The Most Important Thing We Can Do Is to Listen: An Interview with Bill Handler

Meet Bill Handler of Personal Computer Systems, Extreme’s Hero of the quarter.

Extreme Connect 2022, held in Nashville, Tennessee, came fairly close to your neck of the woods. How did you enjoy our biggest annual user conference?

This was the second Extreme Connect event that I’ve been able to attend in person. What a great show! It was awesome to see everyone in person again and re-connect. I enjoy the events because they always provide an opportunity to learn something new.

What did you learn from the breakouts and technical sessions?

The Wi-Fi 7 session showed that what is expected to come from this standard will be a game-changer for wireless. Wireless is ever-changing and keeping up with the technology is important both to all of us at Personal Computer Systems as well as our customers.

Do you remember your first experience involving the purple equipment? What Extreme solutions, products, and services are you working with mostly these days?

As a legacy Enterasys partner, our first experience with the purple gear was after the company was acquired by Extreme Networks in 2013. At the time, it was somewhat of a challenge to work with an OS that was so different from what we were used to. As you might imagine, Extreme technology has come a long way in the last 10 years.

A lot of our projects involve migrating to the new universal hardware. However, we still do support several customers with legacy wired and wireless hardware. That being said, more and more of our customers are moving their wireless to ExtremeCloud IQ and we do have a few that are using it for switch management, too.

You’ve been instrumental in many of PCS’s successes with Extreme in Tennessee for years, in large part due to staying close to customers and not being afraid to ask hard questions. What’s your recipe for identifying the true needs of your customers when the customers aren’t fully cooperative?

We stay close to our customers because we see them as friends and partners. These people are entrusting us with their networks, which is often the backbone of how they do business and are successful. We must first earn their trust and be sure to always be forthright and honest ― even if what we’re saying is something the customer does not want to hear ― in order to maintain that trust.

In my opinion, having these kinds of close relationships with customers is critical. They help us understand not only what customers need and want, but also how their businesses operate day to day. The most important thing we can do is to listen and then ask probing questions. With a deeper level of understanding about each business, we can be more effective and successful in anticipating issues and ensuring smooth adoption of new Extreme solutions.

Do you think you owe your inquisitive nature to the time your worked as a police officer? I don’t think there are many networking engineers with prior experience in law enforcement.

From a young age I have always been inquisitive and interested in how things work. My time in law enforcement ― first in a corrections role, then as a police officer ― helped me develop strong interpersonal communication skills. Sometimes looking past what is said out loud is necessary to understand what a customer is really expecting.

Being an Extreme Hero also means setting a good example. What values drive both your professional and personal life today?

Being honest and straightforward are very important to me. There are times you need to tell someone something unpleasant – there is no way around it. The message may not be what they want to hear, but it is something they need to hear. In those cases, I try to be respectful and understanding, and work collaboratively to find the right solution together.

What has been the most satisfying moment in your career?

I don’t think I have a most satisfying moment. I take great pleasure in helping people. When we assist someone in resolving an issue or deal with a complaint or overcome a catastrophic failure, I am the most satisfied if we can turn the customer reaching out to us into a hero to their end-users.

What Extreme project are you most proud of?

I am proud of all our Extreme projects, and will be most proud of the next project, the project after that, and the one after that, ad infinitum.

Based on your experience, what would you tell your younger self and other up-and-coming engineers starting their careers in the networking industry?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Use Google. Don’t try to baffle people with your knowledge. Work to explain things in terms non-networking professionals can understand. Think outside the box. If a problem seems daunting, break it into smaller manageable pieces that you can work on. Don’t give up when a solution does not work. Empathize with the customer. Use lab gear in your down time to get better acquainted with solutions. Get training. Get more training. There is always something new coming out and new ways of doing things.

What does Bill Handler like to do when he’s not working?

According to my wife, I’m never not working. However, in my off time I do like to travel, work on older cars, and fix things.

If you could choose any two famous people from the history to have dinner with, who would they be?

I really don’t care about famous people. If anything, I’d like to have dinner with my grandparents. One of them passed before I was born, two others passed when I was a young child, and my last grandparent passed during my teenage years. Making quality family time is something that we all need to do because time is a precious commodity.

If you are an Extreme partner and would like to become an Extreme Hero, visit our Extreme Portal.

About the Author
Extreme Networks
Extreme Marketing Team

Our global marketing team is made up of knowledgeable, passionate, and creative individuals. They promote the advances – and the momentum – of the world’s most exciting networking company through best-in-class events and communications.

Full Bio