There is a lot of talk in the hi-tech industry about diversity, but the number of religious and Orthodox people in the sector is still low.
Doron Grinzaig, however, proves that it is possible to combine career success with a religious lifestyle. He also has an important message for the Orthodox public.
“On my first day at one of the places where I worked, I attended a lecture on women in the hi-tech industry,” says the senior tech leader at the start-up company Island, which produces a secure browser for corporations. “At the end of the lecture, I approached the speaker and told her that as few women as there are in hi-tech, there are even fewer religious people. There were perhaps two religious people on our whole floor, and there is an explanation for why this is the situation.”
Grinzaig explains that a very large proportion of the people who end up in hi-tech start-ups get there through their military service, “but most of the National-Religious soldiers want to serve in combat units, so fewer of them take this route. There are also National-Religious people like me, who wanted to serve in a combat unit but did not meet the medical criteria; they almost always go instead to the four years of yeshiva. You can’t get back on these paths if you start there. It’s very difficult.”
His story is relatively unusual compared to the typical guy who completes his army service and works at one of Tel Aviv’s start-ups. Grinzaig hopes this interview will encourage other religious people who are interested in the field to understand that it is possible to overcome the obstacles and integrate successfully, sometimes by a shorter route than they imagine.
Grinzaig is married, a father of five, and lives in Mevo Horon. He was born into a religious family, and growing up in Haifa, he had a completely normal childhood. After graduating from high school, he decided that he wanted to stop for a moment and think if the technical field really interested him.
“I wanted to serve in a combat unit in the army and even in the elite unit Sayeret Matkal,” he says. However, asthma prevented him from doing combat service. Before enlisting in the academic reserves, he decided that he would study for four years at Torat Chaim Yeshiva, which was founded in Neve Dekalim in Gush Katif. Following the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, he moved to Yad Binyamin.
After his yeshiva studies, he enlisted in the army and was accepted into the Shahar Kahol program, which allows Orthodox people to obtain a profession and technological skills within the army. There, he studied programming.
HE ALMOST finished his bachelor’s degree in computer sciences at Open University, but says he realized – after many interviews – that a bachelor’s degree would be a waste of time, and managed to find work in a number of hi-tech companies thanks to his programming skills.
“When I was a kid, I was the one fixing everyone’s computers,” he said. “At school, if there was a problem with the computer, the teacher would call me. I really don’t know how it happened, but today I see my 11-year-old son’s skills, and I understand that maybe it simply happens. This is the reason why, after completing yeshiva, I thought of enlisting in the academic reserve and to work in the field.”
“When I was a kid I was the one fixing everyone’s computers. At school, if there was a problem with the computer, the teacher would call me. I really don’t know how it happened, but today I see my 11-year-old son’s skills, and I understand that maybe it simply happens."Doron Grinzaig
Shortly after completing his army service, Grinzaig met Dan Amiga, a young graduate of the IDF’s prestigious 8200 unit, and the two worked together at Vizelia, which was acquired by Schneider Electric in 2011. At some point, Amiga decided to leave in order to found Fireglass, the start-up that later became his first exit.
While Grinzaig chose not to join him, he watched the rapid success of the company from the sidelines, which within a few years was sold to Symantec for $250 million. After leaving Vizelia, Grinzaig worked in a number of companies, acquiring skills and knowledge in platform development and in the cloud field.
“I remember considering whether to join Dan or not. In the end I decided to stay at Vizelia. When they closed the company, the entire team dispersed, and I found a dream job at Similarweb. I was in charge of data and basically worked on everything.” After a significant period at the company, Grinzaig heard that Amiga was once again establishing a new start-up after the successful exit.
“A few weeks before the company’s IPO, Omri, who was the head of my team, called me and told me that he was working with Dan and starting a new start-up. I refused, of course, because I had the best job in the world, but he insisted and told me, ‘You should come and hear his pitch.’
“I told him that I’m happy, I’m satisfied and that I’m not leaving. I had a very good position in the company, I couldn’t just leave it, certainly not so close to the IPO.” In the end, Grinzaig gave in and came to the meeting. “It was already hard for me to say no. I realized that Island has a product that will be at the heart of the industry in Israel and abroad.”
And did you do the thing no one dares to do – leave a few days before the IPO?
“Exactly. The CEO came to me and told me that I was out of my mind, that I had the best position in the company, and he was right – I was in the best position in the company. And yes, I even lost quite a bit of money, on paper. I left the company at a stage where it already had a price, and it wasn’t some start-up dream that I didn’t know is going to work.
“Moreover, since it was Dan’s second start-up, I was afraid of the saying about the entrepreneurs’ syndrome, when they succeed once and completely crash on their second time around. But I knew it would work, and I was at peace with my very unusual decision.”
TWO YEARS ago, Dan Amiga founded Island, a start-up that develops a secure browser for corporations, and stunned the market when it reached a value of $1.3 billion within one year. This time, Grinzaig, who left his position at Similarweb as a senior engineer and team leader for big data, became a senior tech leader at Island.
“This is a position that combines management skills and technical knowledge,” he explained. Grinzaig is basically responsible for perfecting development processes and organizational processes without changing organizational structure or adding another layer of management. In this role he is responsible for the success and impact of the entire project being worked on. Simply put, he is the producer of this technological event.
It’s strange to ask in 2022, but can one say that your presence in the Tel Aviv offices of Island is “anomalous”?
“I live in a community that most of my colleagues can’t really place on a map. I make sure to pray three times a day, even when work in the office goes on into the night, and I observe Shabbat. But in this context, I also have a responsibility, and I feel that I must provide added value and be the best I can.”
And you can’t go without a somewhat provoking question: “From Gush Katif to the heart of Tel Aviv” – how were you received?
“I think this is very healthy, getting to know each other. There are people I meet who are exposed to people ‘like me’ for the first time. I never try to convince and I truly believe that every person should choose his own way of life – this is the only approach that can save Israeli society.
“I think that workplaces that try to push one agenda on the opposite side are making a mistake. At the very beginning of my career I encountered such a place, and I only stayed there for two months. The secret to success is that everyone in the company understands that we share a common goal – that the business will succeed, and that’s what matters.” (Maariv)