“Embrace challenges. Life is boring without challenges.”
That's according to Nathan Howe, vice president of emerging technology at Zscaler, a cloud security company based in San Jose, Calif.
ITPro Today spoke with Howe about advice he has for tech professionals, whether they’re just starting their careers or are already established. Howe has over 20 years of experience in digital transformation and telecommunications. Before joining Zscaler, where Howe sets strategic direction, he worked in security roles for Verizon and Nestlé.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What made you decide to focus on a career in tech?
A: In all honesty it was my school's third-grade Apple Macintosh that lit the flame. I loved playing The Oregon Trail. I grew up in a not-so-city-central area in Australia, so games and computers came to us a few years after the rest of the world.
It started with The Oregon Trail, but the real explosion of interest was when my dad purchased an IBM clone. I think it may have been an IBM XT. I learned about BBSes [bulletin board systems], networks, and cracking games.
I wouldn’t say that I “chose” tech as a career, though. I was really into sports (as are all Aussie kids), but tech has always been how I spent my spare time. My parents can attest to the random selection of hardware, manuals, etc., that I collected as a kid.
Q: What certifications and/or educational experiences led to success in your career?
A: I’ve done many certifications – e.g., CISSP [Certified Information Systems Security Professional] – and each one has helped me. But it’s always been experimenting that allows me to problem solve. Experiment, play, and break everything you can! The most helpful lessons I have learned took place at 3 a.m. when I realized what I had done wrong and needed to rebuild A, B, C, or D before a 6 a.m. deadline.
Education is never ending. Certifications will just build on your knowledge. I’d encourage anyone to find subjects you are passionate about, master them, then move on to the next one.
Q: What is the most important piece of advice you've received?
A: Embrace challenges. Life is boring without challenges.
Q: Who have your mentors been? What made them so influential?
A: I have a few mentors. I have tended to find mentors in most roles I’ve had.
My cybersecurity mentors were my colleagues Ben Smee and Brendan Laws. They terrorized me after I popped a root shell in one of their Qmail servers.
When I think about innovation, I think of my mentors Mayur Apte and Patrick Foxhoven. I felt I could talk to them at any moment. They were very helpful when it came to talking me off cliffs.
Australia’s greatest basketballer, Andrew Gaze, is also a huge source of motivation. He coached me as a 12-year-old and benched me for not shooting a left-hand layup with my left hand. I spent the next year perfecting that just so I could show him.
Q: For people considering a career in tech or just beginning their careers, what pitfalls should they avoid?
A: Getting locked into just one area – e.g., just development or just network will limit you. Do not ignore the fundamentals.
If you aren’t testing and breaking things, you are stagnating. Even if the next new thing seems silly to you, learn about it so you can understand its impact.