A people person in the IT world

by Margaret Harris
David Jacobson manages the engineering and operations team at business technology delivery firm SYNAQ. However, he was once a hacker and tells Margaret Harris that he broke into Nasa’s systems.

What do you do at work each day?

I would like to think of myself as chief psychiatrist, although I manage the engineering and operations team at SYNAQ. I do presales, third-level escalated support — problems that could not be solved by the various layers of our support or core engineering team — as well as working on strategic projects and helping to build and scale our cloud services platform smartly. [Cloud services include the delivery of software, infrastructure and storage over the internet.] My role has primarily shifted to trying to inspire my colleagues and giving them the tools necessary to succeed in their roles.

What drew you to this particular career?

From as young as seven, I was fascinated with technology and in computers specifically.

By the time I was 13, my interests had expanded into Linux and open-source software — this was about six months after the Linux kernel was released.

From this point, I spent on average eight hours a day after school working on my computer, learning about Linux and the inner workings of my system.

I joined forums to learn more and landed up helping other people with their Linux and open-source queries. This was great fun for me. I loved solving other people’s IT issues and, in hindsight, this taught me so much.

My curiosity soon found me getting involved in the world of hacking and I landed up breaking into some of the biggest national and global corporations.

By the time I was 15, I had hacked into South Africa’s largest internet service providers, telecom companies, Nasa and the Pentagon.

I landed in trouble with the law and my mother. I had to sign an affidavit that I would never hack again. I was featured in the newspaper and had my computer confiscated by the police, who had a search warrant — all this by the time I was 17. My mother was shocked, to say the least. But this was part of my journey into IT and probably the seeds for starting SYNAQ. My family — my brothers, in particular — always knew I was going to do something big in the IT world.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

I wanted to own an IT company and be a martial arts instructor.

The IT company part was easy — it was my passion and I was obsessed with technology.

The love for Japanese Karate Association karate came from the fact that I did it for 11 years and loved the elegance of it.

What about your job gets you out of bed each day?

Knowing that what we build will touch the lives of thousands of people every day and that we can make a difference.

Also, knowing that I want to offer services that are worldclass.

What about your job keeps you awake at night?

Employee happiness, client service, new business, churn and strategy, to name just a few.

Also, keeping cool in tough times, being brave and being the person at whom the buck stops, regardless of the scale of the issue. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone!

What would you do if you could not do this job?

I’m fortunate to be one of the few people who really loves what he does, but if I wasn’t doing this I would be interested in building a new cloud-based company offering unique software services.

What qualifications do you have and how do they help you to do your job?

I went on a course at Stanford University through the Endeavour network on scaling fastgrowing companies globally. I am also a Red Hat Certified Engineer [a Linux qualification] and have attended some ITIL courses [for IT service management]. The course at Stanford helped a lot by teaching me how big IT companies have succeeded and failed, so I could then apply these lessons to SYNAQ.

But the main thing that helps is experience, and that is selftaught.

What qualities do you need in this industry?

I have a unique quality of being both highly technical and good with people, which is a quality lacking in the IT space, but which I feel you need to succeed. Most IT companies have genius-level techies who cannot relate to their customers, or techies who can relate but don’t know what they’re talking about.

Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

I would like to start another cloud services IT company, hire people across the globe and run it remotely — because the world is flat and we have no borders. We are in the unique position of having the tools required to run a company from anywhere with people from all over the world with the best skills globally.

Useful resources:
Business Times
Business news and analysis supplement with a popular, people-orientated approach.
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