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IWD’24: ‘Dive in, listen and learn. Opportunities will come and there is room to pursue your dreams.’ [An Interview with Natalya Makarochkina]

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2024, JSA Media Consultant João Marques Lima shares insights from Natalya Makarochkina, Senior Vice President of the Secure Power Division at Schneider Electric. As a leading figure in the technology and data center industry, Natalya’s extensive experience and strategic vision have paved the way for innovation and progress in this dynamic field.

Natalya’s journey in the tech industry spans over 8 years with Schneider Electric, where she has held pivotal roles in various multinational organizations, including Philips, 3COM, and Oracle. Her passion for business development and talent cultivation has led her to establish and nurture teams, driving growth and innovation at every turn.

Embracing a commitment to continuous learning, her academic achievements include an Executive MBA from the University of Antwerp and a Master’s degree from the Higher School of Economics. Her recent completion of a Strategic Decision Making for Leaders Program further underscores her dedication to staying at the forefront of digital advancements.

At the helm of Schneider Electric’s Secure Power Division, Natalya has grappled with the challenges of meeting growing industry demands while upholding sustainability goals. 

Natalya’s advice to young women entering the data center industry reflects her unwavering belief in the immense opportunities and evolving landscape of the field. Her call to embrace change, foster a culture of learning, and pursue one’s aspirations resonates with the spirit of empowerment and growth.

JML: Can you share your journey and experience as a woman in the technology and data center industry, especially in your role at Schneider Electric?

NM:
I have been with Schneider Electric for more than 8 years, having had senior positions with various multinationals, such as Philips, 3COM, and Oracle. I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to develop and grow the business, sometimes setting up units from scratch. That’s always an exciting prospect, building a team from the talent I’ve encountered on the way.

My own journey began with university, and further study with an Executive MBA from the University of Antwerp, and Master’s degree from the Higher School of Economics. But learning never stops! Just recently, I completed a Strategic Decision Making for Leaders Program that developed my understanding of the speed and criticality of decision making in the digitally connected world. It complemented a previous INSEAD program I completed on Competitive Strategy.

JML: What inspired you to pursue a career in data centers and technology, and how has your journey been so far?

NM:
I’ve always been in or around technology for most of my career. I have gained an understanding of its value to business in bringing ideas to life in practical ways, but the digital transformation revolution has accelerated that trend exponentially.

When the opportunity arose, I realised that my skills and experience were a good fit, as data centres and data infrastructure have become the foundation of the digital economies of today, and tomorrow. As we move towards a digital society that will be supported by the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI), what we do has become even more important. We will play a vital role in supporting the sustainability goals of the future too, that ensure we protect our planet, and environment more.

JML: As a senior executive at Schneider Electric, what are some of the key challenges and opportunities you’ve encountered in the data center industry?

NM:
Some of the challenges for the industry are to meet ever growing demand while also maintaining sustainability goals. Simply building more is not good enough. We work to ensure that what we do is sustainable and innovative to meet evolving needs.

We have produced work such as our white paper 67 on “Environmental Sustainability Metrics for Data Centers,” where we set out the parameters necessary to ensure the right things are measured in the right way. We have also produced white paper 110 on The AI Disruption: Challenges and Guidance for Data Center Design, that provides guidance to address the challenges of the physical infrastructure category including power, cooling, racks, and software management. This knowledge allows us to work with builders, service providers, and customers to ensure that their needs are met while addressing the challenges.

In our dialogues, it also became apparent that the demand is shifting towards holistic solutions rather than standalone products – this shift highlighted the need for integrated and adaptable business approaches to meet the changing market needs.

There’s also a growing need for skilled talent in the data centre space, and we need to be mindful of developing the talent pipeline.

JML: How do you envision AI impacting the future of data centers, and what are the key challenges it presents for the industry?

NM:
As mentioned, we have done a lot of work on the specific needs of AI in industry. AI is being deployed in systems, applications, and services, to allow organizations to optimize and automate their operations, transforming their capabilities and delivering competitive advantage.

Combined with this, are AI specific workloads, such as massive training models. The WP 110 goes deeply into how that is changing data center design, from racks and cooling to power delivery and connectivity. Direct to chip water cooling will likely be a major feature of this type of workload, and that will have a significant impact on how facilities are designed and operated. We provide practical information on how to design, build and operate for such considerations.

Another key area is in user experience (UX). AI is being applied to make customer journeys easier to navigate, more enjoyable and more insightful, as they interact with services and support. This will also impact how services are hosted and provided.

JML: In what ways is Schneider Electric addressing the power demands and sustainability challenges posed by the growing impact of AI on data centers?

NM: From our research, we have provided tools and frameworks to model and understand power needs. Through our Ecostruxure systems and intelligent data center infrastructure management (DCIM) systems experience, we can provide the right metrics, monitoring, and optimization tools. 

When these are combined with insights on integrating renewable energy sources, and green onsite generation such as generators that are powered by hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) or green hydrogen, data center operators and service providers can meet new needs in innovative ways. They can build a blend of infrastructure and supply that meets specific needs, within whatever frameworks are necessary, in a transparent and measured way. This ensures that there are no surprises or unexpected aspects. 

Liquid cooling will be a key technique as higher density workloads, such as AI, are more widely adopted. Retrofitting is difficult, but we have the expertise and know-how to guide our customers and partners. 

While this may not be the year when quantum moves out of the very low-temperature, purpose-built lab and into a typical data center, it’s not too early to think about the impact of quantum computing. This year we’ll hear more from companies about integrating secure elements into servers and software, using NIST-selected quantum-resistant algorithms. 

JML: What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

NM: Listen. That is one of the most enduring bits of advice I’ve ever had. Whether it is to our customers, partners, colleagues, or the industry, listening is a valuable skill. Leading an international team with a diversity of cultures and regional dynamics is an honour and a privilege. Meeting and connecting with people across Secure Power International is a top priority for me, listening and learning – which not only leads to knowledge, it leads to deepening your understanding. This will best inform your strategy building for leading successful teams.

JML: What three skills would you say are crucial to your role?

NM:
Attention to detail is critical, but not at the expense of being able to see the big picture. Horizon scanning has always been important in strategic roles I’ve held, but being able to translate that into actionable measures is equally valuable.

Empathy too is important, and especially when assembling a team of highly capable people and uniting them towards a common set of goals.

JML: What advice would you give to younger women entering data centres today?

NM:
There has never been a more exciting time to be in this industry, nor a better time for opportunity. It is a wide-ranging field that underpins so much of what will be both the business, and social world of tomorrow. There is scope for women in technology and engineering to move between disciplines within this industry and forge a strong path for themselves.

The pace of change is huge, and so there are ever evolving opportunities. 

My advice is dive in, listen and learn. Opportunities will come and there is room to pursue your dreams.

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