A Conversation with Erik Julin: Building things that last
Having consistently achieved great results for Scality and our customers year after year, Erik Julin, Senior Technical Director, is a fourth time Le Club winner. With one foot planted firmly in tech and the other in sales, Erik continually works to evolve customer and partner relations while also architecting innovative storage solutions for the messaging industry. He recently shared with me his insights on the sales process and the amount of problem-solving involved in furniture-building.
JW: To start off, your role in the company seems to require you to be a bit of a ‘jack of all trades.’ Can you tell me about the different hats you wear?
EJ: One is, I do all the systems architecture for the systems that are being deployed for the messaging space. Another is I work with the technical services team to make sure they understand the scope of what needs to be deployed and sometimes on technical configuration issues. I work with the customer to find and qualify opportunities. I also have a set of OEM partners that I work with to make sure our integrations remain up to date and that they’re able to talk about our value proposition to their end customers.
JW: Those are a lot of things to focus on! And are all your customers and partners based in the US?
EJ: In fact, most of my customers are non-US-based. So I spend a significant amount of time traveling to Japan and to Europe.
JW: In your studies, you were doing aerospace engineering. Did you by chance have NASA within your sights?
EJ: I didn’t, but I knew since first grade that I wanted to be an aerospace engineer. I was always fascinated by airplanes and studied as much as I could about them. It was just something I was just very passionate about all through grade school and high school.
JW: So how did you go from aerospace engineering to computer engineering?
EJ: I was doing a lot of work on computational fluid dynamics and had hoped to go into the Air Force, but unfortunately there were a lot of cutbacks at that time. So I went into supercomputing work, which got me into working for an intelligence organization in the US government, and from there, into Silicon Graphics, where they dumped me onto an account that nobody wanted because I was the new guy. And that account was America Online.
EJ: Seriously. And AOL was about 25 times bigger by the time I left, so that was kind of cool.
JW: What do you find most fascinating about your work these days?
EJ: What’s interesting is the whole evolution of the sales process. These projects tend to come around at a specific customer only every five to seven years, so the cycles are very long. And if you miss a cycle, you’re essentially shut out for a significant period of time. So you have to get as full a picture as possible of what everybody’s doing and then understand where each of these companies are in their evolution and in their product cycles. So that’s the kind of stuff that keeps it interesting and challenging.
JW: What piece of sales wisdom would you pass on to a newbie?
EJ: I think the reason I am successful is due to two things. First, I know my product really well. I have a tremendous amount of confidence that what we’re doing is truly the best within the market. And second, I have the ability to convey that to the partners and end customers. Those two things are why I continue to grow our customer base and be successful inside the company.
JW: What would you say is a key element to establishing lasting customer or partner relations?
EJ: One of the things I always try to do is make sure I’m following up in a timely manner. Doing that keeps the dialogue going. And when you have an ongoing communication and familiarity, there’s more of a chance to build up a lot more trust and for them to be able to bounce different ideas off. It’s important to invest in having conversations with them over a significant period of time so that it’s not just a transactional relationship.
JW: You mentioned that you travel a lot for work. Do you enjoy that?
EJ: I love to travel and I love trying different foods in each country.
JW: What’s been a remarkable eating and traveling experience for you?
EJ: I love going to Japan. I love all the food there. When the team over there asks me where I want to go eat, I say, ‘Wherever you want, because I’ll certainly enjoy it!’ I’ve never had a meal over there that I did not like. To me, Japan, France and Italy are places that are a lot of fun to go when it comes to having great culinary experiences.
JW: Who have you been inspired by?
EJ: Without a doubt, my son. He’s 11 years old right now and I’ve had the time of my life with him—watching him grow up and trying to help guide him along on that. Thanks to him, I get to look at things from a different view, and that’s a lot of fun. For a boy between six and eleven, nothing’s impossible. If you can just have an idea and draw a rough sketch, you can make anything happen.
JW: What do you enjoy doing together with your son?
EJ: I love to go fishing with him. We do that quite often. And we do some woodworking together. My son has been doing a little business on the side so I help him with some of that. He makes cutting boards, coasters, birdhouses, trays…That keeps us in the workshop a lot together, which is nice. So we spend hours and hours together doing that.
JW: So what kinds of personal woodworking projects are you working on?
EJ: I’ve been doing furniture. Benches, tables, chests, picture frames, that sort of stuff. I’ve got a couple of really nice built-up mirror frames I like, and a couple of benches that I’ve built for a cottage that I’m pretty proud of. Now I’m trying to work on some things that are a bit larger and more complicated.
JW: That sounds impressive.
EJ: It’s a lot of fun and I can do something that’s more permanent than working in software. With technology, you get results but they don’t necessarily last, which is to be expected. Whereas what I end up building in my workshop is something that will last for a while.
JW: Aside from the tangible nature of it, what else appeals to you about woodworking?
EJ: First, there’s the physical work part of it. I don’t sit still very well so having something to keep me occupied is necessary.
Secondly, there’s always some sort of problem that needs to be solved. When you’re building the item, the hardest part is figuring out how you’re going to do it or what kinds of tools you need to build along the way. I probably have more fun building the different tools than actually building the objects themselves. I will spend hours and hours thinking about how I want to approach something, or I’ll wake up in the middle night and go, ‘Oh, that’s how I should solve this problem!’
JW: What would you like to see happen over the next year or so?
EJ: I would really love to see the ongoing growth of our company. I think we’ve got a really interesting set of products that add a lot of value above what some of our competitors in open source do. And I’d love to just see Scality achieve the success that I think it deserves and has earned. For my part I want to continue to contribute to that growth and to grow my portion of the business over time.
In terms of my personal life, it would be nice to hit a few additional countries to fill up the passport pages, and otherwise just continue to watch my son develop and grow, and spend time in the workshop. I’m quite content with most of the way my life is heading right now, so I’d just like to continue to move along this trajectory. I’m in a good spot right now.