Meet the “Modern CTO” Michal Pechoucek

Malea Lamb-Hall 21 Sep 2021

Part 1 of our “Modern CTO” series features Michal’s journey to Avast

This week Avast CTO Michal Pechoucek dropped in to talk with Alteryx CTO Derek Knudsen on the  “Modern CTO” podcast. Throughout the 55-minute episode, Derek and Michal discuss the proper role of AI in cybersecurity, the way to decrease the cost of online freedom for all, and why it’s important to keep users invested in their cybersecurity health. But to begin, Derek asks Michal to talk about his start in the field.

“I’m a hardcore AI science guy,” Michal admits. He’s been working on AI since the '90s, and while he loves the academia of it all, he’s more interested in its practical effects. “I really like other fellow scientists to read my papers,” he tells Derek, “but on the other hand, I’m more driven by the impact on society, on people, on industry, on business, on the way we live.”

A key moment in his career was when he realized he could adapt the way AI scientists process images to the way his team processed its cybersecurity network traffic. He began applying ensemble-based machine learning, and his team began detecting anomalies out in the wild of the internet. These results fueled Cognitive Security, the startup that he co-founded with his colleagues and which has been later acquired by Cisco Systems. After that, he came back to academia and invested in startups. Nothing could pull him back into the corporate world. 

Except for Ondrej. 

Ondrej Vlcek, then-CTO of Avast and today’s CEO of Avast, approached Michal about adding his AI skills to Avast’s global network. He explained Avast’s mission of cybersecurity for all, and that was something Michal could get behind. After growing up in the Eastern Bloc, he feels extra-protective of those with limited freedoms or rights. “I’m really passionate about people’s freedoms and liberties,” he tells Derek in the podcast. Joining Avast, he says, “was the first time in my life that I got an opportunity to marry my professional experience and my knowledge and skills with a set of values I was supporting in my free time.”

He goes on to explain, “I can use AI not to help big companies to ultimately make more money I can use AI to protect people against more and more sophisticated threats on the internet, against big giants, against manipulation.”

This peek into Michal’s heart is also just a peek into the full “Modern CTO” episode, which is full of fascinating conversation concerning the greatest issues and challenges facing the present-day chief technical officer. 

Watch this space for more on this blog series in the coming weeks. In part two, we’ll discuss the future of cybersecurity. In part three, we’ll dive into AI. And in part four, things might get a little nuts. That’s where we’ll ask the question of whether or not brain implants can be hacked and discuss the idea of the “cognitive antivirus.” 

Hear the full podcast episode below. 

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