After more than 20 years at Orange, Yury Geluykens is now the CTO of Orange Cyberdefense Belgium. Last summer, he moved to Atlanta, in the United States, to open our SOC office there, as well as developing the American market for the company. Pragmatic, open and modest, he welcomes this challenge with enthusiasm and passion, for his craft and for his team. Interview.
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You studied mathematics for four years before pursuing computer science studies for another four years. Why was mathematics your first choice?
The first four years, it was a high-school level. Mathematics is a logical start to pursuing an IT career. It gives a solid foundation for problem solving which is at the heart of a technical career.
What was computer science like in the 90s?
It was really different! With the high-speed networks and the digital world we live in, old standards do not even exist anymore. There has also been a change in the awareness of cybersecurity: at the time, our knowledge was quite limited and it was not even possible to study it as a specific field.
In the 90s, IT was a pure man’s world. Now, more women pursue tech careers, which is a positive evolution. We need to have a good mix of people from different backgrounds and competences in our teams.
What are the main developments in IT that you have witnessed during your career?
I joined Orange Business Services more than twenty years ago. It is an evolution I clearly witnessed, and it will continue, everything is going digital and that puts many risks on the table, with the move to the cloud and the digital transformation. Everything is connected: smart homes, cars, sensors in factories… and this needs to be deployed and operated in a secure way.
Before joining Orange, you were an IT manager, a technical support engineer, a consultant and a project manager. Can you tell us more about those experiences?
I started as an IT manager for a small company specializing in the big billboards you see next to roads. My job was to manage the PCs and deal with basic industrial security. It was a good learning experience, especially for programming and server maintenance. At the time, computer science was quite a broad industry, and I did not know back then the specialty I would pursue. Then I became a technical support engineer for a company called Xircom Systems. It was about modems and connectivity and day to day contact with customers. After that, I joined QConsulting as a consultant. Within six months, the owner of the company created a start-up and offered me the opportunity to become the first employee of his new activity. I became a project manager and we developed network management from scratch. This company was acquired by Group Silicomp which was acquired by Orange.
Every step I took was quite logical but I have also been lucky, being in Belgium and having the opportunity to evolve in a French company with an international vision. I guess, it is not always about choices, being at the right place at the right moment has a part in everyone’s career path.
You’ve worked for 22 years for Orange. What is it like to work for the same company for this long?
It is really interesting. It is the same company but not the same job. Through the years and by experience, my scope has grown, I have had new responsibilities over the years and developed larger skills. For Orange, it was about defining strategies and creating new possibilities and services for customers, so the content of the job evolves with the company’s missions.
Today, lots of people go from one job to another, but there are opportunities for development within the same company too. Now, I live in the US, which is a new experience for me. This is the kind of opportunity you can have working for a multinational company like Orange.
What are some of the key changes you have seen in the company (and the cybersecurity market) over the years?
The digital transformation is a real game player. The fourth Industrial revolution brings a lot of new challenges for our customers. We are heavily focusing on securing this transformation to the cloud and the Internet of Things. This is what the market and the customer are doing nowadays.
In 2018, you became CTO of Orange Cyberdefense Belgium. Can you tell us more about this promotion?
Like the rest of my career, it was a logical step and to be honest I already had the job for some time. Only my title changed, from “technical director” to “CTO” because “technical director” does not really exist in the United States. Our clients are becoming more and more international and it was necessary for us to follow to provide a seamless customer experience. First, we opened a center in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, followed by an extension in Atlanta to create a full follow-the-sun model. Additionally, this will give us a possibility to upsell to American customers and European ones with American branches.
What is the day-to-day life of a CTO?
I start really early in the morning, around 6am. The first half of my day is focused on Europe. In the afternoon, I work on sales and presales priorities for the American market. Of course, it is not always that clear cut. For example, I need to visit our clients here in the US more and more… and it is a big country, so travel is becoming a part of my life too. I also try to visit our platforms in Brussels and Kuala Lumpur every year, to make sure we have a smooth operational model and provide proximity to our employees.
Is the American market different from the European one?
The American market obeys different rules. Here, the DIY culture is quite strong and people tend to do a lot by themselves. The second difference I notice is the fact that American people want to deal with Americans. That is why our presence in Atlanta is so important. It is an important aspect for our customers. Even with our European customers, the American subsidiaries of European companies sometimes feel like separate companies within the company and the geographical proximity help us to deliver the desired experience.
How many people do you supervise?
I manage 70 people in Brussels, 16 in Kuala Lumpur and soon 6 in Atlanta. It seems like a lot, but I need to emphasize the fact that I have the support of great managers to head up our teams, I don’t do it all by myself.
How would you describe your management style?
As honest as possible. I can be tough sometimes, but when you want things to be correct you cannot sugar coat it. It’s about being open and transparent but also approachable. Our structure is getting bigger and bigger and it can be hard sometimes to come to me directly but I try to stay as available as possible.
You took a course called “personal coaching for high potentials”. Can you tell us what motivated you to do so? Did the course teach you new methods that you have put into practice?
It was my former boss at Silicomp who encouraged me to this course. It was actually an internal program for managers to help our people grow and go to the next level. It helped me grow as well, as a project manager and to where I am today.
One of your employees described you (on your LinkedIn) as “the type of person to go the extra mile”. What does the “extra mile” mean for you?
It means being very involved in the company and having a sense of responsibility, towards my team but also our customers. In reality, cyber security never stops and in case of the event of an escalation, everyone needs to be available. It is the same with my team. If they have problems, they can always reach out to me. The extra mile means what you can do “extra” to make their life easier and help them find a good balance between work and private life.
I read that you are fond of aviation and mountain biking. Can you tell us more about these two passions?
Since I was 8 years old, I dreamed of getting a pilot’s license. I took it already but I did not have enough flying hours. My baby girl was born at this time as well. She is 8 years old now and adapting well to our new life in the US. She speaks already fluent English. Between family life, work and travel, aviation and mountain biking are not really possible. So, I run. It is the easiest sport to keep up, even abroad, and it is important to free up your mind.
A propos du blogueur
Yury Geluykens is the CTO of Orange Cyberdefense Belgium. He also manage our security operation centers (SOC) in Kuala Lumpur but also in Atlanta, where he lives now. He has worked for Orange for more than 20 years.