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October 29, 2020updated 30 Oct 2020 12:54pm

CTO Talk: Q&A with Versa Networks’ Apurva Mehta

By Robert Scammell

Apurva Mehta is the CTO of Versa Networks, a cybersecurity company that provides SD-WAN and SASE software to protect network security infrastructure for enterprises and service providers.

Founded in 2013, the Silicon Valley-based company has raised more than $43m in venture capital funding. It counts the likes of Adobe, Infosys and Barclays among its customers using its end-to-end solution.

In this Q&A, the 35th in our weekly series, Mehta explains how the pandemic has brought a focus to connecting users to applications, shares his advice for spotting true disruptors and reveals technology’s most important purpose.

Rob Scammell: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you end up in your current role?

Apurva Mehta: I’m currently the CTO and co-founder of Versa Networks, which I founded with my brother, Kumar, in 2013. Before we founded our company, I was CTO and chief architect of Juniper’s MX series routers and Mobility Business Unit. I also held senior technical leadership roles at companies such as Riverstone Networks, YAGO Systems and Centillion Networks.

While working at Juniper, myself and Kumar saw that the industry and cloud service providers were looking for a decoupling of software and hardware and, more specifically, they were looking for a software-defined solution for networking and security services that was programmable, cloud-native, elastic and well suited for the new age of SaaS applications. And that’s why Versa Networks was founded.

What’s the most important thing happening in your field at the moment?

Due to the pandemic, people are increasingly working from home and remote places, and some are working from offices and factories. In our field, there is a huge focus on the ability to optimally connect users to applications (in corporate datacentres, cloud service providers, or on the internet), securely, and privately with protection from data leakage and bad actors.

Which emerging technology do you think holds the most promise once it matures?

Right now, Versa sees a lot of promise in software-defined WAN; secure access, branch consolidation, software-defined security, and secure access service edge (SASE). We are focusing all our energy on these areas of technology in order to optimally connect users to applications no matter where they are residing. In the current world, technology that allows employees to work from anywhere without any disruptions, security issues or downtime, holds the most promise.

How do you separate hype from disruptor?

We engage with our customers and discuss with them what problems they are trying to solve. The technology industry is growing at a rapid rate and there are always new technologies emerging, so it is natural for there to be hype around those. Nevertheless, new technologies also bring about disruption.

In order to separate hype from true disrupters, I look at whether any new technology is really solving a genuine customer problem differently and efficiently, or if it is just causing a lot of noise in the industry. To determine whether a new technology we are creating will be a disruptor, I ask myself questions such as, “Is it solving a real customer issue in a better manner and efficiently? Is this solution more scalable and providing agility? Would it lead to a cheaper/economical product for our customers?”

However, at the end of the day, any technology has some amount of a hype cycle before disruption really happens.

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given?

The first piece is definitely “keep yourself abreast of the technology”. As a CTO, I always think about this, both from a high level as well as a low-level perspective. Sometimes in the tech industry, we can know a lot of buzzwords but not really know how our own products work and whether they are genuinely fulfilling the needs of customers. You must keep yourself abreast of technology at all levels to truly be a disruptor.

Another great one is: “Put your ego aside, the best solutions come from anybody and everybody”. The most important thing to do is to build the best product that your customers will benefit from.

Where did your interest in tech come from?

I always wanted to do something with computers and electronics, and that’s how I started. I was fortunate enough to get into some of the best schools in the world – both in India and the US and I’ve consciously always chosen to remain super technical and pride myself on being a prolific software engineer.

I’m always working to do something market-defining, and something that will solve true customer needs. I’ve always been a technology geek and that’s what I enjoy!

What does a typical day look like for you?

I’m involved in a lot of design and implementation related discussions. A big part of my job requires solving difficult and complex pain points of our customers and thinking through various alternatives related to the technology we’re trying to build and improve.

I spend a lot of time thinking through things, about how I would solve the problem. And the rest of the day is filled with customer meetings.

What do you do to relax?

I do several indoor and outdoor activities and spend time with my family (the most important thing).

Who is your tech hero?

I don’t necessarily hero-worship anyone, but I’d say examples would include people such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk who all have done amazing things for the world and introduced us to amazing technologies.

However, there are many people who were responsible for things like building the technology behind the internet – they’re probably not well known to a lot of people, but they’ve done amazing things too. The whole internet is built on a technology which is very scalable, and which is constantly evolving and being refined. I have a lot of respect for the people who did that work, as well as the countless people working so hard behind the scenes in the technology industry, be that in my company or in others.

What’s the biggest technological challenge facing humanity?

The pandemic! It’s something that’s affecting the whole world, and of course, technology is a bit part of that – think of biotechnology and the manufacturing of vaccines, etc.

Personally, I’d love to see the industry develop technologies that empower and enable people, as well as allows them to reach their full potential irrespective of their financial status, where they come from, the colour of their skin, etc. In my opinion, technology’s most important job is to allow people to attain happiness.

Read more: CTO Talk: Q&A with Funding Options’ Aleks Kudic