C-suite career advice: Lalit Ahluwalia, Inspira Enterprise

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? “Embracing a broad vision of the business, no matter your specialisation.”

Headshot of Lalit Ahluwalia, CEO and Global Cybersecurity Head at Inspira Enterprise
Inspira Enterprise

Name: Lalit Ahluwalia

Company: Inspira Enterprise, Inc.

Job Title: CEO and Global Cybersecurity Head

Location: Dallas, Texas

A passionate cyber security leader, Lalit Ahluwalia is the CEO and Global Cybersecurity Head for Inspira. He has a professional track record of successfully establishing cybersecurity programs and helping clients become cyber resilient in the face of a constantly evolving cyber threat landscape. Under his leadership, Inspira leverages automation, AI/ML and innovative methods to bring tailored next gen cybersecurity solutions for Inspira’s clients. 

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? The most valuable piece of career advice I have received is to always keep things simple. We don’t want to complicate things because it has a tendency to throw off channels. Second is to stay relevant. We live in a very dynamic world, nothing is a true constant - we need to incorporate growth into our lifestyle. Specifically, with cybersecurity, if you aren’t constantly adapting, you may become obsolete. My third piece of advice is that you want to become the “go-to” person, because that develops your personal brand. You want people to see your contributions. 

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? The worst piece of business advice I have received was that it’s all about you. It’s not all about you, it’s about investing in your team or community to help them grow. We want to elevate everybody around us to promote growth and ultimately a healthy business environment. 

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? A piece of advice that I would give someone starting a career in IT/tech would be to be specialised, with a broad vision. You don’t want to be generic, so home in on a specialisation and keep the bigger picture in mind. In my own experience, I started off very technical, focusing on specific domains - when I learned to connect with the business and its goals, my career trajectory improved dramatically. 

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? I didn’t always want to work in IT/tech, actually - I always dreamed of being a policeman. I liked that it gave me the authority to instill change, but I was always a logical person, and enjoyed science and mathematics. When I was a kid I liked to play video games, so programming came easy to me. I enjoyed computer science, and I really started to capitalise on that interest as I got older.

What was your first job in IT/tech? My career in tech really started after I graduated. I wanted to start at the Computer Aided Design / Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAD - CAM) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), but I started writing programming that became the SiteMinder product. That project ultimately helped define me and my career in identity access management. 

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? One of the most common misconceptions is that it's all technical. Most people think that I am doing tech coding all day, but in truth, 70-80% of my time is spent working in communications and managing stakeholders. Understanding the business itself is important.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? The first tip I would give to someone aiming for a c-level position is to understand what C-level really means. C-level is about taking care of the business, taking care of people and taking care of what matters. Embracing a broad vision of the business, no matter your specialisation. One of the most important criteria’s for success is understanding people - if you can understand what your clients want and what your people want, you will improve your chances of success. 

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? My career ambition is to make an impact. Holding a presidential title is relative, what matters is the impact you can make on your community. Life is often too short to be truly impactful, so I continue to strive towards that objective. I think that creates a more fulfilling experience. The question is, what bigger impact can I make with my strengths, and my business?

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I think that it’s always a constant battle and as long as you consciously keep reminding yourself to maintain a balance, then you will do just fine. I have two boys at home, and I think I have found a good work life balance.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I don’t think that I would change anything about the career path I took. I learned a lot of valuable life lessons along the way. What I might’ve done is apply those lessons that I learned more frequently, so I don’t make as many repeat mistakes. However, I think I was given opportunities to do what I wanted with my career and for that reason, I wouldn’t change anything.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I would recommend pursuing both a coding bootcamp and a computer science degree, but I think what is really important is finding a path that best connects you with technology. A degree is helpful, but it ultimately comes down to the application. I think more importantly, understand the reason why you are pursuing a computer science degree, or a coding certification. 

How important are specific certifications? I think specific certifications are really important. It provides some kind of benchmark, but again, the most important thing is whether you can apply your skills to your domain or not. Being capable in a technical aspect and willing to develop and grow is more valuable than a specific certification.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? The first quality I consider is the candidate’s attitude. If you don’t have a good attitude, I won’t be willing to teach you the necessary skills to grow into your role. The second quality is ownership and accountability. I am always looking for someone who can take accountability and live up to their commitments. The third quality is being a good team-player. We want teams to succeed together, and it is vital that all members are invested in the team’s overall success above their own. Besides those qualities, I am looking for a candidate with the fundamental skills for the role.

What would put you off a candidate? One of the biggest deterring factors is when the candidate seems lost in their own world. They are not engaging in conversation, and do not display a desire to gain a deeper understanding. Candidates that project themselves rather than formulating thoughtful questions to understand the business or company itself is another common mistake.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? There are a few common mistakes I see in candidates. The first is a lack of research or preparation. This could mean understanding the business, or its goals. The second is focusing too much on themselves versus explaining why they are a good fit for the specific role. The third would be not highlighting relevant skills. Candidates often forget to discuss the specific skills that are relevant to the position. 

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? One cannot truly succeed without the other. Like every business, you need to have a technical understanding - but simultaneously know how to apply your technical knowledge to the context of a business. You need to have the business acumen around it. A mix of both technical and business skills are necessary for success.