CTO Sessions: Milind Borate, Druva

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? "Blockchain was overhyped, but hopefully we are past it now. IoT and artificial intelligence are also overhyped at this stage."

Name: Milind Borate

Company: Druva

Job title: Co-Founder and CTO

Date started current role: 2007

Location: Pune, India

Milind Borate has more than 20 years' experience in enterprise product development and delivery. Prior to co-founding Druva, he worked at Veritas Software as Technical Director for SAN-FS and served on Veritas patent committee. Borate holds several patents in storage technology and co-authored the book "Undocumented Windows NT" in 1998. His current areas of interest are cloud storage and machine learning for unstructured data.

What was your first job? After graduating I joined Persistent Systems as a software engineer, although it was a short stint (1 year) until I left to join a US based start-up Advanced Computing Systems Company (ACSC). I learned a lot about storage system architecture from industry veterans in ACSC and then, Veritas where I spent almost 8 years as a technical director. 

Did you always want to work in IT? Growing up I was a fairly average student and hated the pressure of taking exams, but I was fascinated by how things around me worked. This piqued my interest in science outside the classroom. I remember from a young age I used to break open my toys to understand their mechanics, and then enjoy figuring out how to put them back together again. 

I knew I wanted to pursue a career in engineering from the very onset, although computer science was just breaking into India when I finished high school. The concept of a ‘universal machine that can perform a task with the right software program' absolutely captivated me, and with the support and guidance from my teachers at college and mentors through my professional career I was able to translate my passion into my work.  

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? As a student I was so overwhelmed by taking exams I decided not to go for higher studies and instead chose a three-year diploma in engineering - much to my father's disappointment who had high hopes of me pursuing a career in medicine. Through my studies, my passion for building things grew into an interest in computers. My assembly language professor really nurtured my curiosity about microprocessors and programming, and I developed somewhat of a flair for coding and programming which led to me pursuing computer science engineering at the Pune Institute of Computer Technology (PICT). 

After graduating, I went straight into the world of work, and after a few years in the industry I realised that I had so much more to learn about software development I decided to join IIT Bombay for post-grad course in computer sciences. 

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. As I mentioned, I always wanted to pursue an engineering career although I never really had a big career plan or any entrepreneurial aspirations. In my final year of my post-grad, I joined Veritas as a software developer on the file system team. I got the opportunity to work with some of the best minds in storage management during my years in Veritas. When Jaspreet, Ramani, and I decided to start Druva, we chose to solve a problem around data management. We identified disaster recovery as a critical problem that was only solved in the largest enterprises because of cost and complexity involved in setting up a disaster recovery solution. We embarked on building a simpler and more affordable solution to democratise disaster recovery - this is how Druva was born.

Within Druva, I continued to focus on technology. I ran engineering for 6-7 years and now lead the CTO office with a dual responsibility of setting architectural direction for the engineering team and running Druva Labs to explore future-looking product concepts and technologies.

What type of CTO are you? Every leader's role is to create an environment for team members to succeed. As CTO, my job is not to come up with the best ideas. Instead, my job is to create an environment where my team can freely share their ideas. I contribute by recognising good ideas and supporting teams to build on those. Great ideas challenge the status-quo, but are characterised by simplicity, customer value, and feasibility. 

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? There are three technology trends that strengthen each other: public cloud, IoT, and machine learning. Big data forms the underlying strata for these three trends. Then there are technologies like genetics, robotics, clean energy, quantum computing, and self-driving vehicles that have the potential to change the world. 

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Blockchain was overhyped, but hopefully we are past it now. Using blockchains as a currency is flawed because historically, governments have controlled currency and they are unlikely to give that up. Blockchain as immutable ledger is a valid use case but it has limited value.

IoT and artificial intelligence are also overhyped at this stage. IoT is in its infancy solving very simple and disconnected use cases. AI (ML to be precise) is able to identify spam email, act as translators, and win Go games. It's still about machine learning (deep neural networks) and has not reached real "intelligence." Still, both of these technologies bring a lot of value in their current state and have tremendous potential that will take many more years to realise.

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? Last year, we started the "Unlocking Value of Data" initiative in Druva. The idea is to go beyond data protection and data management. We want to help our customers to start thinking about data as an asset (and not a liability) by helping them extract the business value of their data.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Yes, we are working on digital transformation for both customer experience and operational efficiency. These two objectives of digital transformation are not competing with each other and in fact work hand-in-hand. Our effort towards collecting and analysing data helps to make progress on both better customer experience and improving operational efficiency.

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? In a digital word, data is both a challenge and an opportunity. Managing petabytes of data distributed over different data sources (NAS, S3, databases, virtual machines, laptops, SaaS applications) is a big challenge for enterprises today. The opportunity to use this data for analytics and machine learning, and ultimately improve the customer experience and operational efficiency. Druva helps its customers to manage their data and to unlock the value of it. 

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? At Druva, product managers and engineers work very closely together. Product managers have a deep understanding of business goals and customer requirements, whereas engineers have a deep understanding of technology. 

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? There are two challenges with adopting new technology - one: technology maturity curves before it becomes ready for production-grade systems; Two: skillset availability. 

What makes an effective tech strategy? I see five steps that are needed to make this successful. The first is to track technology advances. Next is to experiment to validate the tech and then analyse hype vs real potential. Then comes the tricky part - to wait until the tech is ready, but to not wait any longer than absolutely necessary. There is a small window to make your name in a space and it's critical to leverage this time as much as possible. Lastly, it's key to understand the "disruptive" nature of new tech and use it to solve the right problem.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? Technology continues to change at a rapid pace and is becoming more relevant in day-to-day business. It's hard to find a business that does not use technology. With the inevitable use of technology in all types of enterprises, a CTO will become a key part of the executive team in almost every business, but it will also become more challenging given the rapid pace of change and innovation.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Successfully transitioning Druva products from a company focused on on-premise deployment to 100 percent public cloud deployment and moving from a software license model to Software as a Service model. It was a challenging transition, but we recognised the potential of cloud, and that hard work is now paying tremendous dividends for the company. 

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Nothing big. Small things here and there, like selling my Veritas ESOP when it was at its peak before dotcom crash :)

What are you reading now? The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni, Algorithms to Live by by Brian Christian. On the fiction front, I'm reading Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy all over again!

Most people don't know that I… am a Potterhead - a diehard fan of the Harry Potter series.

In my spare time, I like to…Read, listen to Indian classical music, make origami, and go trekking.

Ask me to do anything but… Maintain the status-quo.