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Get to Know: David Larson, CTO, Spirent Communications

Get to Know: David Larson, CTO, Spirent Communications

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On the lighter side of things, we ask David Larson, CTO, Spirent Communications, what makes him tick. 

1.   What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?

In terms of career, my most memorable achievement was becoming the CTO of HP Networking. That was the pinnacle of everything I’d built my career on-being a technical leader in an influential position in the industry for a US$3 billion company. It was a great individual achievement, but I’m prouder that my team won Data Communications magazine’s Best Product award for work we did on a packet shaper at a start-up called Xedia.

2.   What first made you think of a career in technology?

As an undergraduate working on a degree in physics, I was part of a team that implemented an algorithm to do non-destructive testing of aircraft engine turbine blades. This had no connection to anything I had studied, but we were able to take high-powered x-ray slice data and determine with optical precision whether turbine blades met specifications, without destroying them. I saw that this capability was beneficial to the world at large as well as my career and I became much more interested in the technology side of things.

3.   What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

What I’ve learned is that if you surround yourself with talented people, put in the effort to understand their individual strengths and skills and give them guidance and freedom to build value for the company, they will be happier in their jobs, more productive for the business and make the leadership team look better in the process.

I constantly seek ways to increase collaboration among all stakeholders who influence strategic direction, because only in a robust system of information sharing will you get to the right outcomes. Collaboration is a more efficient way of accelerating great outcomes, and while I’m willing to object to or override consensus, I’m also willing to be shown that I’m wrong.

4.   What do you think will emerge as a major technology trend over the coming months and why?

Several of the key macro trends have to do with security policy being moved to endpoints, therefore policy enforcement is moving to the Edge. Communication is increasingly global and delivered over cloud infrastructure, this trend is true even for governmental operating environments.

Another key trend in network security involves the coupling of two concepts: Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) and Zero Trust (ZT). What this tight coupling means is that the service edge is describing is how connectivity is authorised and managed between endpoints of a particular security framework or endpoints that might be federated among multiple governing entities, and that will always be done at the Edge and not in some large aggregation environment.

With an aggregated policy framework, the user would come in from outside the firewall intrusion prevention security layer and the request would be interrogated and allowed if it passed policy requirements. Zero Trust flips the model so that users can only gain access to an environment if they have already received authorised credentials and they are known.

5.   What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

The next round of innovations will focus on increasing the collaboration between companies and governments to ensure critical infrastructure keeps us communicating and doing business while also respecting privacy, protecting sensitive data and meeting stronger regulatory requirements.

There will also be a massive increase in investment in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to augment static authorisation frameworks. With these technologies, organisations will be able to tell when something that was previously authorised has departed from its normal behaviour and can no longer be trusted and trust in a well-adapted Zero Trust framework is ephemeral nature and only granted for the needed time or duration for the work to take place that needs to happen and then it is constantly re-interrogated.

In the 10-year horizon, we will start to see real commercial availability of quantum cryptography, which will create an even more difficult barrier to overcome from an adversary perspective. Quantum technologies generally are still in their infancy today, but they will be of significant interest to government entities because the overall benefit with respect to closing security gaps and blocking adversaries is tremendous.

6.   How do you deal with stress and unwind outside of the office?

Throughout my career, I have carved out at least an hour a day to play music. It is so far removed from everything else I do that it helps me recharge. Music opens your mind to new ideas and helps you appreciate deeper connections – and that’s key to success as an executive in a company that prioritises technological innovation.

7.   If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?

I’ve spent my career splitting my time between large stable organisations and small, fledgling start-ups with hopes of repeating the great outcome we had at Xedia. If I’d stayed in a big company, I’d have advanced to the executive realm sooner. In the start-up realm, I might have had an opportunity to maximise the financial outcomes. So, I don’t regret any of my decisions, but if asked to advise someone I’d say you’ve got to choose one road.

8.   What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in Europe?

In Europe, the biggest challenge is accommodating the requirements of the regulatory landscape with respect to GDPR. And it’s a good thing because it requires the right kind of behaviour from everyone in the chain-from enterprises to testers.

Western governments have become heavily reliant on components and material that is sourced in untrusted environments and it becomes exceedingly difficult to secure the supply chain in a manner where a compromised vector isn’t inadvertently authorised to be instantiated in the root of products-right in the silicon itself. Therefore, governments will need to invest to ensure they retain full control over the supply chain.

9.    What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?

The big thing that has changed my role is COVID-19. In my new job, I spent months not meeting anybody. You do everything in a virtual realm. It was unusual and a bit disorienting at times.

The irony of this era, as we became physically disconnected, is that companies were able to respond with an unprecedented level of digital connectivity. To the casual observer, it looked like our critical network infrastructure just adapted to the changing needs of a completely remote workforce overnight. But in fact, network infrastructure has been continually developed against a backdrop of worst-case scenario testing since the early 1990s.

10.   What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain a C-level position in your industry?

If you want to get to C-level, you have to be committed to a professional and equitable way of treating people, because that is how you build trust. Without trust, you will find it difficult to succeed, let alone advance in your career. Be impeccable in your ethical approach to business, be organised and thoughtful, give credit where credit is due and have fun with the people you’re working with.

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