Casey Ellis is the CTO, chairman and founder of Bugcrowd, the cybersecurity startup that crowdsources white hat security researchers to find and eliminate vulnerabilities.
Ellis has been at the coalface of the cybersecurity industry for over two decades, having cut his teeth as a networking consultant in Australia.
As such, he is well-versed with the growing threat of cybercrime, something that has been highlighted in a thematic research report from GlobalData.
His solution was to found a company. The Bugcrowd CTO launched the company in 2012 to help companies launch bug bounty programmes like those run by Google, Facebook and PayPal.
Since then, the San Francisco-based company has raised over $80m of funding in total, most recently via a $30m Series D funding round in April 2020.
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Where did your interest in tech come from?
The precursor around the tech side of things was my father, a science teacher, who always had various tech gadgets at home that I would take apart and put back together. I am a part of the Oregon Trail generation – people on the cusp of the Generation X/Millennials – so I started school without computers, but by the time I finished school they were everywhere. My generation’s experience is both analogue and digital by default, which I feel gives us a unique ability to be comfortable with technology, without getting distracted from the things that need to be done.
Which emerging technology do you think holds the most promise once it matures?
Quantum computing. Many of our core design assumptions in computer science are based on serialised processing and Moore’s Law, and quantum breaks almost all of the rules we’ve been working with thus far. When we are able to interact with quantum on a commercial level, it will fundamentally alter these assumptions in ways I don’t believe we have had the opportunity to consider yet.
What one piece of advice would you offer to other CTOs?
Make deliberate efforts to operate cross-functionally and make sure you are filling out the entire value chain of the problems that you are trying to solve. Having problem-solution fit is awesome, but if you never get connected to the place where the problem exists out there in the market then it can very easily become “the tree which fell in the forest while no one was around”. On top of this, I think it’s important to be as comfortable and confident in the things that you are uniquely good at, while being absolutely relentless about partnering with others to fill your own gaps. No one person can do all of it.
What’s the most surprising thing about your job?
The CTO’s office ends up holding a great deal of the answers to questions people don’t know to ask or solve themselves. So, there is a need to proactively seek out these questions, the gaps which exist in the product, market, business and to make sure your ability to answer those questions is broadly known within the company. This means putting deliberate effort across silos to establish cross-functional collaboration, and to some extent taking on the task of “marketing the CTO’s office” internally as well as externally.
What’s the biggest technological challenge facing humanity?
Truth. Humans are increasingly finding it difficult to know what we think, versus what we’ve been told to think. That line has always been blurry and challenging to manage, but the level of connectedness and speed brought about by technology has made it almost impossible to differentiate at this point in time. The most significant technological challenge is integrating ethical design into a model that can grow as a business and safeguard the integrity of humanity itself.
What’s the most important thing happening in your field at the moment?
The collective realisation that imperfection and the vulnerability that it can produce is a product of being human that it is impossible to eliminate. Traditionally in security, the focus has been on reducing risk to zero but that is not a practical goal. The other thing is that the role of hackers as helpful is well-established now, and is continuing to overcome the “default bad guy” persona people with my skills have had over the years. This is tremendously important for good security feedback loops around the technology we build.
In another life you’d be?