At VMware, we believe in what our people make possible. Our Stories of Who We Are series puts a spotlight on the unique and compelling perspectives of our people that shape our journey as a company. It’s RADIO month here at VMware and we are delighted to spotlight Bruce Davie, Chief Technology Officer, Asia Pacific & Japan.
- Job Title: CTO, Asia Pacific & Japan
- Base of Operations: Melbourne
- Years at VMware: 8
- First job: Lab assistant (at the research lab) at BHP
- Fun fact that many don’t know about me: In my university days, I was a sound engineer to a synthesizer group loosely modeled on Kraftwerk.
- An “alternative” career path: I used to play the guitar and toyed with the idea of being in a garage band. My friend and co-author of our book, “Computer Networks: A System Approach,” Larry Peterson (who also plays the guitar) and I even have a name picked out for our (future) band. A particularly harsh critic had reviewed our book and called it a “wall of text,” so we thought “Wall of Text” should be the name for our band!
- Favorite quarantine activity: A surprising rediscovery during quarantine has been baking, particularly sourdough bread. I’ve got the sourdough bug.
“My first job at BHP as a research lab assistant offered an early experience of working with engineers. I helped them build little electronics devices for the mining industry.”
Can you describe your role at VMware?
A regional Chief Technology Officer (CTO) has two main roles. One is to be the technical spokesperson for VMware in the region; the person who can articulate our company’s technical vision to any audience, internal or external. When I am in front of customers, I’m not only telling them about what VMware’s technology can do for them, but I’m also receiving feedback on what they need our technology to do for them – the customer problem our tech can solve. The other role is to be the leader (and thought leader) of the technical community at VMware in the Asia Pacific and Japan region.
Broadly speaking, my days get divided up into time with the team, time with customers, and time to educate myself on technology that I need to be on top of, which enables me to do the rest of my job.
What’s distinctive or unique about working with customers as CTO in APJ?
It is hard to generalize Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) because it’s an incredibly diverse region, which ranges from emerging economies like Myanmar to very mature economies in Japan and Australia. The most interesting thing about the emerging economies is that they leapfrog over technology. As an example, they go directly from people not having phones (fixed lines) to everybody has mobile phones. India rolled out mobile phones at extraordinarily low prices, which makes mobile technology in the country ubiquitous. Of course, it creates all kinds of pressures on the business to be able to innovate in a cost-effective and efficient way.
You’ve also got an entire spectrum in the region when it comes to risk tolerance for new technology. Japan likes to test everything, thoroughly, before they put it into production. As a result, we produce much better products when we work with Japanese customers in order to meet their high standards. With emerging economies, it’s: “Let’s put it in production tomorrow. What’s the worst that can happen?” We get to test technologies at scale with millions of customers.
“You don’t just build technology because you like it, or because it’s exciting. You know the time is right for you to build it, because it’s solving for a customer problem.”
Chief Technology Officer or Chief Transformation Officer? How do you see the role of a CTO evolve in the post-pandemic/distributed work model?
I actually really like that expansion of a CTO because I’ve often heard Chief Talking Officer or Chief Travel Officer, and I’m clearly not that anymore! As an example of transformation, the COVID-19 experience could affect the way we think about modernizing applications. App modernization is a lengthy process. Customers have hundreds of apps — they’ve got to think about apps they’d like to rearchitect to something more modern, ones they’d like to replace or retire. So, it isn’t something you would do in a hurry.
In a crisis, however, one can get really focused on what you wish you had done before the crisis. As we start to come out on the other side of this pandemic, people are going to be more proactive and prepare to be more agile in the future. I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll see a bigger appetite for transformation amongst our customers. Whether it’s multi-cloud, app modernization, or intrinsic security, the opportunity for us at VMware is to figure out where we can really help customers with that transformation.
“A fun fact that a few people at VMware are now familiar with is my race against Lance Armstrong. Of course, it isn’t such a surprising story because it was a running race, not a cycling competition.”
How would you describe your leadership style?
When I have a team together, I look for everybody’s point of view, to navigate through it and find a way to satisfy competing needs. Sometimes it is doomed to fail, you’re going to end up making some people unhappy. But I’m always trying to find a way to get people into a consensus position. And related to that — I seem to have picked this knack up over the years — is to help people communicate better with each other. An early mentor would describe this as an English-to-English translation where two people are both speaking English, but they’re not communicating with each other. I pick up when that’s happening and try to restate the position of the first person in a way that the second person can understand them.
I’m also a pretty big believer in leading by example. When I immersed myself into learning about quantum computing a few months ago for my presentation at Tech Summit, I wanted to show everyone in the technical community how exciting it is to learn something new, which is outside your comfort zone, and feeling energized by it. I know that when I’m talking about technology, I can get very excited. I wanted to model that for our people.
“I really love seeing people realize their potential. A book that influenced me from many years ago, Peopleware, talked about a manager’s job as getting obstacles out of the way for the people on their teams so they could achieve what they really wanted to. I try to model that behavior as a leader.”
What is the best career advice you’ve received? And what’s your advice for the next generation of technologists and change-makers?
I’ve received a lot of good career advice. The best advice was to put effort into becoming a good communicator. The world is full of engineers who have great ideas but struggle to communicate them to others. One of my early mentors was very well known in the internet research community. I realized fairly quickly that it was not just about his brilliant ideas, but it’s the way he would communicate those ideas; he would captivate an audience.
So, whenever I’m asked to give career advice to people – especially technologists – I tell them to work on their communications. It’s often the perception — it’s all about mathematical skill, logical reasoning, and the ability to write code, etc. Those are all good, and important, but your communication, both written and oral, dramatically changes your level of impact.
You’ve attended several RADIO events in the past, what are you most excited for this year?
I’m obviously really excited about the fact that we can open it up to a bigger audience. This year it’s open to all 30,000+ VMware employees globally. I’m encouraging everybody at VMware to take advantage of RADIO and encouraging managers to give the necessary headroom to their teams in the field to benefit from the event. I’ve always been inspired by the external speakers at RADIO whether it was Eric Brewer talking about his work at Google, or Shafi Goldwasser presenting on data encryption, and last year’s speaker, Joy Buolamwini talking about algorithmic bias, RADIO has featured some amazing speakers so I’m looking forward to it.
VMware’s premier annual innovation event will be delivered this year as a virtual experience to our largest-ever audience —all full-time employees and interns at VMware. Learn more about RADIO here.
Check out Bruce’s YouTube video series, Coffee with Bruce, where he brews a proper Melbourne coffee while explaining critical technology topics.