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Women In Comms

PacketFabric's co-founder: We can build a better telecom

Many major tech companies had humble beginnings, spawned in garages as the brain children of aspiring entrepreneurs, and PacketFabric shares that unique startup story.

Anna Claiborne, SVP of engineering and product and co-founder of PacketFabric, spoke with Light Reading's Women in Comms to share how the company got its start. In addition, Claiborne explains why network automation is a necessity, how to take calculated career risks and shares her advice for other women in comms in leadership positions. PacketFabric provides a network-as-a-service platform, and delivers private connectivity between any two or more points on-net.

Read on for more and stay tuned for part II of this conversation, plus a future Mentor Spotlight with PacketFabric Co-Founder Jezzibel Gilmore.

Anna Claiborne is SVP of engineering and product and co-founder of PacketFabric. (Photo source: PacketFabric)
Anna Claiborne is SVP of engineering and product and co-founder of PacketFabric.
(Photo source: PacketFabric)

Women in Comms: Tell me a little about yourself, how you started PacketFabric and what your role currently is.

Anna Claiborne: Prior to this, I have founded two other startups, one in cybersecurity and one in networking tools and orchestration. So this is my third startup.

And how I got started physically with PacketFabric is that all good ideas are born in a garage somewhere and that's basically what happened with PacketFabric. It was just a group of us sitting around talking out ideas. First it was rough – all ideas go through many iterations. The first thought was: Telecoms are horrible and somebody should really disrupt and change that. Then it was: Why not us? Both Jezzibel and I have been long-time customers of telecom services and who better to point out all the deficiencies than a customer?

The logical place to start was: We can build a better telecom. From there, my first idea was with automation – that everything needs to be automated – and that it should look more like a cloud company than anything else. What we're creating is a true service provider, making network as a service and totally changing the paradigm of what telecom is.

WiC: You mentioned automation – do you think there's such a thing as too much automation and are telcos hesitant to remove some of the human intervention/manual operations?

AC: There's no such thing as too much automation. Of course, there's always a time and place for human interaction, but pretty much the entire Internet has collectively taught everybody is always try to solve it yourself first, and then find a person, right? When you have to stop what you're doing, pick up a phone, call somebody and explain the problem…if you can find an easy answer to that, that is the absolute best way to solve it.

Using a website, using an API or using a knowledge base to look up and figure out how to do something – that's what people are trained to do first [to troubleshoot a problem]. As a service provider, we have different layers – we have the knowledge base so that you can help yourself first. And then of course, there is 24/7 support from real people available there to answer any questions as well as sales shirts – you can register yourself, or you can talk to a salesperson. It's about having those options available to help yourself first, and then if that doesn't work out, you can have a person there to answer your questions and help you through whatever challenges you're facing.

WiC: There's been some discussion in the industry that increased automation could put some people out of a job, but others believe automation opens up network engineers to work on the things they're more interested in than being tied up working on manual processes. Where do you stand on that debate?

AC: It's funny because we were literally just talking this morning in our all-hands meetings that the great thing about automation is it frees people up from repetitive tasks.

Automation as sort of the ultimate freedom is the correct way to look at it. Because it eliminates all the stuff that is repetitive, boring and horrible it leaves humans free to do what humans do best, which is creative thinking and problem solving. Getting that just tedious load off people is a huge win for everybody.

WiC: Shifting gears just a little bit, what's some of your advice for other women in comms that might be interested in creating their own company or taking on a new leadership role?

AC: I think those are the two slightly different things. For creating your own company, my answer would be "just do it." It's totally Nike and maybe somewhat cliché, but there is no time like the present. And that's the difference between entrepreneurs and everybody else. Entrepreneurs don't hesitate, they don't look – they just jump.

The more structured answer and the wiser answer to that is it's part about picking your head up and taking a look around at market conditions because there's this huge factor in entrepreneurship about luck. Well, luck is really market conditions, timing and being observationally aware of your surroundings. Is timing right for your product? Are the market conditions right for your product? Is that "it" factor there driving people toward your project?

If all that lines up, then you a have a green light for launch.

WiC: Is that the balance between taking a big risk, but also taking a calculated risk?

AC: You calculate as much as you can, and then you just decide and then based upon that you're either all in or you're not right, you can't be half-in. You have to leap in 100% wholeheartedly, otherwise, just don't do it.

Oddly enough I would say the same thing for leadership roles. You really have to embrace it – everyone has a degree of imposter syndrome, but you just can't listen to that. There is no other way but forward; either you're looking forward and solving challenges, or you're just not and you should go home because those are the options in reality.

Stay tuned for part II of this conversation where PacketFabric's Anna Claiborne explains how to successfully lead a diverse team and addresses whether enterprises are facing new cybersecurity threats now that many employees work remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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