/CTO Sessions: Jason Soroko, Sectigo (via Qpute.com)

CTO Sessions: Jason Soroko, Sectigo (via Qpute.com)

Name: Jason Soroko

Company: Sectigo

Job title: CTO of PKI

Date started current role: November 2017

Location: Timmins, Ontario, Canada

Jason Soroko has 20 years of experience researching, innovating, educating markets, developing intellectual property, and contributing to national-level guidance and consortium standards. He works closely with enterprise companies daily to synthesize managed PKI security solutions that meet real-world operational needs.

What was your first job? My first professional job, after I left university, was as a business systems developer.

Did you always want to work in IT? I did not, my initial plan was always to stay in research before evolving into teaching in the academic space. It was during my postgraduate studies that I realised the business world was very appealing to me, and I came to the realisation that technology and business were more attractive for me.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a four-year undergraduate degree and I published during my time in postgraduate studies. In terms of technical certifications, I have held some throughout my career as a way to formalise my skills. In the position of CTO, I find that the skills required of me are more cross-disciplinary than any specific kind of technology area, and so I have focused more on developing my business skills rather than achieving technical certifications.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Initially I went from a business systems developer to a business system architect. I then went into security research and malware research, which got me very deep into the security world. Five years later I was part of the office of CTO, before becoming a CTO formally. Of course, no one starts as a CTO, and there are many pathways to getting to this stage, but I think it is so important to set yourself goals, and then do your utmost to achieve these throughout your career.

What type of CTO are you? The CTO for Amazon, Werner Vogels, has a very good four-part definition for a modern CTO. Typically, a CTO will fall into at least one or two of the four, which are: Big Thinker; External Facing Technologist; Technology Visionary and Operations Manager; and Infrastructure Manager. The two sections that I fall under are the Big Thinker, which places me front and centre on company strategy, and the External Facing Technologist. What this means is that I am very involved in customer interactions, thinking about how we can enable our customers to grow and meet the complex demands of the modern enterprise.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? For me, it is how distributed computing will be used to democratise quantum computing. In essence, I am excited about the prospect of quantum computing, but only when it is ‘made useful’ to help with technological and societal advances. Quantum computing will be made useful through public cloud democratisation.

Once we enter that world, we will struggle to recognise it. The potential power for quantum is frankly astronomical, and far beyond most people’s imagination. For example, what is being done with artificial intelligence (AI) today will multiply many times over once it can take advantage of enormous computing power.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Being up front, I am a big proponent of blockchain technologies, but I also believe we need to be doing more to understand their limitations. There has been a lot of hype around areas of blockchain where classic centralised database technology is simply better. When it comes down to utilisation, blockchain has a specific purpose as a tool, but it’s usually associated wherever decentralised technologies are required. For any technology problem that is not decentralised, blockchain is more than likely not the best solution. This is not to necessarily say that it is overhyped; just that it needs to be better understood to solve real-world problems.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? I worked to set up Sectigo’s Quantum Labs, a modernised centre of excellence, that has enabled long-term cryptographic agility for our customers. This meant internally bringing together a team and resources, and uniting everything from marketing to hardcore technology skills such as R&D experts, to try to solve the problem of cryptographic agility.

As a security vendor, we have to be able to future-proof our customers and this is one initiative that will go a long way to improving our customers’ overall security posture.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? I focus on delivering secure solutions to enable digital transformation for our customers. The balance of customer experience, revenue growth and operational efficiency comes from innovation; this truly drives digital transformation initiatives.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? For me, it is helping our customers achieve their goal of advancing towards zero-trust architectures. Within security, one of the central tenets is the principle of least privileges. Zero-trust architectures greatly improve overall security postures by protecting device identities and enabling authentication across the enterprise network. This helps customers achieve some of their toughest security goals and outcomes.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? It really comes down to identifying what the customer is trying to achieve and then aligning the technology tools that we sell, to be able to achieve those outcomes, whether the customer is for example a manufacturer, or even a technology vendor themselves. One of the key aspects here is to never fall in love with just your own technology; it’s a tool that needs to be employed for a definitive outcome. Technology use needs to be totally focused on meeting goals that are beneficial to the wider business strategy.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? When it comes down to it, this is ultimately my job. The way that I solve this challenge is by maintaining exceptional relationships with R&D, with product managers, and ultimately with the people who are procuring the technology, the customer. It is hard to put a value on how beneficial great relationships are when it comes to this challenge. For me, it is about marrying the soft skills needed to create and enable relationships alongside a strong technology background. Solving this almost always comes down to how much experience one has in both the business realm and the technology realm. Being able to solve this challenge is an ideal scenario for a CTO.

What makes an effective tech strategy? The tactical aspects that are required for an overall strategy necessitate never losing sight of what is on the horizon, both from an enterprise and industry standpoint, while understanding the ideal maturity level for current operations. Being able to analyse maturity levels of technology helps to outline an effective tech strategy, understanding how technologies are impacting your enterprise — and crucially, how this impact shifts as the technology becomes more ingrained in your processes.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? If you come from an operational CTO background, something that needs to be prioritised is ensuring that you can become a liaison between business and technology: a leading technologist who gets to sit at the C-Level table. A CTO will need to be that middle point, between the business leaders and technology leaders. Typically, people tend to be either business-minded or technology-minded; the CTO of the future needs to incorporate both.

What has been your greatest career achievement? This goes back to the previous question, and it comes down to my own realisation of the pivotal need for cohesion between the business and technology message. I have always had a strong technology background, but once I realised the business aspect to technology was equally or more important than the pure technology, it changed my approach to my role. I am able to effectively drive initiatives on the business side, to the point where I became that liaison. That is one of my greatest accomplishments, and it is one that is still evolving. Being a CTO is never a static position, so this is an achievement that I am always working on.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? If I could go back in time, I would have focused on developing my business skills earlier in my career. As I have discussed, this is something that is intrinsic to my day-to-day work now and my progression as a professional, so in hindsight this is something I could have developed at an earlier stage.

What are you reading now? I am actually currently reading academic journal articles. From less of a technology standpoint and more a scientific standpoint, I am very interested in understanding the science behind Covid-19 for example. Journal articles, whether they might be from The Lancet or the New England Journal of Medicine, are always of great interest to me.

Most people don’t know that I… Still develop film. It is funny how, as technologists, we are often perceived as people steeped in the latest technology trends and modernised technologies, but I am a bit old school in this sense, with a firm interest in older tech as well.

In my spare time, I like to… Explore. Whenever I can get back out into the world, I love to travel and experience new places and cultures. In a sense I am blessed on this front, living in Northern Canada, which means that my backyard is essentially infinite and getting out into that wilderness is something that I love doing in my spare time.

Ask me to do anything but… This is a difficult one, because there is nothing that really stands out. I am sure there is something one day that I will steer clear of but I like to think of myself as outgoing. Obviously, I have ethical and moral principles that I won’t compromise, but everything else is potentially negotiable.

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