CTO Sessions: Bob Baxley, Bastille Networks

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? “We emphasize business goals and then are very judicious about how we pick technology to implement those business goals.”

Bastille Networks

Name: Bob Baxley

Company: Bastille Networks

Job title: CTO, Co-Founder

Date started current role: January 2014

Location: Atlanta, GA

For more than a decade, Dr. Bob Baxley has been a technology leader in implementing machine learning algorithms for software defined and cognitive radios. At Bastille, Baxley serves as Chief Technology Officer where he leads the development of systems to sift through massive amounts of radio frequency data to protect enterprises from radio threats. Prior to joining Bastille, Baxley was the Director of the Software Defined Radio Lab at Georgia Tech, where he led basic and applied research projects for organisations including NSF, ONR, Army, DoD, Air Force and DARPA.

What was your first job? I worked for General Dynamics for several summers in graduate school where I helped develop robust tactical waveforms and ended up getting a couple patents in the process. 

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? I always wanted to work in tech. In high school, I geeked out building robots for competitions, programming calculators with games to entertain my friends, and building websites for small businesses. 

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they?  I am a former academic. I have a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech (Go Jackets!). I studied algorithmic methods for making cellular base stations more power efficient in graduate school.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. It has actually been a fairly straight trajectory. I worked for 6 years as a research faculty member at Georgia Tech working on wireless and radio frequency (RF) projects. I did everything from analysing jamming systems for Department of Defense (DoD) customers, creating mobile robots that used software defined radios (SDRs), and machine learning to intelligently adapt to their environment and optimise their communications. 

In 2014, I competed in the DARPA Spectrum Challenge which was a competition to build a smart autonomous radio system that could both jam adversaries in the radio frequency (RF) spectrum while still achieving robust communications. My team placed second and the exposure from that result got me connected with the other founders of Bastille. Today at Bastille, I am still working with colleagues from that DARPA competition building and scaling our products.

What type of CTO are you?  I am a subject matter expert CTO that guides R&D and the technical product vision for Bastille. Part of that role involves interacting with customers and prospects to learn about their needs and how we can make them successful. 

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of?  There are technologies all over the map that get me excited from electric vehicles to generative AI models. 

But in my space, I am very excited about the burst of innovation coming related to radio frequency spectrum allocation and communication. The FCC has been very proactive in opening up new spectrum bands and sanctioning new modalities of spectrum usage. The coming innovations in the CBRS 3.5GHz band are exciting as they will facilitate private 5G deployments that may start to displace Wi-Fi as the private in-building RF network of choice. 

Millimeter wave 5G communications are also an exciting development. By enabling multi-gigabit data throughputs, we will certainly see novel applications emerge in the mobile computing space.

I am also excited about consumer radar applications. With inexpensive radar chipsets available and companies like Google integrating radar into their phones, I think we are just scratching the surface on how effectively radar imaging can be used for everything from mobile phone interactions to elder-care monitoring.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Crypto seems to have been overhyped. Clearly, there is real value in some business niches for distributed blockchains, but  we haven’t seen blockchain or crypto currencies take off like some might have expected based on the hype in the last few years.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? In the last 12 months, Bastille has launched three new products. That is a huge feat in a software+hardware company.

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, at Bastille we are definitely revolutionising and “digitising” TSCM (technical surveillance counter-measures) which is the legacy method of scanning a facility for audio bugs and rogue radio frequency devices. By deploying persistent Bastille sensors, our customers get continuous visibility into all of the RF devices in their space and can automate alerting and interdiction using our platform. This provides an operational efficiency improvement because it is less expensive and less human-intensive to have our system watch your radio spectrum compared to humans doing manual sweeps.  

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Modernising their device policies and procedures. Once a customer deploys Bastille, they have so much opportunity to automate what used to be manual processes. So, we spend a lot of time helping them get into that new frame of mind.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals?  We emphasise business goals and then are very judicious about how we pick technology to implement those business goals. It is critical to not get distracted building technology that doesn’t enhance our core value proposition. That means, we do not reinvent wheels that already exist.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? It can be a challenge, especially since our product involves cutting-edge hardware components. There is really no substitute for just putting in some hard work up front to perform diligence on new technology components that get introduced into your tech stack. So, that boils down to a major component of our tech strategy: be thorough.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Clearly articulating the strategy is an obvious component. A less obvious component is that leadership and constant internal communications are required to make a strategy stick.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? I only really have the perspective of a product-development CTO. With that said, I see that the increasing breadth and speed of technological advancement will require CTOs to lean more on their teams to discover new best practices and quickly fold in those advancements into their organisations.

What has been your greatest career achievement? My greatest career achievement is helping to build Bastille from an idea into a thriving company that sells a comprehensive hardware-software system. I’m proud of my contributions to that achievement, but I’m also proud to have helped create the fantastic innovation machine that we have at Bastille.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have started in the start-up world sooner. Nothing is quite as thrilling from a career perspective as working at an early-stage company because you learn a tremendous amount about all aspects of business. 

What are you reading now? I just finished reading America's Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve by Roger Lowenstein. It was a really interesting history of how the Federal Reserve came to be.

Most people don't know that I… I rowed in college and briefly held the world record for the 100k Ergometer row. I no longer row regularly, but I do play hockey a few times a week in an over-30 league.

In my spare time, I like to…Be active, whether it is walking, biking, roller blading, playing sports, or even board games, I am into active-participation activities.

Ask me to do anything but… listen to a podcast at 1X speed.