A word from our CTO | 20 years at Digi

13 April 2021

Our Chief Technology Officer, Craig Hovey, is celebrating his 20-year milestone at Digi this year. He shares his journey at the company and what has kept him around for all these years

Growing up I was very much considered a “geek” and, yes, some still do consider me one. When I was younger my idea of fun would be to pretend that I was building a network for a business, creating multiple users, sending e-mails to myself from one user to the next. I even ran a cable along the walls between my house and a friend’s house, yes to play games, but also to be able to send messages to each other and explore the world of networking. For me IT was a hobby, I could never have guessed that one day I would be paid to pursue my passion.

My very first job was for an online travel agency called Leisure Planet. It was one of the first travel companies to break into the e-commerce market. I joined the company to help them support their website hosting environment. It was very exciting as very few companies were using the internet for e-commerce back then and we were truly breaking the boundaries for internet usage.

At the tender age of 19 they asked me to re-build their hosting environment in Atlanta, Georgia. I probably should not have said yes, as truthfully, I did not know how to do all of it. But I took it on. I backed myself and I succeeded, and with that success they continued asking me to build out more hosting environments, with the highlight of working with IBM in Belgium using their first Intel based servers to host our websites.

Then the “dot-com bubble” struck. This event was dubbed the “biggest and fastest rise and fall in business history”, and due to this so many internet-related companies did not make it. Leisure Planet was one of them and they sadly closed down.

The fall of the dotcom’s made it hard to find another job in the e-commerce industry, and so I started working in the banking sector. I found myself in a corporate job with a comparatively stiff environment, where one had to stick to one’s job description and software was shipped on CDs to customers. There was very little freedom for me to add any value to the business and after only a month and a half, I found myself feeling very trapped and uninspired, waiting for 5pm.

So, the job search continued. If I remember correctly (this was 20 years ago), I was searching on PNet and I found a job for a Web Farm Engineer at ForwardSlash. During the interview they asked me to design a network, and not only did they offer me the job, but I realised later that they actually implemented what I had designed for them in the interview.

I had to decide if I was going to leave a company that I had only been with for a month and a half to join Digi. My father advised that I should stay in a stable environment as I knew nothing about this ‘online casino company’. This new job, however, offered everything that I was doing at Leisure Planet, and more. I would be able to travel around the world doing what I loved. I resigned, and in February 2001 my Digi journey began.

My first duty at Digi was to bring stability to the websites. It required a complete rebuild and I achieved this within my first 9 months at the company. Once I had completed that, I found I had the capacity to start taking on a bigger portfolio and asked for more responsibility. I took on the opportunities and embraced, studied, and mastered them, bringing value to every project that I took on.

I was promoted to Team Lead and although it was exciting running my own team, it was not as easy as I thought. I appreciated the honest feedback and I realised that I had to learn a lot about being a good leader and where I could improve. My focus shifted to being the best leader that I could be. I was also now looking after all of IT, allowing for even more opportunities to learn new skills.

A memorable moment was when we built our beautiful Waterview Park 1 building, the magnitude of this project was something that I had never taken on before. There was massive pressure being part of the building design as well as migrating our systems and users over with minimal downtime. But it also had massive rewards.

Load shedding arrived just after we moved in. As the construction of phase 2 was not yet complete, the generator was not easily accessible. I can remember all of us carrying jerry cans down to the generators to ensure that the entire business was always online, it would consume the diesel just as fast as we could fill it up! It was great working with such a dynamic team who were willing to do anything to keep Digi going. Digi became my home (rather my 2nd home – my wife would kill me).

I first applied for a management role in 2003 and failed at the interview. I mention it because for me failure is an important part of life. You sulk for a day or two, dust yourself off, reflect, and create a plan on how not to fail next time. All the while continuing in your current role, adding as much value as possible to the organisation, and supporting both your leader and your peers. Learning from failure is key to success. The second time I applied for a management role was in 2005, and this time, I got it.

During this phase of my career, I had the opportunity to really grow the IT teams at Digi, bringing in fresh new talent who came with great, new ideas. The most memorable for me had to be the day Wayne Webner applied for a Network Engineer role. Prior to which we considered having antivirus software on our PC’s as all that was required to be secure (it wasn’t that bad, but you get the point). I clearly remember walking out of that interview and going directly to the MD to request that we create a new Senior Infosec role, and true to Digi’s style, Wayne was offered the job shortly thereafter!

From 2015 I started to take on opportunities to lead teams with different skills sets – DevOps, Data Science and Architecture – areas that encompass all of Technology. I had been leading Infrastructure teams for many years and so this change was exciting. This brought a new challenge, leading highly skilled teams where you are not the expert. Focusing on listening, asking questions, understanding, and trusting your gut to do what you believe is right to be as effective as possible. This all led to being promoted to the role of CIO in 2019.

In June of 2020, as if a global pandemic wasn’t enough, life took another unexpected turn. I was offered the role of CTO and I did not hesitate to accept it (well, maybe for a second), but this time it wasn’t so much me backing myself but rather me backing the great Digi Tech leadership team. I knew they would make this transition as smooth as it could be, and wow what an honour to now lead an incredibly talented bunch of geeks – over 600 of them!

I am now proud to be a part of Digi’s Executive Committee and report directly to our MD, Kevin Kovarsky. I aim to stay true to my core beliefs, adapt to change, and remain determined to not only meet, but exceed expectations; the expectations of our teams and the partners we work with closely to ensure we maximize the growth of Digi.

I come to work each day for the love of the business, for the Digi family and for the opportunity to make a positive impact. There is something unique and very rare to wake up each morning looking forward to the day, knowing there will be challenges, but having faith that we will turn them into opportunities.

The best part is, I feel I still have so much to learn, and I still have so much to offer. That is why it was so easy joining and even easier staying, at Digi.

I look forward to another amazing 20 years to come. We have great plans, great talent, and I believe now is the time for Technology to truly empower all of us to do great things.

Watch this space!