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Dino Covotsos: Keeping your eye on the goal

Dino Covotsos, director of Telspace Systems, began working for IT companies when he was only 16 years old, initially consulting on information security matters.

However, his interest in technology began way before then: "From a very young age I was interested in computers and specifically information security. My father bought us a computer to build by hand when I was very young, from there I was hooked and the rest is history."

It was around the age of 10 that Covotsos became involved in the local information security community, online and at small hacking events in Johannesburg.

"Since then I never looked back. It was not something I actively chose to do, for me there was no other option, I have always loved what I do. Some of the people that I met at that age I am still very good friends with. It was a great community to grow up with and it has been very interesting to see how it's grown and changed over the years."

After he matriculated he worked at a technical help desk, doing everything from technical support, linux support through to abuse administration at a very large corporate company.

"I then went on to work at a smaller ISP, I did system and network administration, specifically focusing on information security. This ISP is actually still one of our customers and has been one for over 13 years."

In 2002 Covotsos made a decision to open Telspace Systems, with the eventual goal of creating a great penetration testing company. "It's been almost 14 years since then and we've created a fantastic company with over 300 customers and an incredible, super talented team. The growth has been completely organic with no venture capital at all."

Dino Covotsos, director of Telspace Systems.

Dino Covotsos, director of Telspace Systems.

Speaking of what he enjoys and finds frustrating about his job, he says he enjoys it all, from engaging with customers on penetration tests through to the day-to-day running of the office, which is filled with great people who make it all happen.

"As with any business there are difficult customers and some industry politics from time to time, but other than that it's a great industry to be involved in."

For students wanting to become involved in the IT security field, he advises trying to get involved with the community and any community-based events such as Bsides Cape Town or ZaCon in Johannesburg.

"Forget any internal politics and don't listen to rumours. Be persistent, don't ever take no as an answer and keep pushing until you reach your goals. So many people (even our competitors) tried to put us down in the beginning and put us off customers by badmouthing us in so many different areas, if it wasn't for us being so stubborn and persistent as a team, we would have quit. Many people in the same position would have left."

Covotsos says: "There will always be people that will be negative towards you and have bad things to say, just see past it and keep your eyes on the goal. You'll get there in no time."

Looking back at the defining points in his career, he says one moment doesn't stand out above the rest. "Honestly speaking it's a combination of moments and experiences with friends, staff and customers. My career has been defined mostly by my local and international experiences, including our staff who have made it all happen."

At the beginning of his career he was contacted by a competitor, who asked him to stay away from their customers and even, at one point, asked him to come in to their offices and sign an agreement saying he wouldn't approach any of their customers. "It really was not a pleasant time to be involved in the information security industry as a start-up."

However, Covotsos gathered the courage to ignore that "instruction" and ignore negativity from multiple people and has never looked back.  "In many ways it was the best thing that ever happened because it fuelled me to make sure that we did well."

In hindsight, he says he would have done nothing differently. "I believe that everything happens for a reason and we build off that experience to make sure certain things don't happen again."

Summing up his career in one sentence, he says: "Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful."

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