1. Analysis
July 13, 2022updated 14 Jul 2022 4:06pm

CTO Talk: Q&A with Nick Drouet of Kyndryl

The skills gap is still one of the biggest challenges facing the IT industry, according to Kyndryl's Nick Druet

By Eric Johansson

Nick Drouet is the CTO of Kyndryl, the information technology infrastructure startup. The company was founded in 2021 when it was spun out from tech giant IBM’s infrastructure business. It went public on the New York Stock Exchange at the same Time.

Kyndryl currently trades at a $2.2bn market cap. Like many other tech companies, the venture has seen its stock slump in the first six months of the pandemic. Its stock has fallen from a high of $40.75 in October to $9.75 at the time of writing.

In the latest instalment of our series of CTO Talks, the Kyndryl boss discuss the skills gap in the technology sector and the industry’s lack of diversity.

Eric Johansson: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you end up in your current role?

Nick Drouet: I started working at IBM straight from university. There I was a Microsoft engineer, working on managed service projects. To broaden my skills, I learned Unix and became a Linux guru before it was fashionable. I spent the next 12 years leading large programmes in the space, before moving to our advisory practice. Later I led the consultant teams, before finally taking the CTO role in our infrastructure services team. This is the team that later went on to become Kyndryl.

Where did your interest in tech come from?

Like a lot of people my age, my interest came from tinkering with early home computers and games consoles. I had a ZX81, Spectrum, a Vectrex, an Amstrad CPC464, a few Commodore Amigas and then finally onto an awful lot of home built PCs. I was fascinated with what you could do with them. Technology was moving so fast, working in the field seemed like a fun thing to do.

What is the biggest technology challenge you are solving right now?

A massive change we’ve seen, is the arrival of hyperscaler cloud providers and the massive amounts of technical debt that many customers are burdened with. Building a brand new native cloud application is one thing, but working out the right way to take advantage of cloud services at enterprise scale is something that is a real challenge – there are a lot of problems to consider when you are right in the heart of a business.

While it’s not new, the skills gap is currently one of the biggest challenges facing the industry. Organisations of all sizes are struggling to find employees with the right skills to keep pace with ever evolving technology, and this will end up costing businesses trillions of dollars by the end of the decade. The way to tackle this? Focus in on culture and create an environment where different skills and perspectives are celebrated

As the UK exec sponsor for the LGBTQ+ KIN (Kyndryl Inclusion Network), I can’t stress the importance of diversity in hiring enough. As well as playing a key role in plugging the skills gap, we need to ensure a more inclusive future for the tech industry. By doing so we will encourage greater learnings and more innovation.

How do you separate hype from genuine innovation?

It can be tricky to differentiate the two, as it generally takes some time to see if something is just hype. However, I’ve been around long enough to have seen plenty of innovations wither on the vine.

I’ve found that seeking out genuine innovation requires an organisation to invest significant time into exploring the new areas. It’s important to determine whether the potential innovation will be applicable in any given situation, the ability to measure its impact and know when to adjust course.

What one piece of advice would you offer to other CTOs?

I’m sure it isn’t news to any CTOs that that the tech industry is constantly changing. I’ve noticed that the changes only ever seem to add more things to the layer cake of technology that has built up over the years.

My advice is to be aware of the strategy you chose and how any changes you drive will impact the ecosystem you are the steward of. To sum up, follow the campsite rule and always leave things in a better state than you found them!

What’s the most surprising thing about your job?

It has to be the variety of things I get involved in. There’s almost no technology we don’t have somewhere in our customers estates. This means I’m never bored, as we’re having to solve new problems day in, day out.

What’s the biggest technological challenge facing humanity?

The biggest technological challenge is fixing the environmental crisis that humans have created. To be in with a chance of reversing the damage, we need to rapidly transition to unlimited renewable power sources . Once we’ve done that, we’re going to need to work out how to use AI for good and not for evil. But let’s take things one step at a time.

In all seriousness, digital transformation is a gateway for businesses to improve their commitment to sustainable practices. Fundamentally, sustainability is about looking forward and digital transformation can help businesses to plan for how they will operate in the future.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for fun?

I’m not sure it’s the strangest, but the hardest thing I’ve ever done was to climb Kilimanjaro in 2009. Wrapped in seven layers at -25C, totally exhausted, struggling for breath at 6,000 metres and seeing the sunrise over the African plains, was definitely something I won’t forget in a hurry.

What’s the most important thing happening in your field at the moment?

The worlds of infrastructure and applications are rapidly converging. This has been driven by the rise and now dominance of Open Source software, pervasive automation and the hyperscaler providers. New architectural styles are being born and different ways of building and running platforms are emerging. If they are to avoid being left behind in the industry (and the world), technology professionals need to consider learning some kind of programming language.

That’s the ‘techie’ answer. But in my view, the biggest change in the industry is what’s happening from a people perspective. Though we still have a long way to go when it comes to diversity and inclusion, things are certainly evolving.

This Pride month, and all months hereafter, I think its important to shine the light on the LGBTQ community in the workspace. Personally, I came out when I was 22. However, early in my career, I was told that not being open at work was the best thing for my job. With that advice ringing in my ears, I knuckled down with my career and followed this guidance of “don’t ask, don’t tell” – feeling the need to keep my guard up.

Fast forward 20 years and I’m at Kyndryl; a different company with a totally different culture. I’m now fortunate enough to be an exec and a technical leader. Therefore, to avoid the experience I had, I want to put my head above the parapet.

It’s crucial that people in their early careers have role models they can relate to, no matter how they identify. Talent comes from all walks of life – it’s important for the company to support those it employs, and critical that we reflect society at large. This is even more important for a new company like Kyndryl – our brand is new and we need to attract the best and brightest to support our mission – so if we don’t make it clear internally and externally that we support LGBT people, there’s a good chance we won’t attract people, and they certainly won’t want to stick around for the longer term.

Being inclusive and supportive is simply the right thing to do – diversity of people brings diversity of thinking and enriches all our lives.

In another life you’d be?

When I was growing up, I actually thought about joining the police force. So, perhaps I’d be a high speed pursuit driver or a CID detective.

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