Interview: Jonah Kowall, Vice President of Market Development for AppDynamics
Jonah Kowall is the Vice President of market development and insights, helping drive the company’s product roadmap and vision, while developing entry into new markets and providing valuable technology and business insights to fuel the accelerating and broad-based demand for the company’s Application Intelligence Platform.
Jonah comes to AppDynamics with a diverse background including 15 years as an IT practitioner at several startups and larger enterprises focused on infrastructure and operations, security, and performance engineering. These included running tactical and strategic operational initiatives, going deep into monitoring of infrastructure and application components. In 2011 Jonah changed careers, moving to Gartner to focus on availability and performance monitoring and IT operations management (ITOM). Jonah led Gartner’s influential application performance monitoring (APM) and network performance monitoring and diagnostics (NPMD) magic quadrants and research as a research vice president.
1. You currently serve as vice president of market development and insights at AppDynamics. What exactly does your job entail on a day-to-day basis?
There are several aspects to my role at AppDynamics. My goals are to expand our product capabilities and product reach as we deliver on the unified monitoring vision of the company. I work with product management, architecture, marketing, and partnership teams. I also handle our executive messaging and programs (with a lot of support from others within AppDynamics). This includes working with existing customers and prospects and drives our executive advisory council, which I also manage. On the thought leadership side I manage interactions with key analysts. I also deliver thought leadership content including writing, speaking, and internally within the company.
The biggest challenge for the company as a whole is figuring out how to scale the company, while delivering on our customers’ expectations. Everyone is extremely busy and often, we must decide to step back from an opportunity to expand our reach based on being resource constraints. Understanding the broader vision and direction of the company is easily conveyed, but the nuances of how we will grow into this vision are complex and time consuming. Finally, delivering a high quality product via SaaS and on-premise is ultimately a big challenge, but our customers demand choice of deployment. This creates a lot of engineering effort around the core platform.
3. What hard and soft skills do you require to do your job effectively?
Listening, digesting, and analyzing information and discussions are critical. Thankfully, Gartner has helped me hone and strengthen these skills. The ability to effectively communicate our vision, both internally and externally, is critical to ensure we are moving in the right direction from a product, messaging, and thought leadership perspective.
I always like speaking to end users— it doesn’t matter if they are customers or not. Taking that feedback to influence our decision-making across the business is critical. I also love working with the product folks, as I have a passion for APM and infrastructure monitoring. I know we can fix this space, and it’s been broken for far too long.
I probably like travelling this amount the least. It puts a lot of pressure on my home life and I don’t get to enjoy the city I live in. Additionally, the opportunities the company has to put in the backseat or step away from bother me personally, but these are the decisions we have to make in order to scale.
5. Before arriving at AppDynamics, you spent 15 or so as an IT practitioner focusing on infrastructure and operations, performance engineering, and security at numerous startups and larger companies. How does this background help you in your current position?
My background has helped me tremendously in my current role. The time I spent at Gartner has helped me understand the broader demands of managing IT operations, performance testing, and security teams. I also enjoy testing and experimenting with new technologies in my home lab, which helps build depth of my knowledge, as well as form opinions that incorporate the end user perspective.
You see a pretty wide range of organizations—from those that have no idea about monitoring or who do very little monitoring, to those who have over 75 monitoring tools. Most organizations have specific issues around having too many tools with too little visibility into what’s happening in their infrastructure, and even less visibility into the application layers. Additionally, there is a general opinion that technology solves all problems, which is not the case. There needs to be focus on people and processes, which are harder problems to correct. Finally, as ITOA or analytics becomes central to APM differentiation, how to apply or use analytics within IT operations, development, and the lines of business to drive decision-making, is clearly the advantage of these tools, as they have great data capture.
7. How can companies develop a corporate culture that prizes things such as application performance monitoring, and who should lead the charge?
Most organizations have very different approaches or structures when looking at application performance monitoring. We see a lot of pockets of buying, which end up creating a larger buy from a central organization. Some strategic organizations create centers of excellence or provide this as a centralized service. Ultimately, the result of these initiatives results in a shorter time to identify and correct issues, which leads to fewer severe outages. The other benefits are better software quality, which results in higher end user satisfaction, more revenue, and/or productivity. Finally, as AppDynamics continues to grow our application intelligence platform, the analytics layer allows provides additional use cases for this data, such as fraud, theft, and compliance.
8. There are lots of products in the market place that offer to help businesses to keep track of app performance. What is the value proposition behind using your company’s solutions over using what other solutions providers offer?
There are very few products that provide the native capture of software execution, end user interactions within software, and allow for other data sets (such as logs or other data) into a single analytics platform. The context of tracing each individual user interaction across each software component and down into the infrastructure is the direction we are heading. This has never been done from an APM perspective. With analytics on top of this data we’ll have distinct advantages others do not.
9. What sort of advice would you give to a college or university student who wants to eventually become a VP of market development?
My role is not a role you’ll commonly find in most organizations. AppDynamics created this role for me based on my skillset and what I can deliver. However, I’d say having a highly analytical mind, combining a technical depth and acumen, with the ability to communicate, speak, and write well, are all skills which will provide countless career and life opportunities. This includes roles within IT (operations, development), product management, or even as a bridge between business and IT. These types of roles and skillsets will be increasingly under demand as IT creates business differentiators and growth for the business.