Interview with Nicolas Dard (Oort’s Product Management Leader)

Nicolas Dard, Oort’s Product Management leader, took the time to share with us a little bit about his position with Oort and how he got involved in the cyber security world. With almost 15 years of experience in his field, Nicolas has a strong track record of managing and growing product teams, building product strategies and launching products. Get to know more about another amazing employee from Oort’s team!

Q: You have a great deal of experience in product management and I think generally in the security space. Could you tell me a little bit more about that? Is that something you always knew you wanted to do or go down that specific path?

A: That’s a good question. So in terms of product management, it’s almost been 15 years now that I’ve been in product management. One of the particularities of product management is there’s no dedicated training track or college track or anything like that. So you can find people coming from a variety of horizons and backgrounds and every story is a bit different, so it’s always interesting. On my end, it really happened when I worked for a small startup back in France. I joined the company, there were four of us. So I was kind of coding in the morning because I’ve got an engineering background and doing marketing activities in the afternoon…even a bit of sales here and there because that’s what you do when there are only four people.

You have to do everything to keep the ship afloat but I was very lucky. I was reporting straight to the CEO because of the same thing, super small company. And he had spent years actually in the U.S. working for Nortel and then Bush, I believe. And as the company was growing and we were recruiting more specialized people for a few things, he basically told me that what I wanted to do and it was called product management…which was not really disciplined back in France at the time. I think now it’s evolving. So that’s basically how I got into product management when I moved to the U.S. a bit later in 2013. I really just kept doing that and this is really a job I love and enjoy.

Q:What was it like going from a super small team, seeing some growth, and then going to a larger company?

A:What I joined in Cisco was something that they called an Alpha project. The idea is for large companies to innovate. It can be very complicated because most processes and the way the company works is very rarely geared towards innovation and more towards sustaining existing product lines. So, one of the ways Cisco tries to innovate and does innovate, they have those Alpha projects and they’re essentially internal startups. But when I joined Cisco, that was to work for a product called Cisco Defense Orchestrator and it was actually a start up with a big company. That’s why I stayed there for a couple of years to take that product and make it bigger, put a couple of hundreds or thousands of customers on it, that type of thing…and there’s also where I met quite a few of the Oort engineers, including the Oort CTO. That’s one of the reasons I joined Oort because I really enjoyed working with the team at the time.

Q:When did you first hear of Oort?

A: A few months back, essentially, thanks to D.D. again. So the CTO…he’s been doing both engineering, running engineering and doing product management, which is not unheard of for some smaller companies, but as the company is growing, we’re getting more customers. Basically, he called me telling me that he needed someone who knows how to PM to come and PM and run product management for the organization.

Q: What was most intriguing about Oort or what did you see in making that decision to make that jump?

A: A couple of things, to be honest. So first, the team, as I’ve already mentioned, they’re a team that’s extremely strong that I’ve worked with before..and people have really enjoyed working with very high, very high competency, technically speaking. And the second one is essentially the identity market is an emerging one. I love cyber security. Identity has always been like one of those things that goes across the board, which is kind of everything in terms of cyber security and access and things like that. But more recently, especially with people working from home, a lot more than before, there’s a lot of cyber security controls and products that used to be in place when people were in the office in order to maintain the company’s security. Basically, much harder to use or even impossible to use when everyone’s in a different place, when you don’t have a firewall to protect you in your office anymore, that type of things. And then it has basically changed the importance of identity. It’s much more central, it’s much more critical. We can hear it from analyst, we can hear it from the market, we can hear it from customers. It’s not a new market, but it’s completely renewed and it has a visual potential.

Q: Is it like a good guys versus bad guys scenario where you guys are the good cops? Does it have that kind of feel to it when you go to work?

A: Yeah, totally. That’s one of the reasons I love cybersecurity for the same reason, actually, that I love product management. That is the intersection between highly technical, highly complex concepts. At the same time, the human element is huge, and this is really the intersection between both. That makes it, in my opinion, so interesting because you’re right, you’re fighting against the bad guys. They are always looking for a weakness, they’re looking for the cracks. And you’re here to basically try and guess what their next move is…try to fill in the cracks and it’s a never ending cat and mouse game. That’s what keeps it interesting.

Q: Is there ever a day that you guys claim victory, or is there just always going to be these innovations that find a new way to break through the walls?

A: I don’t think there’s ever going to be a day where either side of the battle can really claim victory because there’s always a new tool, there’s always new capabilities, there’s always more processing power. For example, A.I. Machine learning a couple of years back has been basically now used by both camps. On the good guy’s side, we use machine learning quite a bit to understand, to try and track specific patterns that were difficult to identify before. But the bad guys also use the exact same techniques to actually look for weaknesses in the armor for each company, et cetera, et cetera…and there’s also the same thing…the human element that’s never going to be perfect…humans are not perfect. Social engineering is always going to be a thing..a big piece of our job is to actually design systems, design products around human weaknesses to kind of protect them against social engineering but there’s always going to be a next threat. Like a Defense contractor. There’s always going to be a bigger gun there’s always going to be a bigger shield on the other side.

Q: What are the things that most excite you about Oort?

A: There’s a few things. The first one is generally the reaction of customers and even when we have early sales conversations, the reaction is excellent. It’s interesting some products have a better, bigger, sooner “aha” moment and this is exactly the case with ours. So we do see excitement. We do see sometimes panic from some of the people we speak to because they realize that the position you’re in is actually not as good as they were expecting. Because we have to be honest, managing identity at scale when you’re in a large company is an extremely complex problem. There’s a lot of moving parts. There’s a lot of people. It’s a mix of HR, again, mix of people and technology. It’s very complicated. So what brings to the table is really that ability to boil down that very complex and a huge data set to a few takeaways that are much more actionable…and sometimes there’s this realization that there’s an issue that has to be worked on. So that’s one of the exciting part…and the second one is to be on it. Matt, our CEO’s vision long term is extremely exciting. I know we have a couple of good years ahead of us, no doubt.

Q: For potential prospects or new clients, assessing their giant landscape of users and finding out that there’s hundreds of inactive users and identity threats is part of what Oort does. Are there moments where you can’t even believe they are not aware of all threats?

A: Yeah, absolutely. Problems with passwords, problems with manufacturer authentication, inactive users, temporary workers that got into the system and then were never removed before, good or bad reasons. And all of that really increases the surface of attack, which is very popular concern in cyber security. You want to always minimize the surface of attack while keeping the company functional, of course. And yes, this is exactly what’s right. This is exactly what we’re looking for.

Q: Is there any company that is doing the best right now or that you see innovating faster when it comes to just your identity and logging into solutions like that?

A: No, a lot of those are really good. There’s also Okta connected directory, which we work with quite a bit. Obviously, I can say that one is much better than the other, to be honest. Most of them are implementing all the very similar features, very similar capabilities. I think picking a limited number when you are in a given company, one or two is going to help you.

So maybe Workspace and Okta, or Okta and Active Directory (Azure AD) for example. Those are very pretty popular combinations. So the upside there is if you centralize all your authentication through a single point, it’s going to be easier to track and manage. Now, it’s not always possible. We know that. And this is one of the reasons we exist. We know that in a lot of cases it is actually useful for valid reasons, for usually business related reasons, to have two or three in parallel, either because none of them has the full feature set that you want, so you cannot mix and match, or because some of them have integrations with some of the products and applications or website that you use that another one doesn’t have. So it’s not always possible to have a single one. So this is why we’re here because what we do is we pull information from all those ADPs or all those MFA products all together in one place so our customers can actually see the big picture and identify potential issues. And the second thing is, again, there’s things like HR systems. There’s value in having a dedicated HR system which is not related to your I.T. System but you want to make sure that those two match all the time. Make sure that everyone that is in your I.T. system is actually an employee and using the HR system because otherwise you could end up in legal trouble. Because why do you have an employee that’s actually not reported right? Or vice versa? Make sure that all your employees actually are properly documented in the I.T. System so that they don’t have some access that you’re not aware of…

Q: What are some of your other thoughts you may have on the industry or things that you may want to elaborate on. Is there anything else that you’re excited about in the next six months or the next five years of either the industry or Oort?

A: Yes, actually…I come from a company that just before was working for a small company as well, which was a lot about Privacy and I’m really interested to see how the intersection between Privacy and new regulatory frameworks in terms of Privacy and identity on the other end are going to basically collide. I can see that happening for sure but so far they’re still going to be very different concepts. They have a small overlap but they’re basically going on a trajectory where they’re going to hit each other pretty fast. And I’m really looking forward to seeing that because I think a lot of good can come out of it. I’m excited to see that in the future with more opportunities as well.

Q: There’s probably no shortage of work on the horizon for you guys. I know Mark Zuckerberg was saying the future is private and stuff like that where we kind of all share everything and all of a sudden now we’re trying to pull it all back in. So do you think there’s this inevitable movement that’s kind of dialing its way back in comparison to what it was?

A: Yes and that’s the thing and in order to push privacy to the next step, having a very good understanding and a very good control over one’s identity is going to be critical. There’s no other way around it. That’s going to be one of the most powerful tools we’re going to have in our tool belt. This is something I’m looking forward to.


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