The tech skills gap, digital transformation, cybersecurity, and of course, hybrid work were among the important topics discussed at CNBC’s third annual Technology Executive Council Summit. The invitation-only in-person and virtual event featured discussions on how technology leaders can tackle the critical workforce and tech issues facing companies today.
Perhaps the most continual thread running through all the presentations had to do with employees — where to find the talent needed and how to manage the paradigm shift taking place in the way people want to work.
Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO of Year Up and Simone Petrella, CEO of CyberVista told TEC members that poaching tech and cyber talent from another company simply perpetuates the problem.
“We’re never going to solve this talent shortage if companies don’t address what’s happening at the entry level,” Petrella said. She added that companies should put a bigger focus on evaluating the tech talent they have and then put in place upskilling programs to get them to the next level.
Petrella added that the average cyber job takes six months to fill. “In three to six months a company can upskill someone in IT to a cyber position,” she said. Chertavian encouraged companies to use data and facts — not anecdotal evidence — in performance reviews. A data-driven approach can help companies eliminate biases in evaluations, leading employees to feel heard and safe, he said.
Anil Dash, CEO of Glitch and a self-proclaimed tech optimist, said he never underestimates the need to continually question the role that technology plays in how we work, recognize employees, and guard against bias — important factors when attracting and keeping talent.
“We always assume that new technology is going to fix a human problem, but that’s not the case,” he told CNBC TechCheck co-anchor Jon Fortt. He encouraged TEC members to leverage technology to better respond to the different ways employees want to work, but to recognize its limitations. The ability to check in with remote employees via different tools and platforms is liberating and productive for many, but there are differences. “Vulnerable people in your organization don’t experience surveillance as helpful,” he said.
The pace of innovation
Technology executives understand better than most the value of R&D in moving the needle on innovation.
After Chris Magee left his three-decade career at Ford Motor Co. to become a professor at MIT, one of his goals was to find a way to take the guesswork out of technology strategy. As he told TEC members, allocating R&D resources efficiently is a critical skill, but one that most companies struggle with.
Magee’s latest research uses AI to predict the speed of the development of specific new innovations, all with the goal of deploying resources smartly and effectively. The company that he founded from his research, TechNext, helps companies do just that. With his co-founder Cherif Gamra, Magee walked TEC members through the steps needed to measure the return on tech investments and how to forecast the improvement rate for new technologies as they are introduced into an organization.
The link between cybersecurity and national security
The unrelenting frequency of cyber attacks on companies, hospital systems, schools and critical U.S. infrastructure this year has shown just how vulnerable the nation is to hacking. Speaker Kevin Mandia, CEO of Mandiant, the company that discovered the SolarWinds attack nearly a year ago, lives this reality every day and told the audience it has reached a boiling point.
“Everyone is tired of ransomware,” he said. “We just can’t stand there and take it anymore.” The good news is that Mandia believes the U.S. went on the offensive this year, driven by $1 billion worth of ransomware demands so far in 2021. “Whack-a-mole is not a strategy for cyberattacks,” he said. “We’re starting to see a coordinated national and even international response for dealing with hackers.”
There are also things companies can do. He urged TEC members to require two-factor authentication in their organizations and to make spear phishing training essential for all employees. “We have to get better about detecting the attack early,” he added. “Clean up on aisle nine can’t be the way we approach this.”
Better government and private sector partnerships can also be an effective strategy for dealing with cyber crime and technology rivals including China. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta discussed how businesses and the government need to work together to address cyber attacks and why doing so is a matter of national security.
The U.S. is “not in a good position,” when it comes to our investment in technology relative to China and cyber defenses, he said, leaving the nation vulnerable on many fronts. “The dysfunction in Washington is the biggest threat to our national security,” Panetta told TEC members.
While chatter of breaking up big tech remains a popular topic, he warned that doing so undermines the country’s ability to compete and stand strong against cyber attacks. “It doesn’t take bombs and fighter jets to shut down this country,” Panetta said. Strong leadership in Washington coupled with private sector partnerships will go a long way in preventing the kind of cyber attacks that most threaten our nation.
The next space age
The TEC Summit wrapped up with a guest who’s seen things from a completely different vantage point. In September, Shift4 Payments founder and CEO Jared Isaacman was the commander of the first all-civilian crew to orbit the Earth.
He told the audience that although SpaceX provided intense days of 12-hour training over six months, nothing could have prepared him for the magnificent views of Earth or for how he felt being weightless.
“There’s just so much we don’t know about space yet,” Isaacman said. He told TEC members that the role of the private sector in space exploration is a good thing, adding that capital can be deployed more efficiently than when it comes from the government.
But not quite everything in space is better, he recalled. “The crumbs from Pop Tarts in space are way worse than when you eat them on Earth,” Isaacman said.