Editor's Note: This is the next in a series of profiles of women who have successfully navigated careers in the data center industry.
Ellen Rubin is an experienced entrepreneur with a proven track record in leading strategy, market positioning and go-to-market for fast-growing companies. Most recently she was co-founder of CloudSwitch, a cloud enablement software company that was successfully acquired by Verizon in 2011. At Verizon, Ellen ran the cloud products group and was responsible for the strategy and roadmap for all cloud offerings. Prior to founding CloudSwitch, Ellen was vice president of marketing at Netezza (NYSE: NZ), the pioneer and global leader in data warehouse appliances that power business intelligence and analytics at over 200 enterprises worldwide. As a member of the early management team at Netezza, Ellen helped grow the company to $130 million in revenues and a successful IPO in 2007. Ellen defined and created broad market acceptance of a new category, “data warehouse appliances,” and led market strategy, product marketing, complementary technology relationships and marketing communications. Ellen speaks regularly at industry events and has been recognized as one of the Top 10 Women in the Cloud by CloudNOW, as a Woman to Watch by Mass High Tech and Rising Star Entrepreneur by the New England Venture Capital Association.
Here is Ellen's story in her own words:
I am an entrepreneur at heart. Throughout my career, I have sought challenges and have had successes, and some failures, along the way. One thing that has consistently been critical to my career is I try to learn from every experience. From a college student majoring in liberal arts and taking few technology classes, to the CEO of a global enterprise storage company, these are some of the lessons that have marked my journey.
Do Something You Love
After I graduated from college, I did what many young people who were still discovering their passions do – I joined a management consulting firm. I really liked the work at Booz Allen, especially the opportunity to interact with clients who were some of the smartest people in their industries. These people were incredibly passionate about the work they were doing.
While I was interested in my work on an intellectual level, I didn’t yet have that excitement. Seeing their enthusiasm, and recognizing my need to explore and realize my interests drove me to find that same excitement and follow it.
Never Stop Learning
After Booz Allen, I went to business school. During my time in consulting, I realized I particularly enjoyed working with the IT teams at client sites and the IT specialists at Booz Allen.
To break into the technology industry, and become a tech entrepreneur in particular, I needed not only business education and an MBA, but also real-world education – the kind you can’t get at school. It took me years of talking, working and socializing with engineers and technology entrepreneurs to gain the comfort level with technology and product development that allowed me to succeed in enterprise infrastructure.
After graduating and working for a technology company, I finally felt ready to do what I was truly passionate about: start a company of my own. A few of my co-workers and I set out on our own and founded Manna, which provided real-time personalization for e-commerce websites, and was based in Boston and Tel Aviv, Israel.
I can’t overstate how valuable experiencing these two different cultures was for me. Appreciating people’s different views and leadership styles has stuck with me through my career. That wasn’t the main lesson I learned from Manna, however.
The biggest takeaway was getting the experience of failing. We started Manna at the height of the dot-com boom, and when the bubble burst, Manna went with it. Failure isn’t fun, but it provides so many opportunities to learn. Many of the decisions I’ve made since then were a direct result of figuring out what went wrong at Manna and making sure I don’t repeat those mistakes in future endeavors.
Search Out Problems That Need Solutions
I have always looked for big, interesting problems with the potential to be disruptive if solved in an innovative way. This was what drew me to Netezza. Before some of our work there, data warehousing and analytics were ready for a shakeup. We created a whole new technology category, data warehouse appliances, which helped change the data warehouse market in a profound way. Others agreed; we had a successful IPO in 2007, and IBM acquired the company in 2010.
My next leap in many ways set the stage for what we’re doing now at ClearSky Data. When I co-founded CloudSwitch in 2008, we could see cloud computing over the horizon and anticipated a big problem: the complex security, networking and portability challenges this new technology would create. We envisioned a sort-of “easy button” approach to help solve these issues, which hit home with customers. It also hit home with Verizon, which acquired CloudSwitch in 2011.
Find a Great Co-founder
With two successful outcomes under my belt, my passion for founding companies to solve big problems only grew. This time, I had the benefit of being able to take some time to find the exact right fit. I also knew I wanted to find the ideal co-founder to embark on this journey with me.
I wanted to find a partner that could balance my expertise, of course. Just as important, though, were some of the “soft” skills I’d found to be critical in the other startups. This person had to be a technical visionary – that’s a given. This person also had to truly value collaboration, while not being afraid to defend ideas he or she felt strongly about, and this person had to do it all with a sense of humor and fun.
Before ClearSky, a mentor suggested I talk with a colleague of hers, Laz Vekiarides. We decided to collaborate on what would become ClearSky Data. The way our experience and strengths mesh, the way that we can bounce ideas off each other, and the fact that we can disagree and keep moving forward are at the heart of why ClearSky Data has been successful.
Focus on What Matters
I often get asked questions like, “What’s it like to be a woman in tech?” or “As a woman, what challenges have you faced in your career?”
We need to get beyond these questions.
Whether we’re building applications, pitching to an investor or brainstorming that next big idea, we’re all entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs need to be judged on their ideas and capabilities. The only way to get beyond these questions of gender and move to an industry – a society – where all ideas are valued, is to demonstrate success, look forward and ensure the rules of the game are the same for everyone.
More from the Data Center Knowledge Women Warriors series: