ITSPmagazine connects with Shehzad Merchant, Gigamon's Chief Technology Officer about his role as CTO for Gigamon, the value of culture in building out a cybersecurity program, and the importance he and his company place on collaboration and innovation beyond traditional R&D roles.
ITSPmagazine: Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
Merchant: I serve as the Chief Technology Officer at Gigamon and have over 20 years of experience in the high-tech industry. Prior to joining Gigamon, I served as the CTO at Extreme Networks and authored several networking and communications patents. I speak at various industry events including Interop and Open Networking Summit, and have been engaged with many standards bodies including the IEEE, IETF and ONF. Before Extreme Networks I was the co-founder and VP of Products at Polytime Systems, following on from various senior architectural and research roles at Allied Telesyn, Nevis Networks and SRI. I have a Masters Degree in Computer Engineering from USC and an Electronic Engineering degree from University of Mumbai.
ITSPmagazine: What's a recent accomplishment you'd like to share with our readers?
Merchant: Our biggest recent team accomplishment has been building our security operation center (SOC) at the Gigamon offices. Operationalizing the SOC and putting our own infrastructure in place has been a huge success for our technology development team. It has not only given us the ability to mirror our customers’ toughest cybersecurity network visibility problems, but also find solutions and test them out before bringing a finished product to market. Through that we now have the ability to service out different threats and more quickly innovate for our customers.
From a more personal perspective, culture is something that can never change unless it is embraced from the top. It must be reflected by all the members of the executive team, and for Gigamon, our goal is to have a culture that enables collaboration and innovation. We strive for this kind of environment across the entire company so that every person in the office can jump in and solve challenging issues without concern about being tied to different teams or projects. It fosters a very positive work environment. An example of this is our infosec and IT teams. Traditionally these two groups are at odds and always pushing against each other because their priorities are different. At Gigamon, we have tried to bridge that gap through our own practices, creating a model where IT and Infosec teams work in a frictionless manner by providing them with the tools they need to accomplish their goals.
ITSPmagazine: What inspires and motivates you to do what you do?
Merchant: Inspiration really comes from deep inside; it’s sewn into your DNA. I’ve found that I’ve continued to be inspired by people who think outside the box and have a different perspective on how to solve problems. They are the people that don’t say “solve this problem by doing x, y, z.” They are the people that say “why is there a problem?” Thinking this way creates an environment to work hard, have integrity, and be creative, which is where my biggest source of inspiration comes from.
I am continuously motivated knowing that I have the ability to make a difference at Gigamon but also across the broader industry. Right now the cybersecurity industry is facing numerous challenges, but along with those challenges are opportunities to actually make things better and help enterprise and public sectors keep their infrastructure safer and secure. Cyber attackers currently have the upper hand, but I think we are at a point where we can leverage technology to shift that advantage back to the defender. In 20, 30, or 40 years from now, the security industry can look back and say “this was a time when cybersecurity shifted.” It is really motivating to me to think Gigamon is a part of such a significant change.
ITSPmagazine: How would you describe your impact on society?
Merchant: At Gigamon we continuously try to find ways to reach out to our community and drive support in the cybersecurity industry. We recently partnered with UC Irvine as part of their cybersecurity initiative. It is a group that is utilizing the most cutting-edge technologies for research in cybersecurity and Gigamon is sponsoring that initiative. Our company really believes that there is a lot of interesting work being done at universities and that partnering with schools and giving them a place to showcase talented students will ultimately benefit the industry. Gigamon also runs a very effective internship program where we bring in students from all over the country and give them an opportunity to work in a fast-paced, exciting environment while also giving them the freedom to think independently.
Gigamon also runs an internal annual global innovation fair. This fair is not just open to R&D and technology employees, it is open to anybody at the company to bring ideas that can be implemented into our products. Through this, we are hoping to encourage innovation and thought leadership all levels across the organization. You never know who may have the next big idea that could change the game for our customers.
ITSPmagazine: What's one final thing about the work you've done that you'd like your colleagues, peers, friends and family to know?
Merchant: Something that changed my perspective on security was when my son was in 6th grade and he would hack into and jam our home network. While he was doing it to get my attention when I was working at home, it was definitely an eye-opener. He could hack into the network so easily by downloading some readily-available software. Seeing the democratization of malware in my own home was very shocking and just proved how easily available this software is that even a 6th grader could do it. That happened about two years ago and had an impact on the genesis of our whole security delivery platform. It shifted my perspective on who we address and how we view security challenges.
About Shehzad Merchant
Shehzad Merchant serves as Chief Technology Officer of Gigamon bringing over 20 years of experience in the high-tech industry. Prior to joining Gigamon, Shehzad served as the CTO at Extreme Networks, and is the author of several networking and communications patents.