Career advice for the Internet sector

By on 22 Sep 2020

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A banner image with screenshots of the five heads of the RIRs
The heads of the RIRs, from left to right: Eddy Kayihura, CEO of AFRINIC; Oscar Robles, CEO of LACNIC; John Curran, President and CEO of ARIN; Paul Wilson, Director General of APNIC; Hans Petter Holen, Managing Director of RIPE NCC.

The recent APNIC 50 conference provided an opportunity to talk with the heads of the world’s five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs).

We heard their advice on a range of career advice topics. Some of their responses have been lightly edited and included here. The full panel discussion is also embedded below.

On understanding different perspectives:

“I remember one lesson from a laboratory I used to control. I used to have a workstation with four big computers. Those four big computers had the same software and of course the same hardware. They were the same at the beginning of the semester. By the second or third week, they started to behave differently. So I started to think: if those computers that were the same were starting to behave differently, just imagine people — who are very different from hardware and software — how differently we will think, how differently we will see the world and solve problems.”

Oscar Robles, CEO of LACNIC

On the importance of being willing to take advice:

“In terms of a career path, if you have good advisors, you can have a better impact. This is true even for a president, because a president can’t be an expert in everything. It also depends on the capacity of the president to hear that advice or to follow that advice. The question I have is: who advises you? How open are you to those advisors? Select your advisors carefully; we all need advisors at some point.”

Eddy Kayihura, CEO of AFRINIC

On choosing a career path:

“I’ve had people ask me, ‘I want to follow a career like yours, John, how do I do that?’ I say that you really can’t. Each person finds their own path and that means finding the stepping stones they have to follow. If you spend some time doing the things that interest you, you read the documents that interest you, you follow the materials, the sessions that interest you, it may not be directly what your job is. You want to keep track of your job and get it done, but at the same time follow your heart and it may lead you in a different direction. It was my interest in networking that led me into the TCP/IP and the Internet communications suite, and then it was my interest in standards that led me into work at the IETF, and then it was my interest in related items that got me involved in the next phase; the career path you can’t predict.”

John Curran President and CEO of ARIN

On the subtle art of leading without being controlling:

“If I go back and look at how I started as a manager, it was in a start-up team where I was with friends. Basically, they were all smarter than me and better than me at doing the network configuration stuff and things like that, so what could I do to help that team other than configuring routers and learning from others? Well, I could facilitate things that they didn’t care about, like the administration stuff and getting budgets done and things like that. And being in that situation, it wasn’t like I was their boss to tell them what to do because they knew just as well as me, so it was more being a facilitator and making sure that we had what we needed to get the job done. Some of my first management training was actually in training kids to play the violin and being a conductor of a small ensemble. In that way, you also have to lead with a careful touch rather than — of course, to some extent, you have to tell people what to do — but you also have to inspire them to do the right thing.”

Hans Petter Holen, Managing Director of RIPE NCC

On resolving conflicts and the importance of effective communication:

“There’s a focus on what we’re here to do and what we’re here to do together and to achieve together. If something isn’t going right, then it can be put on the table as something objective, rather than something that’s personal. I think careful and clear communication is something that’s a real talent and a necessity. It’s something that’s probably underrated; the value of communicating clearly in reflecting what your thoughts are, informing, revealing and sharing thoughts and sharing and being on the same page is something that’s really important in a situation like that; or it becomes an ‘us and them’ kind of situation. The idea of the collective effort is really important.”

Paul Wilson, Director General of APNIC

On the importance of timing when dealing with conflict:

“Another element that I do use is selecting the time. Because sometimes when we still feel emotion about this, it can become unproductive, so it’s important that we do this separation and also find a time when everyone is not in a stressful period, because sometimes issues happen when you are working on a very intense project at that time. Trying to fix it at that time may also be devastating for either of you, so I would rather wait until we are in a peaceful time, but not let something like this slip under the carpet. Because in the end, these types of things, if you don’t address them they will rot the place.”

Eddy Kayihura, CEO of AFRINIC

On the loneliness of being a manager:

“It’s only as lonely as I make it. So having advisers, having friends, having family, having colleagues that I can work with, that I can discuss things with, helps a lot. My former CEO once told me that when you get to be a manager and when you get high up, we all need positive feedback and we all need praise. You need to make sure that you create a space to get that praise from others. Because without me sharing that, to the board or to colleagues or to others, there would be no space for positive feedback. So that’s one of the things that I’m also sharing with young managers that I’m working with; that make sure you create space to get positive feedback as well. Not necessarily to brag about what you’re doing, but to talk about it and share your experiences, so that others can learn from you.”

Hans Petter Holen, Managing Director of RIPE NCC

On how everything will probably be OK if you have discipline:

“I don’t think that there’s only one way to have a successful and professional life, develop it, but there are many, many ways. But in all those different paths, all those different ways, there’s always the discipline to keep working. Doesn’t matter where and doesn’t matter what specific topic, just keep working with discipline and that would be, most of the time, enough to have a good development. I remember my first year of university I failed literacy and languages. I decided that in order to keep my scholarship in the university, I needed to start working, otherwise it would be very difficult to pay for that university. Because I failed, I got a job in the computer networking department, so that exposed me to many chances and the work I have now was due to that simple reason. That was very complex for me in my student life, something that could have prevented me from finishing university, but it turned to be the best thing that could have happened to me, because after I graduated, I had the chance to get this interesting job, something called the “.mx”, the domain name for Mexico that used to be managed in that university. So that is something that I would explain to the past me; just keep working, don’t be worried.  Everything will be OK at the end of the day.”

Oscar Robles, CEO of LACNIC

On managing without playing politics:

“I don’t think I’m a very political person, so my approach to politics tends to be pretty naive; it tends to be to rely on truth, fact, sincerity, honesty, intention and to actually kind of avoid playing games — it’s always useful to know when games are being played — but I find the more you analyse and think about that, the more you are sucked into that game itself and sometimes it’s a deliberate decision not to even go there. And to let people know I hope, that that’s the way that you’re choosing to operate. Whether that closes some doors or not I guess is debatable, but I think it opens doors and sort of keeps them open to the genuine work that you want to do.”

Paul Wilson, Director General of APNIC

On balancing work and family life:

“We go to work because we want to make sure our family has what it needs, that our community has what it needs. So, everyone’s natural priority is family first. An organization that doesn’t pay attention to that is going not only against the grain, but going against human nature. If someone says, “Oh, my father, my brother, my sister needs me to be there, they’re going to the hospital or they’re going through something and I need to take the day off and go handle it,” do you want someone to be able to take care of their family or do you want to tell them, “No, you have to be at work and I want you to sit there and be non-productive while you worry about your family”? It’s not a choice. It doesn’t make any sense at all. Now, there are extremes and you can tell people you have to balance these things. But we all realise you go to work because you’re trying to give your family what it needs.”

John Curran President and CEO of ARIN

You can view the full panel discussion below:

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The views expressed by the authors of this blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of APNIC. Please note a Code of Conduct applies to this blog.

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