AiThority Interview with Richard Jonker, VP of Product Management (SMB Products) at NETGEAR
Tell us about your journey in technology and how you started at NETGEAR.
As a son of parents who worked for Philips Electronics and more specifically a father who managed the SUN Sparc workstations over there, it was bound to happen. I studied Mechanical Engineering but switched to the Computer business working for a startup building and selling PC’s, that was in 1990. I worked in IT distribution until I got hired by Apple to run retail in the Netherlands. I started at NETGEAR in 2007, managing Sales in Benelux and later working on Sales in our Emerging Markets sector. From there, I became the VP of Product Line management in our San Jose HQ office almost five years ago.
Could you tell our audience about your daily interaction with new-age enterprise-level technologies like Cloud, AI, Machine Learning and Robotics?
The mega trend in networking over the past years, also in the devices you typically connect to a network, is the separation of hardware and software. The control and management function sits somewhere else than the hardware, not just in a server in the datacenter but ultimately serverless, in the Cloud. An example of this is the evolution of phone systems – from traditional desk phones and conference room phones to Voice over IP hardware and now to full Cloud-based software, like the successful ZOOM Video conferencing tool that runs on commodity PC’s, Macs and smartphones. Dedicated hardware is a thing of the past.
At NETGEAR, we have created a version of this that can scale from small to medium to enterprise level business – a multi-tenant network management tool in the Cloud, with a mobile app and a highly economic profile. This product is called Insight and it does not require a proxy server or local cloud key or VPN to operate. We are adding intelligence and analytics to this evolving platform, as well as network security and intelligent WiFi mesh. These are exciting new technologies to work on and they are attracting a new generation of software and UI product talent.
In your recent announcement, about NETGEAR joining the Open Security and Safety Alliance (OSSA) – What does that mean for your team?
The separation of data and management in networking devices is a trend that is spreading to the world of camera surveillance. We are adding Cloud infrastructure, intelligent apps, remote monitoring and management and additional network security. Furthermore, our team is building more Power over Ethernet (PoE) switches to deliver enhanced watts for analytics, higher resolution and frequency video streams, intelligence and pan/tilt/zoom functions. It is a big job for the team, but a great project that will yield significant returns on our investment. Thanks especially to the hard work over the years and the inclusion of another market adopting some of our best practices.
What technologies are leaders adopting and promoting to build an ecosystem of “Future Systems” around OSSA guidelines?
You could say that many existing and proven Cloud/Software technologies are now making their way in the intelligent surveillance network of the future. But there are some specific issues to solve. Think about securing camera networks in strategic environments like powerplants and airports. Most camera networks, almost 80%, are not connected to the Cloud. That is going to change. What we have to build together is a secure Cloud platform and switching network that can help deliver all the advantages – from video storage to Analytics and Big Data, Remote management, Economy of scale and new intelligent applications. A specific OSSA deliverable is interoperability, standardization even, of intelligent apps that can run on cameras. Which means a complete rework of the software in cameras.
How do you see global IT and ITSM scenario evolving? Which technologies have been the biggest disruptors in this industry?
The biggest disruptor in our industry is still the move to the Cloud and therefore the enablement of “any screen, anywhere, anytime”. Many trends in apps, services, intelligent edge and commerce models come from that. Whether it is mobile payments or the subscription economy, Cloud-based thinking is at the foundation of everything.
Would you agree that AI can successfully fill in for the lack of quality talent in the tech industry? For which human skills are leaders hiring and training?
I completely disagree with that assumption – I don’t think key creator roles in the industry will be automated any time soon. Maybe in the product periphery – anything from Marketing Automation to tech support, supply chain, documentation management or commerce. I do believe AI assistance will make life easier, though. Particularly when there are exchanges possible between various AI services, so things become less fragmented.
What are your observations about tech leadership trends in North America versus that in Asia, particularly focusing on the US, Canada versus China and India?
In my previous role as a sales leader for emerging markets, I learned a great deal about differences and misunderstandings between Anglo-American business culture and the various business cultures around the globe. The key issue is about assumptions. Top-down, from an American based headquarters, the thinking is that you can slice and dice things any way you want it. A common phrase you would hear is that “your job is for 50% to represent an American company in your country, and the other 50% is to represent your country in the American company”.
If they would complain about the global senior management, based here in the US, for not understanding the local subtleties of the Asian cultures, we would reply with a statement that conveys the following message: “While we may not understand your country very well, we understand the company very well – let us help you with that”. This is all of course happening across various teams, not just tech. Remote managing is also an extra challenge. Traveling there and spending time with the team is the best recipe for better collaboration.
What lessons can US companies learn from Chinese competitors? And, vice versa (if that applies).
There is a lot of learning that is obvious for anyone who has ever worked with Chinese partners. You can observe it on the outside with your competitors – whether it is effectiveness or efficiency (combined called productivity), the ability to design well, the ability to minimize hardware size, the time-to-market capabilities or the magic to take cost out of everything – it is all quite impressive. The time where Chinese competitors would lose in the tech race due to less-advanced software engineering capabilities is long gone. It’s a global battleground now where no big economy is disadvantaged – technology resources are globally available.
I think excellent execution paired with creative brilliance is the best combination to stay ahead of Chinese giants in the tech industry. But never forget that a 1.5 billion people domestic market is almost a guarantee for better economy of scale. Take Huawei for example and how they conquered the surveillance market with a combination of scale and political help. The fact that there is a certain lack of privacy as a result, is interestingly enough mostly a pain felt in the west. But it tells you how capable and advanced these competitors have become.
What are your predictions on the future of Cloud and Networking in 2019-2024? How can business owners safeguard against these challenges?
The third element in Cloud and Networking is security. That is the biggest demand and challenge over the next year. Making that all part of a profitable subscription economy and a pure software/cloud play is inevitable. We as an industry have a lot of work ahead of us, that is for sure.
What is your opinion on “Weaponization of AI and machine learning”?
Every weapon ever invented has been used. Whether that is in the military or in a “business war” scenario. So, no doubt that anything that is invented in Silicon Valley will make it to both the business and military side.
How do you promote your ideas in the modern Digital economy?
The world has become a global content market – spreading ideas has become easier. Spreading misinformation is unfortunately just as easy. Call it the weaponization of social media.
Thank you, Richard! That was fun and hope to see you back on AiThority soon.
As a VP of Product Management (SMB Products) at NETGEAR, Richard is overseeing commercial wired and wireless networking, network storage and network security product line management. Focus on fast innovation, serving global SMB markets.
In business, confidence is everything. When it comes to your network, it’s even more important. Whether you’re a small business with big dreams or a mid-size business ready to take the next step, you need to share access and ideas safely, connect remote locations securely and give your people the tools to perform. At NETGEAR, we provide networking, storage and security solutions without the cost and complexity of big IT. Our advanced range of reliable, affordable networking products are easy to install and maintain. We deliver solutions you can count on, so you can spend more time on what matters most – growing your business.