. I joined ProofPoint before it went public, so I could say that was also sort of startup or smaller company.
Nisha: What are some of the challenges in your job? What do you enjoy the most in your job?
Anand: Good question. Life is full of challenges. When it comes to smaller companies, you are presented with more of those for sure. Every day, I deal with different set of challenges – be it customer issues, internal people issues or product issues, I have to wear multiple hats to tackle each of these with different mindset. Startups are also very fast paced, so it is important to stay abreast with all the latest technology trends that we can incorporate in our products. There is also no set time limit when it comes to working for startups – some days are 14+ hrs long, so one needs to understand the dedication and hard work that comes with working for startups.
Coming to your follow on question, what I enjoy the most is the fast pace and ability to make decisions quickly to make an impact to our company / customers.
Nisha: What keeps you awake at night? Startups are not an easy ride, given that the industry expects a lot from them to prove. How do you handle this pressure?
Anand: I love to sleep, haha. But that does not mean that I don’t have pressure. Being an executive responsible for the company’s product portfolio, it is important for me to always think ahead of the game in terms of product launch, new customer features, potential security threats etc.
Nisha: So, would you consider yourself a smaller company executive? Or, at some point, would you move to a bigger setting?
Anand: I have had the pleasure of working for large corporations as well in my technology career. Having had both sides of the experience, I prefer to be associated with smaller companies with faster decision making, time to market and problem solving abilities.
Nisha: What is that you enjoy in smaller companies? Given that you have experienced small and big companies, what are the key differences between these two, so today’s youth can make the right choice for what they like?
Anand: Smaller companies have less resources & limited process, so one needs to understand that they need to play multiple roles be it product issue or customer issue or people issue. Also, smaller companies tend to be fast paced and long working hours, so one needs to have the hard working mindset to make best use of the opportunity. Contrary to smaller companies, big companies have more resources with fairly streamlined processes to tackle issues. The working hours might be well defined so there is more of a work-life balance in larger companies. Decision making process might also be slower due to the process and people involved in problem solving.
Nisha: Do you have mentors that have helped you shape your experience? What advice would you give for our high school and college students in choosing the right mentor so that they take their advice and experience in shaping their career?
Anand: Yes, I have had several mentors throughout my career. It is important to choose a mentor that you are comfortable discussing your goals and know that the mentor has vested interest in your career. Also, choosing a mentor that can give you candid feedback is very critical to decision making process. For high school and college students, choosing a mentor from the alumni pool that aligns with your respective field of choice, or choosing a career counsellor that can present a wide variety of options or even choosing a parent from close circle of family friends can all be good choices as the starting point. Eventually, it is important to choose someone from your workplace or alumni network in a related field.
Nisha: What personality traits do you think today’s youth should have to pursue a career in technology? What major should one take in college to set their feet in technology?
Anand: This is a very good question. If one want to pursue their career in technology, I would strongly suggest to stay in tune with industry trends by reading technology articles and trying out new technology products. Youth should have the mindset of working hard, commitment and dedication towards their job. Also, taking courses relevant to technology / business in high school or college will help youth to understand the nuances of making a career in technology.
Nisha: What is your advice for today’s youth for defining success? What mindset should one have?
Anand: Success is relative. One can consider getting the title as success or making money as success. So I would not advise today’s generation to go after success. Instead, follow your passion, work hard, show empathy and success will follow you.
Nisha: That’s great. I am glad you could give us some time to describe your success and personality traits needed to turn anything around to make it a success. This will greatly benefit our youth in understanding what it takes for them to pursue a career in technology. I wish great success in your current and future endeavors, Anand. Thank you for your time.
Anand: Thank you Nisha for this discussion. I hope this information was helpful to you.