Robert McNutt is the CTO of Forescout, a cybersecurity company that specialises in protecting the ‘enterprise of things’.
Founded in 2000, the San Jose, California headquartered company provides ‘agentless’ security software that automatically monitors security threats across PCs, mobile, tablet and other internet of things (IoT) devices. As CTO, McNutt works closely with customers to turn customer feedback into the latest product roadmap.
In this Q&A, the 33rd in our weekly series, McNutt discusses the “onslaught” of new internet devices at risk to cyberattacks, explains why we need to accept change whether good or bad and shares his “humbling” Jiu-Jitsu experience.
Rob Scammell: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you end up in your current role?
Robert McNutt: I’ve spent the last 15 years working in cybersecurity, with an emphasis on developing solutions to problems that aren’t solved by off the shelf products.
At Forescout, this also became my evolution through various roles, bringing new solutions or products to market to help customers stay ahead of the bad guys.
What’s the most important thing happening in your field at the moment?
The modernisation of all things digital. More and more devices are being connected and interconnected to various networks and to the internet. This is driving the need to defend the enterprise network against adversaries who try to take advantage of this onslaught of new things that could present an attack vector.
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Which emerging technology do you think holds the most promise once it matures?
Machine Learning. Many use it today to help replace mundane tasks or find similarities in large amounts of data, but once it can mature beyond the need to be trained, we’ll see some true advantages.
How do you separate hype from disruptor?
A disruptor needs to actually provide value to a customer and not just demonstrate it. Hype is typically created by something that seems too good to be true, and that usually is the case.
It can also be determined by how much money is spent on marketing & sales, vs R&D. Typically, a disruptor needs to improve upon something that is already valuable – whereas hype is the belief that something entirely new will have value.
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given?
Go big or go home. It sounds cliché, but I translate this into the idea that whatever you try to achieve, do it with a bar set higher than what’s actually needed.
Where did your interest in tech come from?
As a child, I always wanted to know how the rooms full of computers in racks worked. I once got a chance to help my mother’s company set up their new office at age 10, and from that point on I sought to connect anything I could to a network, make those things work together and make others benefit from the value I saw.
That eventually translated into my home life, where I have my entire house connected to home automation, everything from lights, switches, fireplaces, the pool, thermostats, garage door opener – you name it!
What does a typical day look like for you?
I spend a lot of time talking to customers about our future plans and investments while also listening to theirs. It seems simple but, if you align your plans to what the paying person’s plans are, you’ll usually find a point where what you are making is actually valuable and will make sense to buy!
What do you do to relax?
Jiu-Jitsu. I only started recently but it’s a great workout and very humbling to get defeated over and over again by people of equal age and build – just with more knowledge and technique! Aside from that, spending time with friends and family outside is another outlet for me, especially considering we all spend much more time inside these days than ever before.
Who is your tech hero?
Bill Gates, hands down. To achieve a point in life where your knowledge and dedication to technology benefits people, not just large companies, is something to strive for. Bill not only was the seed for one of the most valuable companies on the planet but also helped revolutionise how we use technology every day. That success now generates a massive effort to help those who couldn’t benefit from the success of Microsoft directly and I think that is the true sign of success.
What’s the biggest technological challenge facing humanity?
Acceptance of change, both good and bad. We live in a world where there are people who are willing to do everything digital and those who are wholly against it. To truly advance, we need to completely leave behind legacy things that have been made better.
Read more: CTO Talk: Q&A with Healx’s Meri Williams