Pivotal People—Simon Elisha, CTO & Senior Manager of Field Engineering, Australia and New Zealand

August 13, 2014 Adam Bloom

featured-SElishaEver wanted to know what type of talent Pivotal looks for in a Field CTO or why an enterprise architect and start-up person might be interested in Pivotal?

Meet the CTO and Senior Manager of Australia and New Zealand, Simon Elisha.

Joining Pivotal from Amazon Web Services, Elisha shares answers to some of our questions in this post.

Oh, and he is currently hiring!

In the interview, Elisha explains how his career has transitioned from mainframe, to client-server, to web-based architectures, and to cloud computing at Cisco, Amazon, and eventually Pivotal. He covers why he is excited about Pivotal, his area of focus, and Pivotal Products. His perspective on the power of Cloud Foundry gives great insight, given his former position advising customers and educating developers about Amazon Web Services.

Tell us about you growing up. Where you lived, siblings, school, activities, interests, etc.
Well, I grew up in beautiful Melbourne, Australia. Despite the fine weather and surrounds, I took to computers as a hobby early on. Fondly remembering the day I got my hands on my first Apple II clone, I started to write a “high resolution” drawing program. At that time, high resolution involved a mighty 280×192 pixels. So, you really had to be there!

Tell us about your work background and how you came to Pivotal?
Sure, I started off working on mainframe computers, and coding batch programs using COBOL. Then, I moved on to transactional programming using CICS and DB2. I hope that none of that means anything to you, as those skills are my retirement plan! I really loved building big complex systems and soon moved on to a Lead Architect role using a “newfangled” technology called client/server. At first, I lead the development of the border control system for Australia. The system still runs to this day despite massive increases in transactions over the many years of its lifetime, which always makes me smile when I travel! As the transition to web-based technologies commenced, I decided to get “bleeding edge” and developed some of early mortgage application websites for a bank. Afterwards, I led the infrastructure design for a ‘reverse marketplace’. This seemed like a good idea prior to the dot-com bubble popping.

During this period, I moved from a ‘traditional’ software developer role to a business consulting role, and this gave me the opportunity to learn more about the business side of business, rather than simply seeing it through the technology lens. This experience taught me about go-to-market plans, balance sheets, business cases, and the demands of customers as well as all the other things that actually create the need for IT projects. This totally changed my perspective on IT and the role it plays within businesses.

Afterwards, I moved into the storage software and hardware industry to help solve some big, intractable problems of data at massive scale including how best to protect that data. At the same time, I took a keen interest in highly-available systems in terms of clustering technology and how we actually can engineer failure out of systems (or attempt to do so).

Always with a keen eye to the developer community, I noticed that infrastructure was not keeping pace with what developers needed. It was too slow and too hard. This prompted a move to Cisco where I was involved in Datacentre Enterprise Architecture using converged platforms. But, I wanted something even more transformational, and this prompted a move to Amazon Web Services back in 2011 as their first technical employee in Australia. This gave me a great opportunity to help customers learn how to take advantage of cloud computing and take advantage of what it can do to make development more agile and effective. The end result was better support for business groups. During this time, I created a number of relevant patents. However, I cannot talk about any of them, but some of them are very cool ;).

All along, I have been a strong proponent of agile software development and have seen its success when used correctly. Lastly, I have worked as an advisor to a number of startups, watching the disruption of existing business models up-close.

All of this lead me to Pivotal because I was looking for what the next transition would be—what makes sense to businesses and developers? It is clear that cloud (in various forms of Public, Private and Hybrid) will be the dominant deployment model. It is also clear that current approaches to developing for the cloud are very Generation 1 in that you get a bunch of useful building blocks, but not much guidance or help in assembling them. I believe firmly that PaaS could help developers maximise their efficiency and get useful apps to market faster. But, such a PaaS needed to develop as fast, or faster, than the underlying services it was abstracting. A great recipe for this is open source software (OSS) and a vibrant developer community. Naturally, Cloud Foundry caught my eye. But, the bigger picture is what the application being built on the PaaS actually does for businesses, how fast they can be built, how scalable they can be, how interesting they are, how they can leverage real time data, and how they change the customer experience. From my perspective, this is where the unique combination of PaaS, Big Data, Agile (via Pivotal Labs), and Data Science (via Pivotal Data Labs) was the ‘secret sauce’. Having the opportunity to lead this kind of work in Australia was too good to pass up!

What are you most excited about being able to do in a smaller, more nimble organization and why are you excited to join Pivotal?
Being responsive to changes in customer needs and demands is just so important today, and, by being part of a smaller organisation, it is much easier to find the people you need to get things done. People here at Pivotal work closely together, help one another, and share a common goal. There is also the opportunity to work with really smart people who really care about what they are doing. This is always invigorating. I also enjoy working in a space where not all the answers are known—where new ideas can form and be executed to see if they make sense and make things better. This vibrance and energy is a big part of what I look for in an organisation.

In your words, what is your role in this new Pivotal organization? What are you most focused on?
Well, I wear two hats. The first is as CTO for Australia and New Zealand where I work with customers on understanding industry trends and technology trends so that we can translate those in to useful actions. While I am a big fan of technology, I am not a fan if it for its own sake. So, translating technology into business value is a big part of what I do. My other hat is that of Senior Manager of Field Engineering for Australia and New Zealand, which is just a fancy way to say I get to look after an amazing team of engineers who work day-to-day with our customers on making their vision a reality. My job is to ensure they have all they need, and at the same time grow the team.

For any great software engineers in Australia and New Zealand, I am hiring!

In your words, what challenges do our products solve?
The real power of Pivotal is in the end-to-end suite of products that enable customers to do things they just can’t do today. So many customers I speak to want the “real time customer interaction experience.” For example, one customer wants to let consumers walk through a grocery store with an app in your pocket to know where you are, what you normally buy, and to make special offers for you in real time that you can choose to take action. This will create a better customer experience and interaction. But, making this happen requires a raft of components including a modern and scalable development platform (Pivotal Cloud Foundry), huge amounts of efficient and accessible data storage (Pivotal Big Data Suite), the ability to develop applications fast and with high quality (Pivotal Labs) as well as the capability to gain real customer insights both in hindsight and in real time using advanced Data Science techniques (Pivotal Data Labs).

The main challenge customers face today is how to be more relevant and useful to THEIR customers by using all the new digital channels that people are comfortable with. As consumers, we want to use these channels more and more. Pivotal products help our customers serve their customers better.

What new Pivotal products are you most excited about working with?
Pivotal Cloud Foundry is closest to my heart given my developer and cloud background. The ability to deploy software simply and easily, at massive scale, wherever it needs to go is like a form of nirvana for developers. But, there is so much more we can do. So, I will be working closely with the Pivotal Cloud Foundry team to drive more capabilities and innovation. We are enabling a truly useful, robust, and scalable software to be built quickly and deployed anywhere. A lot of my time in previous roles was spent advising customers on how to architect their systems and build their development and deployment tool chains. With Pivotal Cloud Foundry, we can help accelerate this process by removing a lot of that complexity and replacing it with total choice as to where software is deployed for any given purpose. There is another side to Pivotal Cloud Foundry as well—I am excited about reducing the operational burden of running systems long-term. These types of systems are hugely complex and expensive for organisations. Traditionally operations has been very inefficient. This is why IT shops around the world are moving towards concepts like DevOps. Pivotal Cloud Foundry can help companies in this area in a big way.

What do you like to do in your personal time when you aren’t living and breathing Pivotal products?
Although that time is scarce at the moment, I enjoy spending quality time with my wife and two daughters, aged 8 & 5. A growing business and family keeps me super busy, but in a good way! As a total change of pace from the day-to-day technology stuff I am immersed in, I am a competitive practical pistol shooter. This allows me to focus on things like discipline, balance, and effectiveness—as well as getting me outside and being a whole lot of fun!

What is your biggest achievement?
Without a doubt, it is my family. Sometimes, I will just stop for a moment, look at my daughters and what they are doing, and realise that I will never create anything better or more important than them. They will do way cooler things than I will ever be able to do! That said, one of the recent things I am most proud of from a career perspective was creating the Amazon Web Services Podcast back in 2011. This was a weekly podcast that combined product updates and architecture deep dives for an audience of tens of thousands of people each month across the world. It was really humbling to look at the listener statistics and see the list of download countries. It was exciting and gratifying to contribute to people’s understanding of the cloud on such a broad scale.

What is top on your bucket list of things to do while still on this little rock we call earth?
A whole bunch of leisure travel is on top of my list. Having spent way to many hours on airplanes and in conference rooms on business in interesting cities that I have never actually seen, I am really excited to take my wife and go look at these places properly! Certainly an extended trip in the US will be high up on that list!

About the Author


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