Lessons from the Big Guy Behind the Cloud

Steve Smith, CEO & President of EquinixWell chaps and chapesses, our Villanova in the Valley trip has come to an end! Our last day was one filled with superb singing (check out Flickr for a taste of our talent – ICE Flickr), a tour of a high-security Equinix data center, and a discussion with Equinix CEO and President Steve Smith. I’ve been up since 6:30am yesterday morning, and I’m sitting in the Boston airport, waiting for my last flight back to school and wishing that I had pretended to be a security threat at the Equinix data center so that I would be “forced” to stay in California for a little longer.

The Equinix data centers are an engineering feat involving layers upon layers of security measures and systems that ensure almost 100% up time to customers. In other words, these data centers are one of the safest places to store data. They can even withstand an 8.0 earthquake! No need for Jack Bauer to save the day at these facilities. The tour guide lead us through the integrated system that keeps the data center running, and he explained how the identical backup measures kept the Equinix data centers on the east coast running during Hurrican Sandy. Equinix’s customers have almost never experienced data or connectivity loss, and because of this, most of Silicon Valley’s hottest companies store their data at Equinix. Steve Smith also mentioned that numerous governmental agencies use Equinix data centers to store their information.

After touring on of the facilities, we traveled to Redwood City to visit Equinix’s headquarters and speak with Steve Smith. He explained how Equinix basically supplied the “plumbing” for the internet, meaning that they provided all the connections and data storage that runs 90% of all internet traffic. Equinix is basically The Cloud. Equinix’s success has started to grow very quickly with the rise of mobile technologies that produce big data. Mr. Smith asserted that even more technologies will become networked and almost the entire world will be online in the next five years. This definitely bodes will for Equinix!

This last point relates to an important word of advice that Mr. Smith gave us yesterday, and it was mentioned previously by several other executives. His advice was to think very carefully about which industries we wanted to enter after college, and choose high-growth areas within our passions and interests. If we stay aware of current events in the tech industry (or any industry for that matter), Mr. Smith proposed that we will begin to see large trends of where technology is going. If we can forecast these trends, we will be able to determine which areas are growing rapidly and which ones will soon become obsolete. Furthermore, if we want to be challenged and constantly learning, then it is essential to work in a growing industry. And as long as you treat people well and work hard, success will come. “There’s no secret to business success,” as Mr. Smith says. It’s really quite simple.

Another important lesson that Mr. Smith shared with us was to foster a culture of action and decisiveness. Especially in today’s tech environment, if you can’t act quickly you will quickly be unable to act. Agility is essential. I assume Mr. Smith developed this leadership style during his service in the U.S. army, and it permeates every single one of his business actions. Literally. At the end of every email, he writes “Action and urgency.” This guy means business.

These lessons have important implications for our lives as college students. All of us are thinking about future internships and careers, and it is important for us to remember the importance of choosing a growing industry in our desired field. This requires becoming aware of current events and habituating ourselves to think critically and forecast what’s coming. We must also be decisive. This is an easy time in our lives to be intimidated by the prospect of being held accountable to adults in the real world (instead of to our peers, professors, or parents). And intimidation can produce a sense of paralysis; a fear of making the huge decisions that may determine the course of our lives for the next few years. However, action will always trump inaction. Always. And Equinix’s success, as THE most successful data center provider in the world, is proof of that statement.