“I’d like to start a movement for people to understand the concept of strategy. It can be applied to everything from personal relationships to careers”

With Dr. Ratinder Paul Singh Ahuja, CEO, ShieldX

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My recommendation is for people to understand the concept of strategy. It can be applied to everything from personal relationships to careers. Strategies have a fundamental principal of shared gain. We must all benefit. Only then do we make rapid progress.

As part of my series about “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that seem copied from science fiction, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ratinder Paul Singh Ahuja, the CEO of ShieldX. Dr. Ahuja draws from a career as a successful serial entrepreneur and corporate leader, bringing with him his unique blend of business acumen, strategic thinking, industry network and deep technical knowledge. His knowledge of innovation and emerging trends in networking, network security and data loss prevention are derived from years of industry experience, as his previous three founded startups, Internet Junction, Webstacks and Reconnex were respectively acquired by Cisco Systems, Extreme Networks, and McAfee. Prior to his current role as CEO at ShieldX, a U.S.-based firm that specializes in cloud security, he subsequently served as Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of the Network Security Business Units at McAfee. Dr. Ahuja holds a BS in electronics, Electronics & Electrical Engineering from Thapar University, in India and a Masters and Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from Iowa State University. He has been granted 37 patents for security-based technologies, and has presented in many public forums including the Content Protection Summit, IC3, IEEE Computer Society, McAfee FOCUS and the Cloud Expo.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been fascinated by engineering. At the age of 24, I finished my doctorate in computer engineering from Iowa State University. Since that time, I moved to the Bay Area and was lucky to be a part of The Internet Revolution while the digital landscape was changing.

Over the years, I’ve been able to blend together my technical abilities, my knowledge of the marketplace and my vision of how industry trends evolve. This combination encouraged me to become innovative and create offerings to help the marketplace adapt to changes. This cycle repeated throughout my career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

As part of my martial arts training, I flew to Thailand and went into darkroom training. The theory is that by cutting off all visual stimuli to the brain, the endocrine system is reawakened. After two weeks of complete darkness, I had no idea what was happening in the world.

Soon after, I saw an email from a friend talking about content monitoring and all of the changes happening in the security space. Attacks and threats were moving from infrastructure to information — There was a concept being developed that people were able to monetize privacy and critical data .This became data loss prevention, which was the vision behind my third startup Reconnex, which was eventually acquired by McAfee. I was completely removed from the world during training and came out with a clearer vision of a major industry trend and startup idea.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

In the last few years, we’ve all observed how cloud computing has taken off. Enterprises have adopted the agility of the cloud and can push out applications faster and harness the associated business value. This created a problem for security because traditionally security was designed to live on an enterprise data center perimeter. The traditional systems can no longer be deployed in the cloud because they don’t offer visibility, lack scale and automation. This shift in the infrastructure caused me to think about how security should evolve, and that was the inspiration for ShieldX. Our innovative work is helping enterprises gain visibility in the cloud and our products can automatically suggest policies and security controls that keep those environments safe.

How do you think this might change the world?

Security professionals are trying to figure out how to secure enterprise networks as they fundamentally change over time. This requires a level of automation and scale heretofore unknown in the security industry. Traditional appliance-based solutions built for on-premises deployment are not well-suited to cloud architectures, and many of the new cloud native options don’t provide security depth to protect environments from the variety of attacks typically faced.

ShieldX is changing the world by addressing these issues in the security industry and creating an elastic security platform that adapts for the rapidly changing cloud. Our platforms provide a scalable and flexible security platform for highly-virtualized data center and IaaS networks. Featuring an elastic microservices-based technology that doesn’t require agents, enterprises can automatically define and enforce a full-stack security strategy for multi-cloud or virtualized environments regardless of their enterprise size or rate of change.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

This technology provides a great opportunity to access information and make it more collaborative in the cloud. The biggest trends these days are all about automation and AI. As we build more machine capable systems and they get more automated, we, as humans, lose the skill to manage them. As algorithms take over, we might not be able to understand why certain things are being done. The implications of this could be huge.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

The pivot point was a series of conversations I had with certain enterprises. Executives were becoming curious and asking “What is happening inside my environment?” They were asking questions like “Where do I plug the box in the cloud?” about traditional, physical security measures for the cloud environment. This series of simple questions illustrated a deep profound thinking point about traditional security measures in the cloud. It made me realized a shift in the industry was necessary.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

We need to see acceleration in changing the way enterprises think. Enterprises need to supplement the traditional chokepoint strategy of the past with newer deployed security capabilities inside the cloud and data centers. When you lack visibility and control inside the multi-cloud, you have the potential of loss. ShieldX’s solutions make it possible to have pervasively deployed security; a second line of defense behind the chokepoint.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

Most startups focus on raising institutional or VC money and then develop a business development strategy to follow that. The way I position ShieldX is different. We developed a partnership strategy from day one. By identifying other technology partners we have synergy with, we proved that we can have a stronger outcome together. In series A funding we had FireEye join us and in series B funding, we expanded that strategic partnership mindset to include Symantec and Dimension Data as well.

We’ve also been working with industry influencers from the beginning. For example, Gartner recognized us as a Cool Vendor for cloud security in 2017 when we were still in stealth mode. We were also placed in the top 10 at RSA’s Innovation Sandbox and listed in the Red Herring North America 100.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One person who helped me throughout my life is Sun Tzu. Even though he existed some 2500 years ago, I continue to understand his philosophies around strategy and apply them to what I do.

How do I implement “The Art of War” strategies into enterprise IT? It starts with the definition of strategy: a systematic, scientific method to continuously improve your position. Once you have that mindset, you realize that it is less about quantum leaps and more about steady progress. It’s a continuum and you have to constantly improve your knowledge, vision, execution and positioning to get to a better state. I ask myself how I can best react to the changes that are occurring. The studies of Sun Tzu have integrated what I mean by ‘taking the right action,’ or ‘getting knowledge of a marketplace’, or ‘analyzing a trend’.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve shared my philosophies with other students and entrepreneurs. I have one such startup in place ( that I work closely with and I’ve been able to share some of the lessons I’ve learned to help them get started from essentially nothing. With no venture money, they’re now a cash flow entity. That’s been a great experiment — to see how I could take an idea and get it to a point where it’s a viable business.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

If I could go back in time, there are several pieces of advice that would have helped me:

1. Gain a deep understanding of the technology and methods. Because of how fast the industry changes, you will be constantly learning in this career.

2. Strive to bring practicality into projects. My optimism makes me miscalculate the amount of time, effort and resources needed to get to a certain point.

3. Don’t exhaust your resources before you meet a goal. I would have loved to have received some guidance on that.

4. Study the industry. Be able to identify the longevity of trends and their impact on the marketplace. My successes have been a result of moving with the shifts.

5. Relish problems. They help refine your thinking and come up with something new and creative. Actively seeking out hard relevant problems to solve has given me the opportunity to have about 43 patents issued in may name. That’s how the process continues.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My recommendation is for people to understand the concept of strategy. It can be applied to everything from personal relationships to careers. Strategies have a fundamental principal of shared gain. We must all benefit. Only then do we make rapid progress.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Seek alignment of the body, mind and spirit.” I’ve done taekwondo for more than thirty years and hold a 6th degree black belt in the sport, and this is a concept that is an integral part of the practice. I’ve interpreted it as saying that these three systems create equilibrium. If your mind is giving up, your body and spirit will keep you going. If you’re physically beaten, your mind and spirit can keep you going. This harmony keeps you performing at peak potential and pace.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would impress upon them to understand the trends that triggered the idea and the longevity of those trends. I would also explain the massive impact ShieldX will have on the marketplace.

In my experience, if the trends are truly there and the impact is going to be huge, then you have to execute and take advantage of it. That’s the fundamental building block and the rest is all mechanical.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow ShieldX Networks on Twitter; LinkedIn and my LinkedIn page.

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