I just finished my first year at Zscaler, and as many do when they cross such milestones, I spent a little time reflecting on how my time at the company has gone so far. My gut-level feeling is that it has flown by and that it’s been a lot of fun, but why? What has driven those feelings?
One year in and it's no mystery to me why the company is growing at such an astounding rate. Our products are very well aligned with security and networking trends, providing critical tailwinds for the business, while at the same time, we have an extremely hardworking, customer-obsessed team doing their best to stay ahead of the competition through continuous innovation.
Zscaler is by far the most customer obsessed company that I have worked for in my career. Everything is oriented around the needs of the customer, and nearly everyone, from the top down, is expected to spend significant amounts of time directly interacting with customers.
The result? Products and services that are very well aligned to customer needs.
Many years ago, just after I got into Product Management, I remember being excited about a new feature we decided to build into one of the products that I was managing. The idea, built around a Microsoft feature known as Kerberos Constrained Delegation, came out of several discussions with an important customer. We (I) thought we got it, and proceeded with several months of development work. It wasn’t until we shipped the new feature that there were several elements that meant it wouldn’t work across the broader set of enterprises that I had imagined eating it up. To make matters worse, there were a couple of critical design choices that made it not suitable, even for the original customer we brainstormed with!
As a company, Zscaler is very open to innovative and new ideas, however, we are constantly challenged to build conviction first. Conviction that comes not from 1 or 2 or even 5 customer discussions, but from dozens. Deep, firsthand understanding of the needs of many customers results in products that are well-aligned to the needs of the market and that could quickly achieve widespread adoption.
There’s no shortcut to rising to dominance in a competitive space—it requires working hard and keeping a fast pace. Zscaler is most definitely not a place to “rest and vest.” A lot is happening all of the time, and you will be stretched and challenged constantly, but this is most often what leads to significant personal and professional growth.
Over the years, I’ve found that the majority of people start to feel comfortable once they’ve truly mastered their role. After an initial struggle to get up to speed, they turn on cruise control and coast, performing their function successfully - but not to their full potential.
The others? They get uncomfortable when they start to plateau, squirming until they can find the next bigger stretch assignment or role. It is folks that can find their way to this latter group that continue to grow their careers in the long run. If you find yourself in this bucket, always seeking the next bigger challenge, Zscaler is the perfect environment for you.
One of the things that has amazed me most about Zscaler is that everyone is absolutely aligned on strategy. This obviously starts with a clear communication of strategic priorities and objectives from the top. But it also requires carrying forward those objectives throughout the organization. This isn’t always so easy.
Early in my career, I worked for an organization where the top leadership was attempting to drive an exciting new strategic agenda. Unfortunately, the effort went nearly nowhere. Why? The next layer of leadership didn’t believe in this new strategy, and continued along the old path. Anyone that has ever tried to row a boat in different directions knows exactly how this ends...
Every great company has areas where it needs to improve, and I must admit that my first year has been lacking in the snack variety department. Admittedly, I have been working from home and the snacks in question are purchased by me at the local Costco, so one might argue that this is entirely my fault, and that argument would be correct. But still, how many times can I eat the same mixed nuts, hummus, and protein bars?
On to year 2…
This first year has been a blast, and has included plenty of interesting challenges for me to dive into. As I embark on this second year, I’m looking forward to more challenges, new snacks, and to finally meeting so many of the co-workers that I know only via Zoom meetings.