Making it in Silicon Valley

By Sophie Thomas

A desire to ride the tech wave has taken Bachelor of Commerce alumnus, David Bicknell, from banking graduate to working for Facebook in San Francisco.

David Bicknell (BCom 2004) is a Melburnian through and through.

Born, raised and educated in Melbourne, Bicknell’s career has taken him to the other side of the world, where he now works for one of the most important companies operating today.

Now based in California, Bicknell is Facebook’s Infrastructure Finance Director, managing a large team that supports the development and operation of the company’s global datacentre footprint.

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Bicknell during a visit to Stanford University.

It’s not the career he had always expected.

“I actually wanted to be a doctor for most of high school. Then I did a job suitability test with our career counsellor and it didn’t seem to fit – which makes sense because I’m not a fan of blood,” he says.

He eventually decided to enrol in the Bachelor of Commerce and found finance was a natural fit.

“I went from an all-boys school straight into university. It was really enlightening for me - being surrounded by people from different backgrounds, doing different things. I loved being a part of University life,” he says.

After doing a summer internship at PwC while at University, he joined Macquarie Capital on graduation, where he climbed the ranks for close to ten years.

Bicknell’s first exposure to working in the technology industry occurred early on in his time at Macquarie, when working with job search website, SEEK, during its IPO on the Australian Stock Exchange.

“It was a very exciting time. SEEK created something very substantial and scalable through the power of technology. They transformed innovative ideas into code; creating a platform that now helps millions of people,” he says.

He was working for Macquarie in Canada when he decided to investigate the tech industry more seriously.

“San Francisco seemed to be at the forefront, so I started reaching out to my network for advice and job referrals. It was possibly na├»ve to follow my passions, but that’s what I did,” he says.

Bicknell and his young family made the move to Silicon Valley in 2014 when he was hired by business and financial software company, Intuit, where he worked as Senior Finance Leader.

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Bicknell and his son at Facebook's offices in California.

It wasn’t long before Twitter tapped him on the shoulder and he was appointed Finance Director for their Engineering and Product division, working directly with their CTO and product leads.

“Banking was all I’d ever done so it was quite a change. When you work in banking, you’re focused on pitching, supporting clients and generating ideas. However, you rarely get to see those ideas through to completion,” he says.

“Having the good fortune to work directly with engineering and product teams at Intuit, Twitter and now Facebook, I have been able to develop a good understanding of how these businesses operate. At Facebook, my team’s job is to give engineering leadership deep visibility into the operation of our datacenter footprint, and help them evaluate large-scale infrastructure investments.”

The exuberant entrepreneurial culture of California’s Bay Area is now famous across the world thanks to the global success of companies like Apple, Facebook and Google.

Bicknell says it’s an inspiring place to live and work.

“People come from all over the world to work in Silicon Valley. You’re working alongside some of the best and brightest people from every industry, from every corner of the world. This diversity of experience is a big part of the reason why I think the area continues to produce such creative, successful businesses.”

It also comes down to the Valley’s unique attitude when it comes to failure, he says.

“These businesses have a culture of rapid experimentation. They are very open to being proven wrong and learning and evolving based on feedback. I think that’s key; the willingness to embrace and learn from failure as well as success.”

At Facebook, Bicknell manages a team of 30 people.

“Hiring and managing people has been a very rewarding experience for me and part of the reason I’m enjoying this stage of my career so much,” he says.

“I continually challenge my direct reports to put me out of my job. This forces me to continually look for new things to take on, and allows me to help ambitious people grow.”

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Bicknell and his sons.

He has spent a lot of time on interview panels as he has grown various teams from Macquarie through to Facebook.

For any professionals or young graduates interested in riding the tech wave or moving to Silicon Valley, he has a few words of advice:

“Diversity of experience is so valuable; working with different people, in different roles, in different locations, and learning how different companies operate. Over time this can yield many hard-won lessons and insights that can give you the confidence to take on hard questions and challenges and find logical paths through to informed decisions. I always look for this in candidates I speak with, as well as an understanding of what has guided them through their journey to this point.”

As for his native Melbourne, Bicknell doesn’t have immediate plans to move back.

“I feel blessed for the opportunities available to my family and I in the Bay Area. It has been a great place to live, raise a family and grow professionally. But at the same time I will always think of Melbourne as home.It’s where many of our friends and family live, it’s where we grew up, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a strong nostalgia for our life there!”