Our series of 25th anniversary interviews with the Extreme leaders is taking us to Moscow, where we’re talking about managing a team of strong personalities, favorite Extreme moments and… learning how to pilot a Boeing 747 with Kirill Zhukov, Technical Director for the Northern and Eastern Europe!
Kirill, what is your first recollection of Extreme Networks as a brand?
Before Extreme, I was working at one of the systems integrators here in Russia. Not a big company, mostly dealing with the Cisco technologies. Around that time, I was aware that there was this vendor, Extreme Networks. I knew they were making the fastest switches on earth, I knew they were purple. And… that was basically it. Never met anyone from the company, never had a chance to actually check their solutions.
Oh, and I knew that they had kind of a weird logo – I mean the old one with the purple ovals. It wasn’t after I started working at Extreme that I actually found out these ovals were actually snowboards. Didn’t occur to me earlier. Maybe because I’m more of a skiing man? 😏
How did you find your way to Extreme?
One day the head of our sales department says to me that a couple of Extreme guys would like to pay us a visit and present their solution. And I said “sure, why not”. At that time I was in charge of the presales, running the technical department and managing the team of network architects, so I was obviously interested in what they had to say. So then there’s the meeting, these two guys start to present their routine product story, popping the powerpoint and showing some boilerplate presentation. No introductions, nothing about the value that Extreme was bringing. Please mind that it was 2013, so a couple of things have definitely changed since then. 😉
But anyway, I told these guys “come on, stop, just close your laptops and imagine I’m a customer – tell me why should I consider Extreme?” They were a little bit surprised, but then they started explaining everything to me. We found quite a few points where we could bring value to each other. After just a few days I got call from one of our guests who said that there was a job opening and asked if I was interested. Before I knew it, I was part of the Extreme’s Moscow team.
You must have liked what you heard at the meeting…
You could say that! It’s even more interesting that at that time I was a 100% Cisco head. I knew Cisco inside out, even got myself a CCIE certification. I got used to it so much that everything that wasn’t in line with the Cisco philosophy sounded annoyingly strange to me. But when I first got my hands on Extreme’s CLI (Command Line Interface), I was actually positively surprised – though the logic seemed entirely different from what Cisco has, it still managed to make more sense to me.
So after the meeting, I started to look deep into what Extreme actually was, took a good hard look at their solutions, tried to understand the company’s philosophy in its entirety. And I can tell you that I liked it. It’s a feeling that’s hard to put into words when you start thinking about an organization, but it was a good hunch.
You have worked your way up from the Systems Engineer role to the Technical Director positions, first in the Central and Eastern Europe, and now in the Northern and Eastern Europe. During your journey you’ve been leading a lot of people from different countries, different cultures, different levels of expertise. How do you manage that?
Currently my team consists of fifteen systems engineers and senior systems engineers spread across many countries, mainly in the Eastern and Northern Europe, but also Benelux and Israel, too. Sure, there are some differences. On the most basic level it comes down to simple things like different holidays. For example, folks in Israel don’t work on Fridays but they do on Sundays. My team is full of colorful characters and strong personalities. I would say they’re all different, but what binds them all together is their exceptional professionalism, genuine passion for what they do, and a great care about the customers they are working with. That is all that matters.
And whenever I hire people, I try to see the candidates through my internal filter. And it works. No one knows how, but it works – call it a gut feeling 😉 I try to look past their professional skills and technical knowledge, thinking whether this or that person will fit the team in terms of how passionate he or she might be about the work and the customers, how helpful he or she might be to the teammates. And I always say it’s better to take some time to find a good match rather than hire someone as quick as possible and try to change someone’s personality and attitude. Most of the times, it doesn’t work.
What’s your most memorable moment at Extreme?
I have plenty of those actually. Like, for example, Extreme Moscow Forum – the first big event that we did in Russia back in 2014. Lots of people, partners, customers, a big venue, professional set up. Serious business. And I was super anxious because I was one of the keynote speakers to present in front of such an overwhelming audience. I had been polishing my presentation for weeks, changing the slides every day, thinking that maybe I should move this picture up by just a couple of pixels, stuff like that. I’m definitely a perfectionist.
But when I went on the stage, I was basically tongue-tied. Suddenly I didn’t know what to say so I just told everyone how excited and nervous I was. After seeing some warm reception, I guess things went on rather smoothly. I have many other nice memories from meetings with customers, partners, and colleagues but that’s something that’ll stick with me forever… 😅
What’s a fun fact about you that few people know about?
Well, I’m not sure how fun that actually is, but I'm generally super keen on learning and this pursuit of knowledge sometimes takes some pretty strange forms. For example, once I started doing some business traveling, I suddenly felt an urge to understand how does the entire aviation industry operate – how do the airplanes and ATC work, how do they all navigate, and so on. I even studied a couple of pretty thick flying manuals for the Airbus-class planes and the Boeing 747. I just read them and well, I actually understood many of those things.
Pretty much the same thing happened to me again when my kids went to the jazz & musical school. I got frustrated by the fact I didn’t understand music at all, so I went up and learned to play piano by myself. Now I do understand music theory better but of course I can’t say I know everything. Thing is, once I understand how things work, I simply need to find something else to put my mind to. Right now, my current passion is sports and triathlon activities like swimming and running. I’m not doing full triathlons like my wife just yet, need to figure out the cycling part first.
But the root cause of all of this is if I don’t understand how do certain things work, I always feel an itch to go and dig deeper.
How would you describe Extreme in three words?
The purple power!
25 years young and still growing – join Kirill and the rest of the Team!
Visit our careers page to explore opportunities in sales and systems engineering as well as the many other roles in which you can advance and help Extreme drive effortless networking experiences for enterprises worldwide.