Up&Ap: Dan Kwach on rising from technician to GM at East Africa Data Centre

He currently reports to the CEO of Liquid Telecom Kenya as the Group’s Head of Data Centre and General Manager of East Africa Data Centre (EADC). But he didn’t start from the top. It can even be said – and rightly so – that his career path was defined by his curiosity while at the university. He came into the IT industry as an installation technician for Kenya Data Networks’ (before it’s acquired and rebranded to Liquid Telecom Kenya) third-party installation services provider, before later joining KDN through a referral from the third-party provider. From then on, it’s been a tale of passion, vision, hard work and sacrifice.  Read on as Dan Kwach, GM, East Africa Data Centre (part of Liquid Telecom Kenya) shares his career experiences in the country’s ICT industry…  

Q: Who is Dan Kwach?

DK: I am an ICT professional with years of experience to date having handled diverse roles for a span of 10 years with a vision to realize my full potential in contribution to growth and development of ICT in my professional life. As relates to my social life, I relate with all who mostly share life’s teachings and experiences and present continuous challenges for growth. As a responsible citizen, I am an embodiment of change and development and growth to those who see me as a role model and always work hard at keeping up with expectations if not supersede them. I was a student leader during my final year at the university and have ever since had a view that leadership has greatest gains when objectives are for the common interest and good and not self. Nonetheless, I am fun-loving and enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I am married with 2 kids.

(TOP: Dan Kwach – in white shirt and name tag – stretches during last year’s CIO Awards & Symposium in Naivasha). 

Q: Give us some detailed intro about your life before you joined Kenya Data Networks.

DK: For the achievements I have realized to date, I owe my professional life to the time spent in Kenya Data Networks (today rebranded to Liquid Telecom Kenya). I am, however, equally thankful for the events and experiences in my life pre-joining KDN as they formed a strong foundation towards any success I can attribute to my performance at Liquid Telecom to date being the General Manager – East Africa Data Centre. I always had a big interest in ICT. While taking my undergraduate studies at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), I stumbled upon a technician installing wireless communication equipment for use in access of internet at the then popular university cyber café. As a student of a discipline in ICT then, I spared no chance at finding out what the technology was about besides which company was behind it. It turned out that this was an installation company installing KDN’s microwave network equipment OFDM CPE (Client Premise Equipment). After my graduation, I confidently walked into the company’s premises for a job opportunity and was notified that it was odd for a university graduate to be employed for such technical work. My persuasion to be allowed a chance regardless of my qualification then was in vain until I shared my history having worked in a construction project in my rural home as a “hand-help” during my time as a final year university student. I was at the time enrolling for a postgraduate study at the same institution for a newly launched course – Software Engineering. On noticing the interviewers’ thought process, I chose not to share this piece of additional info besides the fact that I had already tied the knot. The situation I was in kept me on the fast lane – I must confess that I am glad it was the case. I essentially had a family with no job despite my academic qualifications. My pursuits for a technician role with a KDN installation company opened doors for me to join KDN through the installation company’s referral. This was an opportunity I was more than glad to have won. At KDN, I became the first in the team of NOC – Network Operations Control – Engineers who had a family and pursuing further studies at the same time. It took great sacrifice to ensure I compromised on none of the roles I had to the astonishment of my closest peers and colleagues at the work place and in the university. I learnt at an early stage that passion, vision, hard work and sacrifice pays.

Dan Kwach during a previous media interview at KDN.
Dan Kwach during a previous media interview at KDN.

Q: You’ve basically been with the same company from 2006, even though it’s changed ownership over the years. What has this experience taught you in relation to staff / employee loyalty vis-à-vis career growth?

DK: Having shared my background, I must admit that my professional life has been shaped by choice of lessons learnt in the leaders and mentors I have had an opportunity to work with in one way or another. From a very early stage in life, I learnt that:

    1. Experience is the greatest reward besides one’s academic successes and qualifications. Hard work and sacrifice are basic nutrients in one’s journey as you gain experience.
    2. Be the change you want.
    3. Exploit every little opportunity – stay hungry, stay foolish – as Steve Jobs would say
    4. As a leader, ensure teamwork besides building or nurturing your team members to achieve their potential
    5. Act small but think big! It’s the little steps that add up.

Q: As a follow-up to the above question, in many cases, most staff quite organizations or opt out after the coming on board of new shareholders or after an acquisition. With you however, this has not been the case. Did you at any point consider opting out after an acquisition and how did you cope?

DK: It is true that relationships built at the place of work last long and at times become painful to break. The only moment I must admit having had second thoughts continuing with my work was when there was a big change in organizational and work culture as we were accustomed to vis a vis the new shareholders. In deed, this was after the first acquisition of the company for which we had a change of a large portion of the senior management team besides massive staff turnover. This coincided with a change of role for me – a move that created new breath of life for me in the organization. Having been my first commercial role within the company, I took up the challenge and chose to learn this new field of responsibility even as the company faced challenges in its operations.

With the challenges not coming to an end, we then had Liquid Telecom Group coming onboard with immense organizational and operational skills and experience as a Telecom’s operator.

The experience under Liquid Telecom Group’s fold has been worth the sacrifice and wait with a new culture that espouses ownership, team work, openness and engaging work environment. The opportunities for growth under the current ownership is unrivaled with pan African operations and highly-charged product development initiatives in the fields of ICT.

I currently report to a CEO who happens to have been the third employee in the organization and has today achieved the feat of not only being the CEO of Liquid Telecom’s Kenyan operations but also plays the role of the Director of Network Strategy. With a very strong technical background, I am more than grateful to be under his stewardship. It’s from such achievements that I draw inspiration.

Dan Kwach - third from left - with other Liquid Telecom Group execs during a previous briefing.
Dan Kwach – third from left – with other Liquid Telecom Group execs during a previous briefing.

 

Q: You’ve been a player and has even witnessed the country’s ICT industry evolve from early 2000. What can you pick out as the key highlights in terms of challenges and successes from when you joined the industry up to now?

DK: Kenya’s ICT industry has grown in leaps and bounds and quite fast. This has largely been courtesy of readily available skills, innovative culture, strong economic foundation in the East Africa region besides a supportive investor environment. I was proud to attend the launch of ICANN’s first engagement office in Africa opened in Nairobi with the occasion presided over by the new CS Joe Mucheru who shared nostalgic events in Kenya’s ICT evolution and growth such as the days it took a single resource responding to domain registrations requests, the use of extremely slow and unreliable dial-up technology to access the internet from the only telecommunications service provider – Kenya Post and Telecommunications Services\Jambonet.

Kenya’s ICT industry has grown in leaps and bounds and quite fast

To notice that we seem to almost have glut in network capacity\bandwidth courtesy of multiple undersea cables, expansive mobile network access, high broadband penetration courtesy of FTTH solutions and mobile technology, innovations that have had global acknowledgement such as the mobile money service amongst others reaffirms Kenya’s position as the regional ICT hub.

Q: Moving on to East Africa Data Centre (EADC), what does your day-to-day job entail?

DK: As Liquid Telecom Groups Head of Data Centre Services currently serving as General Manager at EADC, I have overall responsibility of the teams that manage design, roll-out and build of quality Data Centre’s hosting mainframe, mid-range, production control and network operations besides the managing and developing EADC’s commercial strategy. I am also responsible for driving implementation of new technologies in the design and layout of datacenter environments within Liquid Telecom and product development of the Collocation Business.

Q: Highlight some of EADC’s milestones – in terms of customer growth – since the firm was established.

DK: EADC has stood the test of time to be the preferred hosting partner to diverse customer segments with International Telcos setting up Points of Presence to offer their services locally or in East Africa, local telcos setting up network hubs to provide connectivity to hosted customers, cloud vendors exploiting EADC’s robust architecture as a Tier III Data Centre to offer their services with improved service availability as well as Academic and Media institutions using the facility to host critical content and services. With the first phase sold out in less than 6 months, the second phase is at 80% occupancy and roll-out starting off for the 3rd phase. All this in under 5 years is testimony to EADC’s commercial success.

Q: As a provider of hosting services, where does the bulk of EADC’s customers come from – within Kenya or outside the country? Within Kenya. What message can you give to locally-based potential customers to have them host their infrastructure in-country?

DK: EADC meets global standards of design and build and remains carrier neutral as a Tier III Data Centre. The service level guarantee is in line with global requirements at 99.982% as can be achieved in any other Data Centre of similar category. By hosting with EADC, you get free cross connect to the local exchange point – Kenya Internet Exchange Point  (KIXP) – to allow for local peering. Access to content is therefore achieved locally. Any hosted customer gets a ready mix of local and international communication service providers to connect to due to EADC’s carrier neutrality.

If critical, digitize. Host it globally, Access it locally!

Q: What are the benefits of hosting locally as compared to relying on foreign-based companies for such services?

    1. Local hosting results to reduced latency when accessing content\services.
    2. Improved service availability by ensuring reduction in service impact due to failures on international links
    3. Optimal use of bandwidth resources by ensuring less use of the highly priced international links or capacities. Communication service providers and the local exchange hosting popular CDN Servers within their infrastructure attests to this.

Q: Any final thoughts\ comments related to the need for organizations to host locally?

DK: EADC is on the global map of preferred hosting sites today. Global is a quality standard met locally by EADC. Believe in quality! Believe in EADC.

Q: Your parting shot?

DK: If critical, digitize. Host it globally, Access it locally!