We’re excited to introduce a new quarterly blog series that will shine a light on Illumio’s executive leadership team. The goal of Executive Spotlights is to showcase the integral leaders and executives responsible for shaping our culture and driving business here at Illumio – exploring everything from their business priorities and leadership philosophies, to what they like to do in their spare time.
For our first Executive Spotlight, Ben Verghese, Chief Architect and SVP of Engineering, shares his perspective on values he looks for in engineering leaders, the best business advice he’s ever received, and what makes his team at Illumio so special. Read on to see what's top of mind for Ben!
Tell me about yourself. What do you do at Illumio?
I’m currently the Chief Architect at Illumio. In fact, this month marks my 10-year anniversary here. For the first 9 years, I ran engineering, and this year I’ve taken on a new role as Chief Architect.
As Chief Architect, it’s a particularly exciting time. Our architecture continues to evolve and transform, incorporating the latest in various trends and customer feedback. We now have significantly higher scale asks of our Zero Trust Segmentation platform driven by new large endpoint customers and existing server customers. And we have plans to expand our capabilities in the cloud, driven by the need for a distributed processing architecture to service multi-cloud and hybrid cloud. Lastly, I’m excited about the general modernization of our architecture with containers, micro-services and new CI/CD pipeline tools. In short, we have many interesting challenges and opportunities ahead of us.
What traits do you value in engineers and engineering leaders?
I value many traits in engineers, but, perhaps most importantly, I look at ownership and accountability. I think of it like this: If you take responsibility for something, you should see it through to the end. It doesn’t mean you have to know everything or have all the answers, it just means you have to chase every aspect or question down and either get it solved or show why it can’t be solved and ask for help. When people take accountability, it makes it easier to scale organizations.
What is the best business or leadership advice you’ve ever received?
That’s a good question. I think back to a critical episode from the Apple TV show, Ted Lasso (a personal favorite of mine). In this episode, Ted gets challenged by the “villain” (Rupert) to a dart throwing competition. Rupert is so sure of his superiority that he does not ask Ted any questions, and wagers control of the football club. Ted messes around in the beginning using his non-dominant hand and misses horribly. But at crunch time after reverting to his dominant hand, he throws the darts right where they need to go and wins the competition. His words and the life lesson I like so much is: “Be curious, not judgmental.”
I think that’s a very important lesson for individuals in any department of any organization. When someone brings up an idea, it can be easy to dismiss it. But we’ll miss things that way. Listen to people, ask them hard questions. Ask why as many times as you can or want. And maybe there is something important that you may have missed, because everyone comes with a different perspective. As a leader, you need to try to understand differing perspectives and look for the value in what diverse thought brings.
What makes Illumio and the engineering team so special?
If someone’s thinking about working at Illumio and they’re good at what they do, I’d say come on board! Jokes aside, from an engineering perspective, one of the things I tell people that are thinking about joining the team is that we have a very tall tech stack. We deal with problems at all levels.
If you’re interested in networking security problems, the Virtual Enforcement Node (VEN) folks are deep in there with a lot of low-level system type problems. If you’re interested in distributed systems, our whole product is that – the Policy Compute Engine (PCE) and the stuff we’re doing in CloudSecure are dealing with the whole gamut of those kinds of distributed systems. If you’re interested in building great user interfaces (UI) that are easy to use and beautiful in nature, we’ve got that, too.
So, from a technical stack, we cover a large breadth. And if you’re excited about exploring multiple parts of it, you can go for it here! From a purely technical perspective, again, I’d say that you can find very interesting challenges here at all levels.
What is something that you like to do in your spare time?
My two passions outside of work these days are the game of squash and gardening. I have been an avid squash player for over 20 years because it is challenging both physically and mentally. Gardening is just very relaxing. It connects you to nature and you constantly learn new things. Curiosity and constant learning are two big themes for me.
Everyone at Illumio went above and beyond to make me feel welcome, both as a first-time virtual intern and newcomer to cybersecurity. I knew very little of the space beyond what I had picked up on the fly gearing up for my first day.