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Legends of Tech

Presented by Chris Georgellis, Walter Drack
Originally aired on 

A weekly podcast where Chris Georgellis, on the Customer Development Team, interviews people across the tech industry. From veterans, to hall of famers, day to day tech industry people as well up and comers. Get to know them as individuals, find out what drives them, how they got into tech, and what they see now.

This week's guest: Walter Drack


Transcript (Beta)

All right, and we're live. Welcome to 2021, Episode 26, First Legends of Tech for this year.

It's good to be back, everyone. We've got a top guest today. He's, mate, one of the top business people within the Melbourne area.

He's worked for companies like VMware, NetApp, Hitachi, Trend Micro.

He's a mad biking fanatic as well.

Please welcome Walter. Thank you, Chris. No dramas, mate. How are you today, buddy?

Yeah, very good, very good. As you can see, I'm based in Melbourne, as you know, and it's probably looking like that down the local beach, but I don't think I'll get there today.

Mate, actually, I forgot to point out, you're into a bit of, what do you call it, windsurfing?

What's that? What do you call that? Kitesurfing, yeah.

Kitesurfing, yeah. Yeah, I've been doing that for a few years. Not as much as I'd like to get out there, but yeah, it's definitely handy with the local kite beach is about a kilometre away from where I live, so always good to get out in the water.

Yeah, so how long have you been doing that for? I think off and on for about 10 years.

I sort of put in a bit of effort in the early days when it was a fairly new sport, so a few incidents, getting dragged across walls and roads and things.

A few long swims back to shore, but a lot of that's behind me now, so I usually have pretty smooth sailing sessions, but it's one of those things, you know, you get to a level and unless you're really putting in a lot of time to advance, you kind of just stick there, so I put myself as a solid intermediate rider.

I don't do any crazy tricks or anything like that. I'll leave that to the young ones.

Yeah, fair enough, yeah, because there's a beach near my place, about 20 minutes away from here in Botany Bay, where they do a lot of that.

I've always been fascinated on, especially in those windy days, man, they're like literally off the water completely, and I've got the same, because you've got a main road that runs along the beach, I'm thinking one wrong turn and they could be in peak hour traffic.

It's definitely happened, yeah, for sure. It's the buzz of a sport, it's great.

If you love water sports and wind sports, it's ideal, but yeah, the equipment's evolved quite a lot since the early days.

You didn't have a lot of safety or ability to depower your sail with the early gears, so it was...

How'd you get into it?

Oh, look, I'd always sort of dabbled in a bit of surfing and wind surfing over the years, but not being a fantastic swimmer or paddler, always a bit too slow to get on the lineup in surfing, you know, the grommets always beat you to it.

I thought I'll take the advantage of the sail, and so that gets you out there, and Port Phillip Bay's a big space, always plenty of room, and as you said, good winds down here in the summer, so I thought, oh, it's too good to pass up close by and just a good fun activity.

Yeah, cool. I know it's a pretty big sport in Greece as well, and I was there many years ago.

I know they had some European championships there as well, so there's some, I think there's some group there that's got like some record for doing like the longest sail on the Aegean or something, I think.

Yeah, that'd be on the bucket list to do some kite surfing over in Greece.

Yeah, no, good, mate, and you do a bit of bike riding as well? Yeah, yep, as you know from the Strava feed, I know you're into it as well.

Yeah, look, it's up and down.

I split my riding between sort of road cycling and mountain biking, and I've been doing a lot of road biking recently, entered into an event in the mountains up here in Victoria out of Bright, so did a bit of training for that, which is always good, because as you know, riding the hills is different to riding the flat roads.

Yeah, I'm 100%, mate. You put a bit of incline, and it's, you know, you can ride 100 kilometres on a flat surface, no problem, but the moment there's an incline, it's trouble.

Yeah, well, this was a 130k ride up to Fools Creek and back to Brighton.

I think on the third climb by that stage, it was midday and 30 degrees heat, and I was struggling.

I thought, you know, why am I actually doing this again?

Yeah, I was supposed to do La Tappe end of last year, but it got cancelled because of COVID, but yeah, that one, I think it was 130 k's, but it was like two and a half thousand metres of climbing, so yeah, it wasn't definitely, but I'm glad it was cancelled, because I don't think I would have been prepared for it.

I didn't get enough rides before that. No, that's similar to the ride I did in terms of climbing, and that you definitely want to do some good preparation for that, because you want to be able to enjoy it as well and not just mash yourself, you know, with cramps and running out of energy.

Nah, for sure, mate. Well, that's cool, mate.

So, being active, but I guess like all things, mate, how did you fall into the tech industry?

Oh, it's a good question and a very long story, because as you know, I'm a little bit more mature or older than you, but it wasn't by design.

I think like many of us, it was really purely by accident.

You know, I was still at university, at RMIT University down here in Melbourne, studying mechanical engineering and had an affinity for computers anyway, because engineers were sort of early to adopt, you know, that sort of technology, and coming up to my fourth year at uni and not really having much of a plan on what to do beyond that, and in those days, companies would actually come on campus and interview for graduates, and IBM showed up and were conducting interviews, and a mate of mine from within my class, he got a role there, and I thought, gee, you know, if he can get a job with IBM, maybe I should apply.

So, I applied, got an interview, went and bought a very cheap and nasty suit, because of course, as a student, I didn't really own one, and fronted up and got offered a role, you know, still in my final year, so that was good to know that you had something coming up, and it was very attractive, you know, as a poor student, you know, they were offering the huge sum of $28,000 a year in those days, which was not a bad graduate salary, a mobile phone, which was the size of a Voxon, I recall, and a company car, which replaced my aging Datsun 180B, so I was pretty chuffed with that role, actually, I thought I was, you know, the wolf of Wall Street there, with my pager, my phone, and my cheap suit, my company car.

There you go, mate, they threw everything at you, and they got you on board, so that was pretty much your first drop into IT with the big blue.

Yeah, it was, it was a fantastic experience, I was there for just over four years, it was what they call, or we'd call it a CSM nowadays, a Customer Success Manager, it was a customer engineering role, so it was in the days before really the Internet took off, so you'd do a lot of training, and then you'd go out and essentially support the customers, you know, hardware and systems on-premises, right, so there wasn't much ability to dial in, so you had your territory, so to speak, and your little diagnostic computer, and you'd drive around and visit them every week, and read the logs, and you know, and look to schedule the work to replace, you know, things like hard disks were, you know, the size of car tires in those days.

What was the transition like, I mean, you know, going from being a mechanical engineer, and then moving into, you know, let's call it IT, was there a, was it similarities, was there any learnings that you could take from one job to the other, or was it a completely brand new learning from scratch?

I think, look, you know, it was definitely, you know, a lot carried over in terms of just the discipline and the analytical side of things, you know, as mentioned in engineering, you do a lot of sort of programming anyway, so that, I guess, that understanding of technology at high level helped, but certainly, you know, it didn't prepare you for the job at hand, but I'd have to say, you know, in those days, IBM really invested in your training as a graduate, so before they even let you near a customer, you did three months of intensive training, which actually meant, you know, staying up at their training centre in Rosebury in Sydney, and doing hands-on workshops and labs, so it was a fantastic education, really, not just in the technology, but, you know, a lot of mentoring in how to engage with customers, and behave in the corporate world, you know, which for a fourth-year student, I think, is invaluable.

Yeah, no, absolutely, and I think, you know, we probably don't see any of that type of investment anymore.

I mean, there is investment, but not, you know, get someone for three months, stick them in training for three months, and then let them out.

Now, it's how do they get bang for buck immediately from people?

Yeah, and it's very true, and, you know, I think that's something that maybe the industry needs to look at to promote some young talent coming up, because it's, you know, as we know, there's a huge amount of growth in our industry.

There's always any number of startups trying to access the local market, and really not enough, I think, young talent coming through the university sector.

So, yeah, I think that's a good point. Yeah, absolutely. So, I've been for four years, and then from there, where did you head off to?

Yeah, so look, I did that for a while.

That was kind of led right into the great recession of the early 90s, so you probably don't remember that one, Chris, but it was the recession we had to head, and I still recall it vividly, because my first timeline then was at 16% interest, which, when you think about it nowadays, is extraordinary.

So, look, you know, IBM, we're looking to shed a lot of people, and I put my hand up for a redundancy, and knowing that I had another role lined up, was lucky enough to get that, and moved into, still in a technical space, but for a local resale integrator that were selling Hewlett-Packard's CAD software, so computer-aided design manufacturing software, so still, you know, relating to the engineering space, but in tech, and, you know, that was a big change of pace right from the huge corporate to a very small place with limited resources, but doing quite innovative work, so that was fun, too.

Did that for a few years, you know, I remember there was a lot of Unix involved, so at some stage, I was dangerous enough to work a Unix command prompt, but wouldn't like to go near that anymore.

Yeah, it's amazing. So, what was it like going through that recession period?

I mean, you know, from the 90s, we've had a few, call it bust, or dot-com bust, or whatnot.

What was it like? I mean, you know, for you being new into the industry at that point, going through something like that, was it, yeah?

Yeah, it was interesting, because you, I guess, perhaps as a, you know, starting off your career, and maybe you're not as plugged into the macroeconomic side of things, so you're kind of just more focused on where you're going, but you could definitely see the company, IBM, at that stage pivoting from, you know, very much a hardware, you know, manufacturer to, I still recall the branch manager, you know, addressing the whole organisation and saying, look, you know, we're pivoting to software and services, and everyone looked at each other and said, there's no money in that, you know, IBM makes hardware.

So, I think as part of that change, it was a big, there was a big restructure, and, but I think, you know, I think when you're young and optimistic, it doesn't really occur to you that jobs might be hard to come by, you kind of just, you just go for it.

So, yeah, so it wasn't any real impact in that sense, and I think things recovered sort of fairly quickly after that, but it was more, I think, you know, the changing, the old industries, you know, manufacturing declining, you know, high interest rates, so it certainly had a lot of impact on, you know, the Australian society, but as you know, if you, I think, you know, being in this sector, we're very fortunate, you know, to be in a high growth, high innovation sector that seems to be able to weather the storm predominantly.

Yeah, absolutely.

So, you know, starting in the early 90s and up until now, I guess, you know, in your opinion, do you see any pivotal points in this sector that have, that you've thought back upon and gone, you know, wow, you know, were there some key points that you saw during that phase at all?

Yeah, look, I think having, you know, moved in and out of IT, because I did sort of move out and back to engineering for a few years, and then coming back into it, I think certainly, you know, the pivot to software and services, that was pretty obvious that, you know, that's where the action was.

And then I think, you know, beyond that, more recently, obviously, the move to cloud, you know, it was kind of looked at as a, you know, maybe something that might take off eventually, but really seeing how quickly that's transformed our industry, not just from a customer side, but even how we deliver solutions and services.

I think those things have been really pivotal.

And obviously, you know, just, it seems ridiculous to say, but just the Internet coming in, because it wasn't that prevalent, you know, when I started my career at IBM, you know, you had an internal email system, that was it, you know.

Later on, I worked in engineering for a company called Siemens and, you know, similar thing, they just had introduced email at that stage, and an intranet.

And, you know, I still remember the first time I used Google, which was in the year 2000.

So, you think, you know, it's laughable now. But, you know, I still remember, you got work done prior to that via fax, via, you know, phone calls.

It definitely worked.

It's definitely amazing. I guess the way we work now, I still remember, I think in 2010, that's when I transitioned from a techie role to a sales role.

And I used to, you know, you'd get frustrated because you'd be, yeah, early morning on the computer doing stuff, and then you'd try to go see clients, and there was no way to do work.

And I remember going to my sales manager at the time saying, have you ever thought about getting email on the phone?

Like, you know, there's these devices that you can get, it'll actually make our sales team more productive.

And she was like, no, that's just the dumbest idea I've ever heard.

You know, I was like, yeah, she's not in sales anymore. So, that's probably a different story.

But it's just amazing. I think now we take, a lot of people now take it for granted that we've got access to all these great tools where, you know, I still remember when, you know, going from high school even to, you know, moving into uni, you know, we weren't doing assignments on computers at that point.

And then when we moved in, it's like, oh, all of a sudden, no more paper-based things.

Now you've got to start doing it on your word processor and things like that.

So, yeah, it's just, but now it's like, people go, what? You used to hand stuff in on paper?

What do you mean? Yeah, exactly. You're exactly right. You know, you look at how our kids operate now with iPads and online portals.

It's transformed, you know, and they would see, you know, mobile and the Internet as just like a utility, like electricity.

Couldn't imagine life without it. But yeah, there's been some big transformations.

I mean, I've sort of worked through the dot-com boom and bust, I guess, as well, and Y2K.

So those were big events there that, you know, drive a lot of investment in the industry.

You know, if you remember Y2K, it was, you know, there's a lot of fear and panic and where the planes would fall out of the sky and banking systems would crash.

In the end, it really was just another year.

We survived all of it. But if you look at some of the ideas around that sort of the early 2000s around that sort of dot-com boom, you know, they're all very valid ideas.

They just didn't have the delivery mechanism in terms of 4G and mobile devices in those days.

But, you know, everything that we take for granted now in terms of mobile services, we're really kind of starting to be pioneered then, but just didn't have the technology to deliver it effectively.

Absolutely, mate.

Yeah, it's amazing. So when you look back at your career, are there any highlights that stand out for you in terms of, you know, some achievements that you've made or just some, you know, outcomes that you've been part of that really stand out for you as part of your career?

Yeah, I mean, look, there's always a few, I guess, having been in sort of account management or sales roles for a while.

You tend to think of it in terms of deals that you've won or customer initiatives that you've worked on.

So it's usually a few of those. And you always, I guess, remember your first big win.

And, you know, one of my early ones was when I was working for CA Technologies way back then.

I guess they've rebranded to something else now.

But that was my first real IT sales role. And again, a company with a lot of pedigree and good processes and training at that stage.

But yeah, I recall winning a deal with a major consulting company, which was the biggest deal in our team at that stage.

But it was more the way it came about. You know, we'd been talking to this customer for a long time at a certain level, you know, with architecture and IT managers.

And, you know, we're under the impression that we're on the same journey.

And then sort of heard through the back channels of the industry that they were about to make a selection with our competitor.

Yeah, I spoke to my manager at the time.

And we thought about, you know, what could we do? And essentially, literally sat down in a room and we did a bit of a role play of what would I say to the CIO of this company if I managed to get hold of him on the phone.

And we came up with, you know, a few things that we'd like to get across. And he said, okay, well, you know, dial him now.

I said, what do you mean right now?

He said, yeah, give him a call. No time like the present. So I said, well, he's not going to pick up.

So I dialed him and lo and behold, the CIO picked up. We ran through exactly the role play and he said, okay, well, in that case, you better come in this afternoon.

You've got 15 minutes. So anyway, we were able to go in and sort of let him know what was going on.

And he gave us the opportunity to come back in.

And ultimately, yeah, we were successful there. So I think that was just a good example of, you know, teamwork and good coaching from somebody that was more experienced.

And learning out of that, that was the ultimate result was because we kind of went above the team's head that we were originally engaged with.

They weren't too happy.

So they did their best to make the implementation very difficult after that.

So double edged sword, you've got to be quite careful. Oh, you got the result in the end, but a few unhappy people in the process, but what do you do?

Can't please everyone.

No, exactly right. I mean, that's and so you transition from a technical role to a sales role.

Yeah, yeah, I had. Well, I did the role at IBM and the computer aided design company for a while and then decided, seeing as I'd studied engineering, I should really give that a go and went and worked for Siemens in power generation.

So that was that was very different in terms of industry and also skill set.

But it was good for me. I've got an Austrian background, so it leveraged my German speaking skills as well.

So, you know, I worked in Germany for a while and Malaysia, but it was literally going from technology to steam turbines and generators and, you know, running around in sugar mills in North Queensland.

So that was it was a very different role, but a great experience. So I did that for a while, but for four or five years, but then really got drawn back into the technology space because just because it is so dynamic and ever changing and looking at that sort of power engineering space.

And there were colleagues sitting beside me that had literally been there for 45 years.

And, you know, I'm sort of saying, well, look, I respect you guys, but I don't know if I want to I want to be here that long.

So it's a good opportunity to come back into technology at that stage, which many people don't know, just via my gap year, as I call it, in technology recruitment.

So that was that was probably my I would say that was my first real, you know, hardcore sales role, because anyone that's done any recruitment knows it's a very, very difficult job.

Yeah, exactly. So what was the transition like going from technical into, I guess, a business focused role?

Yeah, I think it was I think that that year in recruitment certainly helped.

It was it was for a company called Morgan and Banks, who were pretty big in that space in Australia at that stage, probably the leader, and they were looking to bring people in that understood technology so that they could, you know, offer those services to their clients.

So, you know, that that sort of went from a very, yeah, I'd say engineering solution engineering type role with Siemens to very much a, you know, a disciplined role with a lot of cadence, you know, you walk into any sort of major recruitment agency in those days, and the front office is very nice and beautiful.

And, you know, very flashy. And you, you open the door to the back room, and it's literally like the boiler room out of Wall Street is people on the phones and screaming and yelling going on.

And so, so there's a lot of energy there.

And a lot of very, very professional people doing that work. So that was, I think, a good, good entree into sales to say, okay, a lot of it's about activity and how you handle objections and, and, and putting a process in place, which then, you know, did, did benefit me moving into my, I guess, first real IT sales role at Computer Associates at the time, which was, which was a partner, the channel role, as we were discussing before.

Yeah, yeah. Fair enough.

Yeah. And did you find it hard to let go of the engineering side? Or did you find the transition quite easy?

Yeah, I think it was, it was hard to let go, not so much of the engineering, but just the the temptation to have to understand everything and be the expert.

So I think, you know, you have to leave some of that behind, even though, you know, we understand the technology to extent, it's more, more around the aspect of how it benefits our customers, right.

And so that I think that was a more than the learning was that, okay, there's other people that you need to trust and bring in to the conversation rather than try and do all that yourself.

And, and that's not always necessarily going to help you, you know, with with your sales targets.

So that was made pretty clear at CA that leave that to somebody else, your job's to do X, Y and Z.

Yeah, that's quite interesting, because I mean, it's either you make or you don't.

And I've seen people that have, you know, really good engineers become really good salespeople, then you've seen some that have gone that just haven't been able to let go of, to your point, having to know every little thing, and getting bogged down into the detail, not trusting other people.

And I think there's one, I won't mention the person's name, but there's one person in particular, I remember, because he'd never rated his peers, or the other technologists around him, he found it really hard to engage people, because he just didn't trust them.

And, you know, lo and behold, I think he lasted a year at the sales, and then he ended up going back to it, because he just couldn't handle not having that control, or he couldn't accept the fact that, hey, he's not the smartest person in the room anymore.

Exactly, right. And that's a really good point you make, because it's, it's often, you know, that, that view of salespeople is, you know, real estate, or used cars, but it's, it's, and certainly there's, there's personalities like that in the industry, as you know, but, but I think on the whole, it's a lot more kind of disciplined, and customer focused, from what I've seen, and certainly the people that, you know, have longevity and succeed, you've really got to be more about, you know, what the value is to your customer, and how it helps, because if you, you want to succeed in a given market, yeah, Australia is not a massive market, and as you know, you know, we're pretty well connected nowadays, so, so your integrity, and your, your reputations, everything really, so you want to make sure you're, you're doing the right thing.

Yeah, nice spot on, mate. So if you look at, you know, I guess, from your perspective, I mean, what keeps you motivated to, to be in IT?

Yeah, it's a, it's a good question, and I've asked myself this over the years, you know, whether, whether there's something else I should be doing, but I think you keep getting drawn back into, you know, it's, it's an exciting place to be, you know, if you talk to friends who are, I don't know, in construction, or maybe they run their own business, you know, they've got their passions there, but I think this keeps you current, it's ever-changing, and dynamic, and there's always kind of new opportunities arising, there's exciting things happening, you know, as an industry, I think it's an exciting place to be, you know, before COVID, you know, you were always kind of very social, good, you know, get-togethers, good corporate kind of cultures, you know, kickoffs, things like that, so it's, it's definitely never boring, and as I said, I think it just keeps you current, and I think that there's still, in this game, you know, the passion, and the appreciation of, I don't know, just starting a conversation over a coffee with a potential customer, and then 12 months later, you shake hands, and doing business, and just getting a huge sense of satisfaction for yourself, but also for the team that's, that's come with you on that journey, right, so it's, it's a, it's, it's a great sense of achievement, and I think, and the recognition goes with that, obviously, internally, but yeah, it's, I think it's a rewarding career.

Yeah, absolutely, so what, what advice can you give people that are, like, either entering the technology space, or even transitioning into, I guess, into technology, what, what, what pearls of wisdom can you give them?

Pearls of wisdom, I think, I think, you know, I've had a few hits and misses, but, but I think, you know, as I said, it's, don't hesitate, like, if you think your passion lies there, and you're open-minded, you're willing to learn, and you're, you're, you're capable of adapting to change, and that's the big thing, it's, it's definitely not an industry where, as you know, you come into a role, you get told exactly what your job is, and you sit there, and you do that, you know, there's the expectations that you're contributing a lot more, not just to your company, but to your customers, and making it your own, so it's a, I see it really as a little bit like running your own business, I know it sounds a bit cliche, but you certainly got all the tools and resources to, to direct your own destiny, so that's what's exciting as well, so you might, my, my, my advice would be, just really give it a go, and I've worked with a few technical folk over the years, that kind of, and I did the same, yeah, it's a, it's a big step, you see, it's very risky, you know, a lot of your, your compensation's at risk, and what if, what if I don't succeed, and this and that, but ultimately, I think, you know, if you put the right sort of processes in place, get the right coaching for your peers, you should be successful, unless you're doing something dramatically wrong, so, so, you know, take, take, take the plunge, you know, go for it, go for it, nah, good stuff, mate, well, mate, this half an hour's gone really, really quickly, buddy, so, are we done, okay, we're nearly done, mate, so, mate, we're gonna have to part two, maybe we can do it live, in person, now that the borders have opened up between, between our states, so, mate, I just wanted to thank you so much for your time today, Volta, mate, I've learned, even though I've known you for probably the last six months now, I've probably learned quite a fair bit about you, so it's been great, I'm sure a lot of people have, have enjoyed the session today, mate, so, look, once again, thanks for your time, mate, and mate, I look forward to catching up with you in the near future.

Yeah, certainly, thanks, appreciate the opportunity, and it was, yeah, quite enjoyable, it flew past.

I know, no worries, buddy, take it easy, bye, everyone, see you guys next week.

Bye -bye.