Since 2005, Ronit Polak has been a second-line manager for four QA teams in the security products group of Juniper Networks (Sunnyvale, CA). Juniper offers sophisticated network devices, bundled security systems and associated hardware and software, including routers and firewalls.
The company is in the heart of California's Silicon Valley, where IT people need to move fast and work hard, Polak says. "You're there until very late in the evening."
Her group works on intrusion detection and prevention, firewall testing, URL filtering and the company's network security management system. "Teams of about thirty-five people work on products and applications. Three first-line managers report to me," Polak explains.
A busy life
Polak brings many life experiences to her technical career, including service in the Israeli army, broad training, and fourteen years in pre-sales, post-sales and customer service for computer networks. She has been a tech support engineer, QA engineer and team leader for companies in both the U.S. and her native Israel.
Her work is inside now, but Polak doesn't regret her years in customer service. She feels all technical professionals should spend at least part of their time working directly with customers.
"When you get calls and complaints from customers, you go back to engineering and ask them, 'Why didn't QA catch this?' Now I'm in the engineering department to help prevent these problems, and because of my experience in customer support I know where the customer is coming from.
"When you know how they use the system in the field you can test it better and anticipate issues better. I always make sure to look at the usability aspect of our products."
Juniper has a collegial atmosphere, Polak says, where people share their solutions to technical challenges. "I work with people, so I need to assist them with their projects and help them set their career plans."
Polak works with an engineering team in India, and the company also has teams in China, Russia, Israel and elsewhere. "You become more sensitive to differences in cultures," she says. "It can be hard for offshore teams when a team in the U.S. is the one that sets the rules. So you need to be very considerate and listen to what they have to say."
In the army and after
Although Polak's high school career tests showed technical aptitude, "I didn't even know how to turn on a computer before I was in the army," she says. She did her mandatory Israeli army service in the computer unit.
"I went through very extensive computer courses at the army schools. I started with mainframe computers. The army usually has very high-end devices and equipment, so you get to deal with the latest technology."
After the army she got a job with Gilad Systems Integration (Tel-Aviv, Israel), a consulting company where she helped build a tech support team for networking routers. She also took advanced technical and academic courses, and has a 1999 bachelors in behavioral science from Tel-Aviv Academic College which enhances her management skills, she thinks.
Her next move was to Adanet (Tel Aviv, Israel), a security product reseller. "After networking I wanted to get into the security field," she says. The timing was perfect: security issues were heating up.
In 2000 Polak and her husband, who is also in IT, came to the U.S. because of his job. She joined OneSecure (Sunnyvale, CA), a network security vendor. The company was acquired by NetScreen in 2002, and NetScreen was acquired by Jupiter in 2004.
In the summer of 2005 Polak became a proud mom, and Juniper arranged for her to take a comfortable maternity leave and then return to her same position. "Someone filled in, but it was still hard on my staff," she recalls.
Polak finds that balancing work and family requires even more organization than running a technical team. "Juniper is very good about setting up a good environment for me to work from home," she notes.
But, "Most of the engineers on my team stay very late, and if I'm their manager I want to be there, too. You can do a lot of things from home, but it's still very hard and I have to juggle my schedule."