Meet Celerium: Getting to Know Chris Needs

Aug 5, 2020 12:20:25 PM

Chris Needs is Celerium’s Vice President of Product Management. He’s often seen hosting our CMMC Academy Webinars and other virtual events, but is primarily responsible for setting our product direction, establishing product roadmaps, and ensuring Celerium products are the best they can be. You might also encounter him running a product demonstration with our friendly sales team.

As a product leader, what does your average day look like?

I am not sure there is such a thing as an average day, though the one constant always on my mind is how to optimize our product portfolio and bring value to our customers. Most of what I do each day has to do with helping set and execute on the product vision. I may work with our engineering team on product requirements, and then with our customer success team and customers on particular problems they’re trying to solve with our intelligence products. I may work with sales and prospective customers on how a Celerium product could address a need, and then with marketing on the best ways to share news of an exciting new feature. Or I may work with our CISO to ensure the security of our products is effectively managed, and then with our executive team on product strategy and how it’s best executed. Somewhere, someone said product managers are like mini-CEOs because they’re concerned with every facet of the products they oversee. I think the analogy is apt.

What are you most excited about right now at Celerium?

Many things come to mind but I am most excited about our newest product, CDN110, which aims to improve long-standing weaknesses in supply chain cybersecurity. We’re taking a really innovative approach to helping smaller suppliers improve their own cybersecurity. And at the same time, we are enabling large global companies with a real ability to improve security of their supply chain and get visibility on the effectiveness of the effort. Applying this capability to an immense defense-industrial base, we stand to put more momentum behind compliance efforts like DoD’s Cybersecurity Model Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) and really enable sweeping change. Attackers are increasingly going after the smaller suppliers as a means to get access to the larger ones, which tend to be better defended against cyberattacks. We can help reduce the frequency and impact of such attacks, and we can help protect US national security and the security of our allies. This excites me because we have a good idea that we can apply against a big problem, and therefore make a really positive impact.

You actually have a background in anthropology. Some people might think that cybersecurity product management and anthropology are entirely unrelated; do you think that’s true?

I’ve come to learn that most disciplines can be better informed by other “distant” disciplines. I took a seminar in graduate school about trade and interaction of ancient cultures ranging from Western Europe to East Asia. We looked at the archaeological record and written history to examine this topic. Then we layered in modern cultural anthropological studies. Next we looked at linguistics and the phonemes that underly language to identify similarities – did you know that Finnish and Japanese are related? And finally, we factored in genetic mapping of modern people and DNA from archaeology sites. This kind of layering led to some real surprises about who was interacting with whom. A multidisciplinary approach to a problem gives you much more confidence in the questions you ask and the assertions you make.

I’ve also seen this in my professional experience. Folks from a wide range of backgrounds enrich the cybersecurity profession by bringing in knowledge not common to the discipline, by introducing new perspectives, and by borrowing methods for solving problems.

Anthropology is a broad field of study having to do with how humans think and behave. I’ve been able to apply some of what I’ve learned about people to the people I work with, the people who use our products, and the people our products are designed to defend against. To the extent that cybersecurity is a technical field, it also helps that anthropologists use a wide range of scientific techniques, statistical methods, and computer programming to achieve their goals. At the very least, this creates a technical foundation for effectively working in cybersecurity. In the end, a broad “gene pool” is widely known to benefit the evolution of species; so it goes in the evolution of cybersecurity as a discipline as well.

I’d also add that archaeologists study artifacts and reconstruct the past. There are anthropological specialists in forensics. And cultural anthropologists study the intentions and motivations of “actors” in a culture. In cybersecurity, we also talk of artifacts, forensics, and actors, so I think there is more overlap here than the casual observer may identify!

When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?

I like to hike and bike, but spend more time than I would have thought possible renovating our mid-century modern home in northern California. I am also an informal student of design and architecture, and enjoy learning about the history of architecture. I like how so many complex variables in architecture can come together in elegant purpose. Something structural and technical is also simultaneously artistic and aesthetic. This duality informs how I approach cybersecurity and product management; how do we build intelligence products that perform technically but are also enjoyable and appealing to use?

What’s the last book you recommended to someone?

The Book of Gin by Richard Barnett. It’s a great story of alchemy, colonialism, and culture, and is packed with surprises.

Dogs or cats?

Dogs, but grew up with and enjoy both.

Pineapple on pizza?

Not a chance. Although almost most anything else works on pizza.

Any closing thoughts?

Keep moving forward!

Cyber Defense Network, powered by Celerium, empowers companies to secure their supply chains by creating a secure environment to share cyber threat intelligence in ways even smaller companies can access. Contact us today to learn more!