CTO Sessions: Chris Wade, Itential

What has been your greatest career achievement? “Realising the network needed to be treated as software, I was able to help build Itential into a company that would prioritise such unique innovation within a legacy market.”

Headshot of Chris Wade, Co-founder & CTO at Itential

Name: Chris Wade

Company: Itential

Job title: Co-Founder & CTO

Date started current role: January 2014

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Chris Wade co-founded Itential in 2014 to simplify and accelerate the adoption of network automation and to transform network operations practices. Using a model-based approach, Wade leads the innovation and development of the company’s flagship software portfolio of dynamic network automation applications.

What was your first job? I started working in the tech industry as a sales engineer for Micromuse where I built software for network operations. The position became the foundation for my career within the networking industry.   

Did you always want to work in IT? Entering college, my plan was to obtain a computer science degree. I knew my future career would revolve around the tech industry, and I made sure to prepare for this journey. I took all the required courses and taught basic computer certification classes. These classes were common in the 1990s, since few individuals were classically trained in computers.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a bachelor's degree in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I spent just over five years at Micromuse and then took the role of client engagement manager at Reachview Technologies. The company was acquired by Alcatel-Lucent shortly after I was promoted to director of consulting services. I stayed with the company for eight more years and expanded my own knowledge of the network, specifically within the telecom industry. I moved through the company ranks and held the titles of senior director of systems & application integration, senior director of global ITTS (IT & Telecom Services) practice, and operations support system / business support system (OSS/BSS) global practice lead.

While working at Alcatel-Lucent, I met Ian Bresnahan, now president and CEO at Itential. Networks were shifting from a command-line interfaces (CLI) human-centric world to a machine-centric, programmable world. We both realised the importance of treating the network as software rather than hardware and moved to create a company that would treat it as such. Officially establishing Itential in 2014, Ian and I prioritised this shift, having a greater appreciation for the network and what it meant for organisational growth. We built a platform that would consume APIs from controllers and orchestrators and DevOps platforms - enabling us to build applications that would manage modern networking infrastructure.

What type of CTO are you? In my opinion, a CTO can either be the hands-on coding type or someone that takes a product management and sales engineering approach. I am the latter. Focusing on the product and helping customers understand the technology enables me to educate our customers as to why they need these advancements in their organisation. 

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? We are about to witness an incredible amount of innovation in the networking space. Not nearly as many people and organisations that can and should view the network as software do. It is nowhere near its full potential. Transitioning from a box of wires to actual software means the barrier to entry will be lowered exponentially. I predict we will see a lot more advancements in this area in the coming years.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? When considering the potential of artificial intelligence, the argument can be made that while the technology is quite mature, the implementation is not. While we try to apply artificial intelligence as the solution to an array of different problems, it is not always the answer, which means its results can be overestimated.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? Specifically in the past 12 months, I have helped to integrate the use of “committee weeks” at Itential. They take place three times a year and they enable the collaboration of teams across the entire company to participate in strategic company planning. During committee week, sectors of the business partake in unique cross team collaboration that provide guidance and distinct outlooks for the future of Itential. These weeks are a great opportunity to discuss recommendations and additional changes that should be made to better support Itential, our customers, and the company’s objectives and key results. They specifically offer our employees unique experiences to help support company growth, and I am inspired by the resulting innovation from each. Committee weeks drive future company initiatives and help nurture and strengthen employee culture.

I would also like to emphasise that Itential’s involvement in Georgia Tech’s co-op program has become increasingly important. As a Georgia Tech alum, I am always thrilled to have the opportunity to work with and guide future tech grads, and even future Itential employees, through this initiative. Following their co-op experience, we’ve hired several students to remain with the company full-time. While our partnership with Georgia Tech has been in place for the last six years, each year we are always uniquely impressed with these students. This year in particular, being able to offer real-life experience in today’s digital world not only benefits the careers of these future tech grads, but the industry as a whole.

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? The days when the network was commoditised and managed as “just the pipes” is over. Today’s modern network must be as agile (in deployment and in relation to change configuration) as the technologies it supports. As digital transformation cannot occur without a strong network to support it, today’s businesses require a network that can quickly adjust to evolving requirements that enable new services, processes and models.

In that regard, Itential supports its customers’ digital transformation strategies by strengthening their network operations. These initiatives prioritise customer experience, ensuring network users can conduct business without disruptions.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? More and more companies are taking advantage of distributed technology each day. This has further driven the widespread adoption of the cloud and, therefore, a long overdue understanding that the organisation’s network is critical to company operations and growth. Gartner predicts that by 2023, more than 60% of enterprises will deem networking as core to their digital strategies, up from less than 20% today. With that said, they also recognise the obstacles of advancing this digital transformation journey. Until now, organisations have taken the network and its capabilities for granted. But with the rush to digital transformation, CIOs and CTOs realise their networks are not operating as efficiently and effectively as possible, presenting them with challenges that need addressing rather than tools for success.

At Itential, we overcome these obstacles by empowering customers to modernise their network through automation strategies that properly operationalise their networks.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? We focus on building network activity metrics that provide business insights into how technology is used to foster alignment between customer IT goals and a company’s own objectives and key results. As IT people, we always want the latest technology, but we need to consider if the technology will support the company infrastructure and enable us to reach our key goals. At Itential, we offer guidance on how to balance IT wants with actual needs.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? In today’s digital world, the innovation cycle for networking technologies moves incredibly fast. In response, Itential customers are forced to operationalise networking cycles as quickly as possible to properly advance their own digital transformation. To do so requires simple to use, off-the-shelf solutions that can integrate with existing tools in place. This has become increasingly important as organisations adopt new tech strategies that involve hybrid cloud, software-defined networks (SDN), zero trust security, and cloud-based identity access control.

From a product perspective, Itential makes seamless solutions that enable quick adoption. Because we have prioritised innovation within a legacy networking market, Itential has been able to successfully offer these services, matching the tech strategies of our customers.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Effective tech strategies rely on the power of observation and understanding. The tech industry moves incredibly fast, and it needs individuals who will take the time to understand what is happening and what it could potentially mean for the industry before attempting to communicate their own point of view.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? I expect the CTO role to expand into CIO territory. This includes embracing the opportunity to become a lead integrator between company plans and actual execution. While the CIO role has traditionally been more focused on execution, companies will begin to recognise the need to create a whole new role that combines CIO and CTO responsibilities - a CTIO - Chief Technology Innovation Office. Of course, this will also depend on the specific needs of the company and its industry.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Realising the network needed to be treated as software, I was able to help build Itential into a company that would prioritise such unique innovation within a legacy market. Growing Itential with this in mind has been my greatest career achievement to date. It has given me the opportunity to become a thought leader within the networking space and inspire others working in the industry.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Now as CTO and Co-Founder of Itential, I can’t say that I would have changed anything related to my own networking career. Every choice made allowed for the growth and innovation necessary to prove how significant network automation can be for organisations looking to transform their business operations.  

What are you reading now? I am constantly diving into the latest headlines and articles that drive the networking industry, ensuring that I am always aware of the latest innovations, challenges and opportunities surrounding automation.

Most people don't know that I… have a particular interest in skydiving, having jumped out of more than one airplane in the past. I am also learning Chinese.

In my spare time, I like to…prioritise spending time with my family. I enjoy helping my son with his robotics class.

Ask me to do anything but… go shopping.