Hey Hackers! I’m Karim Fanous, and I’m the VP of Engineering at strongDM
First of all, a huge thank you to the HackerNoon community and staff for nominating me for a 2021 Noonies award!
I’ve been nominated in the following categories please do check out these award pages and vote:
Learn more about my thoughts and opinions on technology and my journey in the tech industry via the interview below.
1. What do you do and why do you do it? (tell us your story)
I’ve always been attracted to machines, computer specifically. My very first computer was a ZX Spectrum, with a whopping 48K memory. I learned how to code in BASIC on this computer and from that point onwards computers and coding became my passion. There’s something very creative and fulfilling about building programs and software.
Unsurprisingly, I graduated with a degree in Computer Science and joined Microsoft in 2000. I stayed at Microsoft for 10 years, during which I saw the process of building software business. But somewhere along this journey, I lost touch with the initial passion I had with building software. Maybe it was the size of the company, maybe the products, maybe both.
The next and current phase of my story is startups, something I have been doing since 2012. Startups are akin to meta-programming. It’s a very rewarding, and oftentimes hard, experience, but one which has been immensely gratifying to me.
My role over the past 8 years has been that of VP of Engineering. I enjoy all aspects of building and scaling teams and thinking about the tooling, infrastructure that is needed to help grow and scale a business. It’s programming: people + product + processes to grow individuals, teams, and ultimately a business.
2. Tell us more about the things you create / write / manage / build!
I think the primary creative avenue I have nowadays is writing. Writing allows me to think, learn, and better express myself. Writing has helped me grow and become a better person. It has rounded me up so to speak.
I maintain my own personal blog and publish a few items here as well. The topics I write on usually center around problems I have faced, typically at work. If there’s one theme to my writing it might be “lessons learned from startup-land”.
3. How did you end up on your current career path? Do you like it?
Pure chance! Many years ago I was sitting in a meeting at Microsoft, pondering what to do next. I had enjoyed my time at Microsoft but was restless. An email pops in my inbox from a recruiter at an obscure Seattle startup. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, so I responded.
I ended up joining this company - Qumulo - and stayed there for almost 6 years. My initial role was fuzzy at best. I remember jotting out what I should do with one of the founders on the white-board. Whatever we wrote on that whiteboard became my job. As the company grew, I was offered new opportunities and ultimately ended up leading the Customer Success and Engineering organizations for about 4 years. The rest is history as they say.
I still have that email :)
4. What tech are you most excited or passionate about right now and why?
I think that we are at a pivotal time in the history of human-kind. On the one hand, we are faced with an existential threat - climate change. Yet, on the other hand the technological advances we have today are truly mind-boggling. There are two areas, which admittedly I know very little about, that excite me: bio-technology and clean energy.
I think that continuing to invest in both of these areas can have a profoundly positive impact on humankind. Hopefully we can invest in sustainable and cleaner sources of energy. Similarly, tools like mRNA & CRISPR offer the potential to treat seemingly untreatable diseases.
5. What tech are you most worried about right now and why?
I’m not worried about any particular piece of technology per se. Technology is a tool, which in-of-itself cannot cause deliberate harm. It’s how we - people - use these tools that can cause harm. There are however a couple of immensely powerful technologies that offer the potential to do both immense benefit or harm. Those are artificial intelligence and CRISPR (gene editing).
In the case of artificial intelligence we can use this technology for immensely positive products in areas like healthcare (cancer detection) & agriculture. We can also use this technology to create echo chambers that amplify falsehoods. Similarly, gene-editing technology can be used to cure diseases and also to create custom-tailored babies. In both cases, the tool is the same, its the application, human-based, that yields a positive or negative impact.
6. If we gave you 10 million dollars to invest in something today, what would you invest in and why?
I’d invest it in technology that can make some significant impact on climate change. I think this is an existential threat to human-kind and one in which technology alongside policies can help mitigate. The timing is now though.
7. What are you currently learning?
I try to learn things that enhance my core skills or go deep, as well as others that increase them, to go wide. Areas that interest me are human phycology, organizational design and the art/science of management. These are areas that are directly applicable to what I do. I find that I learn best from reading books on these topics and picking up articles, podcasts from others in these fields.
I also like to do deep into a particular technical area. At the outset of the pandemic, I signed up for the Andre Ng Deep Learning specialization at Coursera. It’s a wonderful course and got me quite engaged and versed in AI and Deep Learning. To the point that I ended up joining a deep learning startup out of London. Kheiron Medical is in the business of building deep neural networks for cancer detection. One of their products is already out in the market and tackles breast cancer. It’s a wonderful piece of technology built by an amazing company.
8. What’s the best advice you’ve ever given someone?
A few years ago I was mentoring an engineering leader at an early-stage startup. She was new to the role and was struggling with decision making, more specifically wanting to be absolutely sure that she will make the right decision. The advice I gave her then is to be comfortable making decision with sufficient data and couple that with some way to measure the efficacy of your decision. If, after making your decision you discover that the metrics are showing that you made an incorrect decision, then adjust accordingly. It’s much better to make a decision with enough data and iterate on it versus laboring until we have 100% clarity, which oftentimes we will never have. Most decisions aren’t one-way, they can be adjusted and even reversed if proven to be wrong.
I followed up with her a few months later and she was a completely different person. This perspective had changed her decision making process, allowed her to move with speed, yet prudence and also opened up the opportunity for her to adjust her decisions if proven to be incorrect.
9. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
A few years ago, Pete Godman, co-founder and back then CEO of Qumulo, asked me to “go figure out how to make our customers successful.” I had no clue what he meant by that or how to go about solving that problem. It was a domain completely novel to me - my background was in software engineering not in customer success or support.
His advice to me was to think out of first principles. Solve the problem starting from first principles, experiment, learn and iterate. That advice has been with me since that day and has served me immensely well since then. And yes, it was instrumental in helping me build an amazing Customer Success organization at Qumulo.
Thank you Pete :)
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