C-suite career advice: Khalid Raza, Graphiant – IDG Connect

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What type of CTO are you? “As CTO, the most important thing for me is to make sure I’m creating a…
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? “Jump right in, don’t wait…
What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? “Technology will continue to evolve at a rapid…
What advice would you give to aspiring security leaders? “Learn as much as you can, get a mentor,…
Name: Khalid Raza
Company: Graphiant
Job Title: CEO and Founder
Location: California, US
Khalid Raza, CEO and Founder of Graphiant, was the co-founder and CTO of Viptela and is widely regarded as the “Father” of SD-WAN. He is a visionary in routing protocols and large-scale network architectures. In the past 25 years, he has redefined expectations and delivered innovative solutions across all industries for Tier-1 carriers and Fortune 100 companies.
What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? I can highlight two pieces of career advice that I found invaluable. At every stage of your career, take risks and never give up. Risk shows leadership, vision, and a willingness to be vulnerable. I think about these every day at Graphiant. They have led me to this company, and I’m extremely excited for the future.
What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? PLAY IT SAFE. Visionaries do not stay still. They may seem to as they push through challenges, but they also keep looking towards the future and thinking beyond the status quo. I had an incredible career at several big companies, all of which were very “safe and secure”, but security hinders the entrepreneurial spirit. I never say, “today is enough”. I decided that I had to take the risk and just go, and this has meant going against advice to stay in one job with one company because they were a safe bet.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Simply never stop learning! The more in-depth knowledge you have, the better you become. This applies to your career, life, and understanding of the world. Learn and understand so that you can make informed, wise, and impactful decisions.  
Also, never accept the status quo. Always be the dreamer looking to disrupt it. That might seem like a cliché in tech — but there is a status quo in life, and I try to apply this mantra in all facets of my life.
Did you always want to work in IT/tech? No, I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. I loved making people laugh, easing situations through comedy, and bringing smiles to people’s faces. In college, I performed for an audience of 2000 plus people. Driving laughter through intelligent comedy gave me a great deal of confidence, and that confidence has translated into my ability and success in technology.
What was your first job in IT/tech? My first job was as a customer support tech at Cisco. It was difficult. I was fielding important issues regarding client satisfaction, retention, referral, etc., daily. This role could arguably be the most important in any company’s growth and success. It helped ground me as a professional and set the stage for me as a leader. I value that experience tremendously.
What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? That is an interesting question. In my opinion, there are CREATORS of IT (people who collaborate to create systems, technology, etc.), and there are the USERS of IT. Creators of IT encompass a world where there is creation, ideation, and a vision to build things that disrupt the norm. I love that idea and the goal of innovating tech vs. consuming tech. Creators of IT work to make the lives of the users easier. I’m definitely in the former group – a creator of IT, and it thrills me to innovate every step of the way.
What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? First and foremost – GO FOR IT! It does not matter who you are, your age, gender, or ethnicity — everyone has the potential to be exceptional. What makes you unique is your work ethic, discipline, humility, drive, and vision. Never be afraid of failing.
What are your career ambitions, and have you reached them yet? I am delighted with my career trajectory, but I still have a lot to offer. I’m honoured to be seen as someone who has made a mark on the “Internet” – and I will continue pursuing this. I have a long road ahead of me, full of exciting things – both personally and for Graphiant.
Do you have a good work-life balance in your current role? I hate to say it, but I don’t. This is the nature of start-up companies. I can relate to every other executive, from Silicon Valley to East Coast entrepreneurs. It’s a daily battle, but I am thrilled to embrace it every day because we are paving the future.
What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Early on, I was comfortable. I had a good job, made good money, and didn’t have a lot of stress. I should have taken a risk and left earlier. Leaving five years earlier, taking a more considerable risk, and following my dreams would have served me well.
Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I would recommend a Computer Science Degree. Coding is only one of many aspects of technology. Learning human interaction, personal growth, and utilising a broad range of professional skills, including leadership, is necessary to be exceptional. As I have mentioned, just keep learning and growing. Never stay stagnant.
How important are specific certifications? To be honest, not that important. As a young professional, I focused on certifications too much. The world we live in today is so different. Look at young superstars, many of whom dropped out of college. I’m not suggesting that because everyone must choose their path. My point is that you can forge your own path based on your unique strengths and areas in which you can improve based on where you want to go. The future is in the hands of those who want to shape it.
What are the three skills or abilities that you look for in prospective candidates?  Attitude, aptitude, and coachability are three key traits I look for in a candidate.
What would put you off in a candidate? This is simple. Arrogance and non-willingness to listen, grow, or learn.  These traits will disqualify a highly qualified candidate.
What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Be prepared. Have a vision. Be a team player. Be humble. Don’t pretend. Always be authentic.
Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? Start with technology and build business skills. My instinct is to have the right technical skills, but it is also essential to be business-savvy.
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