The support and help of his wife enabled Aran Erel to combine his passion for technology with his love for writing. His day job is to be the country director for Israel, Greece and Cyprus for F5 Networks, but he’s also written two best-selling thrillers. Erel says that the first book would not have been published without his wife helping him and believing in him. He notes that it is also essential that he supports his passions as well. He shares that the things he loves have become fun family activities as he writes stories with his children and brings them to meetings and conventions. Erel explains that his novels include technology and that his day job at F5 also involves telling stories, so his two interests complement each other. He advises everyone to find a job they love but also a hobby to help them achieve their goals.
I have to say that you probably have the best work history I have ever seen.
I’ll tell my wife. This is one of the perks of being married to an interior designer.
Tell me a bit about who you are, what you do and your professional background.
I have two disciplines that I would not let go. I’m going to talk about my career for a minute and then I’m going to talk about writing and how it all works together for me. I was writing code in the military. Subsequently, I joined an integration company as a technical engineer in information security. I like technology. Everything I do is based on my love for technology and creating solutions with people. Later, what I did was I actually leaned more towards the business side. At Cisco, he managed the private sector. Later in F5, what I’ve been doing for three years is actually the country director for Israel, for Greece, Cyprus, the Palestinian Authority as well, which is also interesting, the relationships that we’re building in doing business with the Palestinian Authority.
My hobby is writing books. I have published two bestselling novels. What led me to write the first book was a start-up that I created right after the army. It ended badly. And when it was over, I had two options. Either I’m pursuing some kind of legal action or I’m sitting in front of a blank page the moment I started writing it. It took me 49 days to write down my experience, which later, five years later and through various iterations, turned into an entirely fictional 500-page novel. I love technology and I love to write. I need both in my life because I think they complement each other.
How do you balance these aspects of your life and how are they different?
They are different, and they are not different. They are intertwined. Both of my books contain some sort of technological element. In my daily work, what I do is tell stories. I tell stories at conventions, in presentations, in my team meetings and in my strategy meetings. Everything we do is a story. It makes things much more interesting. These two things are linked. Technology with writing and writing with technology.
How do they fulfill you differently?
Writing is extremely lonely. When I write, I find myself locking my bedroom door. For 12 straight hours, I don’t go out. I just write. Then on the other side, on technology, on business, you’re still interacting. It is the opposite of solitary. Sometimes you want to be alone with yourself. This is how I explain myself when I need both pieces.
How do you know what to do when? To do either well, you must go into it with a clear mind.
You cannot write a book while doing your daily work or your daily routine. You need to disconnect, clear your mind and just write. Writing the book can take two or three weeks if you are extremely disciplined. So I’m going to take two weeks vacation. I will work 14 days in a row. I will do 10,000 words a day. I will come well prepared for this. But when I write it, it will be without any interference. It’s going to be like a sprint.
But then the problem is that it is not done. I have to drop this to give it to people who will read it and give me their opinion. It’s a marathon. Now you can do your daily work. It will take at least two or three months until people give you feedback. When you start editing the books and making changes, you can do it overnight. You can do it in the morning or on the weekend. Then you can finish the book while you’re actually working and it doesn’t interfere. The writing piece itself should be a sprint.
I think it speaks to a larger trend where we’re growing into a world that’s much more multidisciplinary. I can only imagine that most people in the world can be excited about at least two things. Have you thought about what this might mean for different people?
I think people should have hobbies. Follow your passion. You must love what you do. If you’re not into what you actually do every day, then you should probably switch roles, switch jobs. But love what you do. So find yourself a hobby that will actually satisfy you.
I think every person should have this hobby. We live here in Israel and everything is very, very stressed sometimes. We work very, very hard. Sometimes we forget to relax a bit. Every person can certainly find that passion, and every person should also follow that passion and find a framework to make it work. You know how to make it work. Nobody else knows how to make it work.
How do you then communicate those decisions to the world or to your family?
I’m lucky here. The only reason I was able to publish this book was my wife. She was an integral part of the ideation process of what we are going to write. When I wrote the book, there were so many problems with the draft. We just worked together for days to resolve these issues. The best solutions actually come from her, not from me. You need a partner who will believe in you, who will go through this marathon with you. But you also need to remember that your partner has their own passions, and you need to make sure that you support their passions as well. It only works if both people care about what the other wants to do.
I will give you a small example. My wife has been an interior designer for five years. Before that, she worked in retail. One day she came to see me and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I love the design. I want a big change. She actually did that. She studied for a few years. She changed our lives. Now she has a successful interior design business. We both support each other. If you don’t have that support system in place and you’re not willing to support the other person as well, then it’s going to be more difficult.
How do you take what you’ve learned about yourself, your wife, and personal growth through a structured framework as a father?
First, I try not to put too much pressure on my children. I try to do the things I like with them if they like it too. In fact, we write short stories together. If my son has an idea, he is 10 years old, he has just written a book. If you like music, you make music with your children. You love technology, so you bring your kids to your team meetings, to your department meetings, to conventions. What you do, you are part of the whole family; you try to have family fun with what you do.
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is a Venture Fellow at Innovation Endeavors as well as a Venture Partner at Secret Chord and J-Ventures. He studied artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction at Stanford University and was an engineer at Hippo Insurance. Matias was formerly an officer in Unit 8200. 20MinuteLeaders is a series of tech entrepreneurship interviews featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.
Contributing Editors: Michael Matias, Megan Ryan