CTO Sessions: Anusha Iyer, Corsha

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? “I view the role of CTO increasingly as being a product and technology evangelist at the intersection of product teams, company leadership, and the customer.”

Headshot of Anusha Iyer, Co-founder & CTO at Corsha
Corsha

Name: Anusha R. Iyer

Company: Corsha, Inc.

Job title: CTO and Co-Founder

Date started current role: January 2018

Location: Tysons Corner, VA

Anusha Iyer is the CTO and Co-Founder of Corsha. She is a technology leader with over 15 years of experience in security-minded software, analytics, and managed services. A Carnegie Mellon alum, she started in the Washington, DC area at the Naval Research Lab. At Corsha, Iyer is passionate about making security accessible, easy to adopt, even self-assuring.

What was your first job? My first job was with a small 10 person FinTech firm in White Plains NY, where I did everything from answering telephones to solving troublesome customer integration bugs to writing backend C code.

Did you always want to work in IT? Actually, growing up I really wanted to go into journalism and eventually be an editor. That might be why I still really love code review today. 

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a B.S in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University and then I was a PhD dropout from SUNY Buffalo, so I ended up with a Masters, where my focus was in cybersecurity.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. After my Masters, I’ve pretty much always been working but early on with a young family I would sometimes vacillate between working full-time and part-time.  When I first moved to the DC area, I spent about 5 years at the Naval Research Lab working on fun programs around reverse engineering and tactical edge networking.  I’ve pretty much been in the cybersecurity space for about 20 years now.

Right before starting Corsha, I did take a bit of a detour. I had been working at a company called Galois that did a lot of work with DARPA, and I was managing some DARPA programs for them in the realm of cybersecurity and privacy. I had decided I was going to leave and start a small coding academy in our neighborhood, focused on helping kids at a very young age appreciate the fundamentals of computer science. STEM education and getting kids excited about computer science and programming has always been near and dear to my heart. Honestly CS is sort of foundational these days and part of nearly every career path, so it’s important to get kids started and excited early. I did actually teach a couple of courses that summer but then my Co-founder convinced me to start Corsha and here we are. 

What type of CTO are you? Increasingly I’m operating as a Sales and Customer Champion CTO, almost the Chief Technology Evangelist. When we first started Corsha, I took on a strong Product Ownership role as the product picture I had in my head was complex and risky. Now as we’ve grown our team and matured our product, I’m privileged to work with an amazing group of engineers and fantastic leads that are taking the helm of product execution. It’s pretty incredible actually that our core engineering team has now almost been with us from the very beginning and will all be coming up on four years with Corsha.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? First, Distributed Ledger technologies – As we are seeing more applications of DLT, I’m really excited about the security and cryptographic guarantees this tech can provide and it’s really a confluence of so many factors that makes it possible to take Distributed Ledgers to the next level today, including cloud, speed of compute, and orchestration technologies.

Second, Infrastructure as Code and Orchestration Technologies like Kubernetes and Terraform – These allow product companies to easily and repeatably spin up responsive, at-scale environments. At Corsha we’ve really tried to stay purely cloud-native, Kubernetes-native in fact which has really helped us position as a cloud-agnostic solution provider.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? More than specific technologies, my concern is always around hyping up emerging technologies as opposed to focusing on the problems they enable us to solve. It’s too easy to blindly embrace a particular technology like Blockchain, AI/ML today and then we fall into the world of buzz words. To me these are just technologies suited to solve particular problems and not universal hammers. As technologists, I think we really need to challenge our technology stack choices and be able to defend the why and the how not just to ourselves but our customers. 

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? My co-founder and I have been really committed to culture within Corsha from Day One. In the past year, as we bring on new folks, I’m seeing phrases that we’ve routinely said now being repeated and a part of the team culture. For example, I always tell folks - especially during interviews and onboarding - that we’re committed to watching the direction that someone’s feet walk and creating opportunities for them to pursue what brings them joy at work. The other day, I heard someone genuinely ask another engineer, “but is that the direction your feet are walking?” So proud that this turning into a part of our culture.

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? Corsha is a technology startup in an emerging cybersecurity space – API security AND using emerging technologies. So yes it definitely feels that we are at  the forefront of a digital transformation. We are very focused on customer education and experience as well as of course revenue growth. Fortunately, we’ve selected an infrastructure stack that allows us to stay very nimble and in turn pretty operationally efficient but our biggest hill right now certainly is customer adoption and experience.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? The biggest problem we are helping customers solve is stopping the use of stolen API credentials. Increasingly API usage in enterprises is exploding, especially with the migration to cloud and containers. Industries such as finance, healthcare and telecom are adopting open API standards to enhance the customer experience and make the movement of data easier. The result is that attacks against APIs are increasing rapidly. Credential stuffing attacks have massively shifted to targeting API credentials. These stolen credentials can then be compromised to gain unauthorised access to systems and steal or manipulate data. So we are working to help customers shore up their API secrets posture and bring something we are all very familiar with in human authentication – Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) to APIs.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? We have been very intentional from the beginning to embrace a modern technology stack and technologies that we see commonly used in practice. It helps us deeply understand and empathise with our customers cybersecurity and integration challenges. Further, we stay nimble by being cloud-native, even cloud-agnostic.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Not really. Given that we are an early-stage startup with a single product now – an API security platform, it’s pretty straightforward to align our product strategy with our tech strategy.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Asking tough questions and always adapting.  Especially for an early product, every choice can have a huge impact on future roadmap so it’s really important to challenge choices with touch questions. Also, this is a truism but tech is constantly evolving and our insights are constantly updating. To be effective, CTO’s have to be willing to revisit a product roadmap and tech stack choices, adjust, and be nimble. 

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? I view the role of CTO increasingly as being a product and technology evangelist at the intersection of product teams, company leadership, and the customer.  Most of my day is spent on socialising and convincing others around product ideas in any and all of these directions, whether it’s capturing customer feedback and requirements and incorporating them into our product roadmap, socialising technology choices by the engineering team to leadership, or getting alignment from engineering.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Definitely taking the leap of faith to start Corsha. It’s just been this incredible journey of building a company and a product from scratch, gaining the confidence of investors in a vision, building an incredible team, and we’re just getting started!

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Focus, focus, focus. Particularly for a young company and early product, focus is key. In hindsight, I would likely have said no to many more things early on like creating multiple flavors of the product or taking on integrations too early. As difficult as it is to do early on in product evolution because you are desperately looking for adoption, saying no often and with conviction is even more important than saying yes.

What are you reading now? As we are growing our team and the company, I am focused on how to be intentional yet still explosive about that growth so I’ve been reading Measure What Matters by John Doerr as well as Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. On a more personal note, I’m also reading Seeking Fortune Elsewhere by Sindya Bhanoo. Sindya and I were really close friends at CMU, and she’s written an amazing story on the complex journeys of South Asian immigrants as a collection of short stories.

Most people don't know that I… love Legos and sharing cringy puns with my kids every morning on Instagram.

In my spare time, I like to…Cook for my family and play games. I’ve started playing pickleball, which is really fun and lets me exercise my ruthlessly competitive spirit a bit.

Ask me to do anything but… Pay bills or really any type of routine tasks. I love projects and initiatives and honestly really struggle with rote tasks. That said, I am the bill payer at home so I guess we all do what we have to do.