In the INAP Executive Spotlight series, we interview senior leaders across the organization, hearing candid reflections about their careers, the mentors who shaped them and big lessons learned along the way.
Next in the series is Mary Jane Horne, SVP of Global Network Services. With over 25 years of network and operations experience, Horne currently oversees INAP’s network engineering, carrier management, and global support teams, and is responsible for these activities across INAP’s worldwide footprint.
Horne shares the lessons she’s learned throughout her career, working in the technology, media and telecommunications industries in the U.S. and abroad. Read on to learn what she loves about her role in tech, and the advice that she has for those looking to progress along their career path.
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
How did you get started in network engineering? What inspired you to pursue it?
Growing up, my dad was an engineer. I started out in college as a computer science major, but switched after my first year to engineering. I spent five years at Northeastern University in Boston studying electrical and computer engineering, and I worked for the federal government while in school.
After graduation, I went to work for the phone company, and my first job was as a central office design engineer. I was given some of the best advice of my career by my first manager, which was to move around as much as I could at the “doer “level, to figure out how the company worked. I had 10 jobs in the 13 and a half years I worked there, with a variety of roles in field engineering, technical sales support, customer service and corporate development. I learned how interdependent everyone was, and how best to improve important processes.
After deciding to change companies to a small fiber start up, I realized the most important part of any company is its foundation. In the roles I held there, we created the strategy for the company, built out the network, thought out of the box for customer solutions and drove sales from $100k in year one to $64.5M in year five. Here is where I truly embraced the role network plays in driving the success of the company.
Can you tell us more about your work with the global network services team? What are some challenges with that part of the business?
Our global network strategy started by going from metro to metro and grooming the network components (both fiber and lit services) which eliminated of a lot of unnecessary costs in running the network. We also lit an express 100-gig ring between 3 key data center locations (Dallas/NY/San Jose) to carry more of our own traffic on-net. We have, since the completion of these first 2 initiatives, been upgrading a majority of the US and trans-Atlantic backbones to 100gig as well, to provide much needed additional capacity. We’re deploying new state of the art technology from Ciena on the fiber and bandwidth we are purchasing, allowing us to provide scalability and redundancy, while giving us the opportunity to develop new products in the future. When all is said and done with these three initiatives, the network operating expenses are flat with what they were before, however, our capacity will be three times what it was in the old network.
We also have the software side of the network. We have CDN, Performance IP®, Managed DNS, as well as other in-house tools supported by the team. They are continuously evaluating where we need to take these products in order to stay competitive, which may include partnering and white labeling. How do we get these products launched across this network that we are deploying and upgrading? Global network services is not just a foundation, but it’s also the product and services that ride across the network. We have infrastructure evolution, as well as product evolution, and that’s where I focus with the team.
What do you love about your role in tech?
Learning new things and trying new things is part of who I am. Because tech is ever changing, it’s always been very exciting for me. I think as tech has evolved, some people have fallen off the bandwagon since they don’t keep up with the latest and greatest trends.
In tech, you must be a person who looks to the future. I look at what’s coming up, not just how I need to design a network for today, and what the customers need today, but what I need three years from now. What should I consider now to prepare for any changes that might come down the road? That’s one of the things that I’ve always been attracted to in the tech industry— looking far enough ahead to say, “I need to do this, but I don’t want to be shortsighted and do it the cheap way just to get done with today. I want to look at how to do it the best way, so we are ready for the future, and we can then move forward faster.” Tech gives me exciting opportunities to do that.
Of the qualities you possess, which do you think has been the greatest influence on your success?
The ability to try anything and rise to challenges, even when I have no idea what I’m doing. I credit my boss, Pete Aquino [INAP CEO], for challenging me over the course of our working relationship. He would say, “I have a need for X.” And I’d say, “I’ve never done that before.” He’d respond, “That’s fine. I know you’ll figure it out.”
I have learned so much because I did things that I never would have done anywhere else in my career, because somebody trusted me to figure it out. The only thing you need to say to me is it’s impossible, or everyone else who tried couldn’t do it, because now I’m sure I’m going to get it done. I love a challenge. I think that’s driven me through my career.
Who are some of the people that have mentored you in your career?
Some of the best advice I’ve ever been given came from another other female leader in the industry. When I wanted to make that jump from being a manager to the next level, my boss at the time was a female director, and that was considered quite the accomplishment (back then) at a phone company. I said to her, “’I’m ready, I’m looking to move up. I’m really excited.” She gave me the second best piece of advice I’ve ever been given: Just because you are really good at what you do today, does not mean you ready for the next level. She pointed out, in order to be considered for the next level, you need to continuously demonstrate leadership qualities and focus on how you embrace and lead change.
That was an eye opening, great piece of advice. That’s when I made some drastic changes and left the big stable environment to go to a risky startup, where you have to lead every day to be successful.
If you had to pick a piece of advice that you’d give to someone pursuing IT or network engineering as a career path, what would that be?
I just approved some training for people who want to learn more. Don’t be afraid to ask for that. Always stay current, always stay hungry, always learn as much as you can, and learn across platforms. It’ll make you more valuable.
Also, tell your boss what you need and what you’re interested in. You must have open communication with your manager. We are not mind readers, so talk about what your plans might be, or ask for help in developing them. We are the ones who have to drive our own careers.
Are there any other big lessons you’ve learned in your career that you want to share?
I learned to take a step back and think about things in the big picture, instead of just what I’m doing today. What I decide to do today could affect what other people will be doing well into the future, especially in technology. Ask yourself, am I really making the right choice, or do I need to evaluate other options?
I also believe we should cross-train people. At a minimum, I think we should have people sit in somebody else’s job for a week or two, and swap chairs. It gives employees appreciation for other roles and responsibilities that they may not truly understand or have misjudged. It also may help folks develop a path to pursue other roles in the future.
I was lucky enough in my career to be able to move from department to department, so I could get a better view of how a company worked. You can’t always do that in smaller companies, but I think those are valuable lessons to learn. We should spend more time educating one another on how things work at INAP.