Today we welcome Srini Koushik, Chief Technology Officer for Rackspace Technology to our CXO of the Future Podcast. He is currently leading a significant new initiative at Rackspace. However, he began his career in healthcare and IBM, and also conducted research at NTT.
Question 1: First Job: What was your first job, and how did it help you build your career?
Well, I think it’s actually a case of following your passion. I have always been someone who likes to solve problems, and what comes with problem-solving is curiosity. I was always one of those guys growing up who wanted to know how things worked when I saw something happening. I wasn’t just caught up with the outcome: I would wonder, ‘How did they do that?’ This curiosity has been a common theme throughout my career.
Technology was the right place for me. It was the mid-eighties, and I was in India. India hadn’t gone through a lot of the technological revolution that you’ve seen over the last 20 or 30 years. We were learning on punch cards and COBOL, knockoffs of IBM mainframes that we got from the Russians. It was fundamentally about how you learn, but it taught you quite a lot. I had to learn how to bootstrap a TDC 316, which was a box 11 machine tape reader. It made me wonder, ‘Why do they call that a bootstrap?’ So, you start looking at those types of things. Technology was almost a natural fit for what I like to do. If I were to trace one thread from the time I started to today, it would be that I’m a technologist at my core. I love technology and I love solving problems using technology. If someone asked me to define my core competency with a gun to my head, that’s it. Everything in my career after that has been adjacencies that I’ve picked up to be able to function in multiple roles.
I began my career by delving into the realm of writing compilers and developing operating systems—essentially, software. This was where my journey began. One of my earliest mentors was Nick Donofrio, who held the position of CTO at IBM at that time. Nick was an extraordinary individual, always taking technologies under his wing and nurturing them. He imparted to me a valuable perspective—that technology is like a trade; you need to consider its practical application for people. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, what’s the point? Nick initiated programs that transitioned people from research into client engagements. He made significant contributions during the Gerstner era at IBM, and I was fortunate to benefit from his guidance. Consequently, I transitioned from being a hardcore technologist to tackling some of the most challenging problems. These challenges ranged from ensuring the scalability of IBM’s pioneering U.S. Open website during the late nineties to handling a myriad of transactions. Alternatively, it involved assisting customers like X, Y, and Z, who had signed major Y2K deals and were in dire straits.
Looking back, I realize that despite initially questioning ‘why me?’ during those moments, I’m grateful for the opportunities that were presented to me. They played a crucial role in shaping
who I am today. My message to my children—and anyone else—is that in the midst of challenges, we may question our circumstances, wondering why we were chosen. However, with time, we
come to appreciate the experiences that have defined us. IBM was a remarkable chapter in my life, providing an exceptional learning experience in a premier technology company. Even today, IBM continues to excel in the realm of technology. My time spent at IBM during the Gerstner era, under the leadership of Nick Donofrio and others, was focused on propelling IBM into relevance during the era of e-business and beyond. It was an incredible period, and IBM remains a truly outstanding organization.
Question 2: Leadership: What is the most important leadership skill that you have learned over your career, that has a positive impact, and can you explain with an example?
If I had to narrow it down to a couple of key lessons, the first one would be never stop learning, right? This is a field that has constantly evolved. I’ve been a part of it since around 1986, giving me
38 years of experience in this industry. Over the years, I’ve witnessed technology change numerous times.
At its core, it’s always been about solving problems for people and persistently using that approach. I’ve observed many individuals who initially started in this field move away from the ethos of continuous learning. For me, this continuous learning process has been incredibly valuable. As I approach 60 years old, venturing into a startup focused on generative AI, conditions may not be the conventional choice. However, I believe that age is just a number. It’s a cliche, but I genuinely feel that way. Almost everyone involved in generative AI likely has around two years of experience. Well, I also have those initial two years, but I’ve additionally gained the benefit of 35 years of learning how to do things, and perhaps more importantly, how not to do things. So, the aspect of continuous learning is an incredibly important part of this journey. I would advise anyone at any stage in their career to never give that up because once you stop evolving, you risk becoming obsolete. That’s the essential principle to follow.
I’m curious. Srini, how do you afford time to do continuous learning?
You have a really heavy plate of responsibilities. Doing research, reading and staying up on content is an afforded time. Yes, indeed. I engage in a variety of activities. During my walks, I immerse myself in podcasts across diverse domains. I particularly enjoy listening to Freakonomics Radio and similar shows. These activities often relate to my line of work, prompting intriguing thoughts and considerations. It sparks questions like, ‘How might this apply in my professional sphere?’ This auditory approach suits my learning style, as I identify as an auditory learner rather than a visual one. Consequently, I tend to absorb knowledge through listening.
Additionally, I consciously allocate time for personal growth. Every weekend, I make it a priority to set aside 3 to 4 hours each weekend to do some training. Over the past five to ten years, especially with the advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), an abundance of educational content is readily available. The challenge lies in being discerning and selective amidst this wealth of information. In the last seven months, I’ve actively consumed nearly every piece of content relevant to AI. Whenever something new is introduced, like a release from Google or DeepMind, I make it a structured effort to delve into it. This structured, incremental learning approach has proven to be highly effective. I frequently receive inquiries on LinkedIn about how I manage to find time for certifications. The key is to treat learning like a compound interest; the more you invest, the greater the returns. It’s akin to saving for retirement, where the accrued knowledge compounds over time.
This approach is fundamental to my learning philosophy. Another pivotal lesson for me revolves around my mentors. I previously mentioned Nick Donofrio, but another significant mentor in my life has been Mike Keller. He formerly served as the enterprise CIO at Nationwide and played a pivotal role in my career transition from IBM to Nationwide. During my early months at Nationwide, gave me advice that, in hindsight, proved immensely valuable. He said “Srini, you’re used to running the Green Berets and the Delta Force at IBM because everywhere you look around, you got somebody who was as good as you, if not better than you. It’s different when you’re commanding the army, right? You’re going to have to learn additional skills. So just being that technologist alone is not enough. You’re going to have to figure out how to scale, how to get work done with teams, and how to bring people along.” And again, as I said, that didn’t resonate with me at that time, but it proved to be a phenomenal lesson throughout my career. I realized I’m one of those guys who actually goes and can drive a team to go take the hill. And I am not the person who’d sit there, and smell the roses.
I realized I’ve got to surround myself with people who compliment me, not deflect what I do. So I’ve had some amazing people that have worked for me and they’ve worked for me to be with
me. Their guidance and collaboration have shaped my leadership style, reinforcing that success is a journey of collective accomplishments and shared growth.
Question 3: Prediction: Do you have a prediction around the core technology and core changes that are happening in the industry that we should all spend more time learning about?
Yeah, reflecting on it, we’re currently in the early stages of a significant era—the age of AI. AI is 75-plus years old. The term was coined in 1956. Back then, the tools and techniques were complex, requiring highly intelligent individuals to bring them together, making scaling challenging.
Generative AI and, more specifically, large language models, have been instrumental in democratizing these tools. We’re reaching a point where I don’t necessarily need to understand the intricate math behind parameter-efficient functions or feature tuning. I can benefit from the advancements in my field without diving deep into the details. I often describe this transformation as a kind of Maslow’s hierarchy of technology. We’ve moved past worrying about basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing, allowing us to focus on higher pursuits, inching closer to self-actualization. This, to me, marks the beginning of an age of enlightenment—an incredibly exciting prospect.
However, our excitement needs to be tempered with responsibility. At Fair and Rackspace, we emphasize guiding the responsible use of AI. I believe AI should be symbiotic, coexisting and augmenting human capabilities rather than replacing them. Security is paramount, ensuring safety for individuals and protecting data in accordance with privacy and copyright laws. And lastly, sustainability is key—ensuring a diverse and reliable supply chain of data to prevent bias and uphold accuracy.
Srini serves as President of Technology and Sustainability at Rackspace Technology® and is responsible for technical strategy, product strategy, thought leadership and content marketing. Prior to joining Rackspace Technology, Srini was Vice President, GM, and Global Leader for Hybrid Cloud Advisory Services at IBM where he worked with CIOs on their hybrid cloud strategy and innovation. Before that, he was the Chief Information Officer for Magellan Health where helped double the company’s revenue in just four years. Prior to Magellan, he was the President and CEO of NTT Innovation Institute Inc., a Silicon Valley-based startup focused on building multi-sided platforms for digital businesses. Srini also serves on the advisory boards for Sierra Ventures, Mayfield Ventures and Clarigent Health.
Srini is an innovative and dynamic executive with a track record of leading organizations to deliver meaningful business results through digital technologies, design thinking, agile methods, lean processes, and unique data-driven insights for the last two decades
Srini serves as President of Technology and Sustainability at Rackspace Technology® and is responsible for technical strategy, product strategy, thought leadership and content marketing.
Prior to joining Rackspace Technology, Srini was Vice President, GM, and Global Leader for Hybrid Cloud Advisory Services at IBM where he worked with CIOs on their hybrid cloud strategy and innovation. Before that, he was the Chief Information Officer for Magellan Health where helped double the company’s revenue in just four years. Prior to Magellan, he was the President and CEO of NTT Innovation Institute Inc., a Silicon Valley-based startup focused on building multi-sided platforms for digital businesses. Srini also serves on the advisory boards for Sierra Ventures, Mayfield Ventures and Clarigent Health.
Srini is an innovative and dynamic executive with a track record of leading organizations to deliver meaningful business results through digital technologies, design thinking, agile methods, lean processes, and unique data-driven insights for the last two decades.