He's got the NAC

Engineering talent and people skills make Steve Hanna the perfect guy to lead two critical network access control open standards efforts

Steve Hanna is a technical whiz, but he's diplomatic, too. He'll need both qualities as he helps define what may become the most significant network security architecture to date -- network access control.

As co-chair of both the Trusted Computing Group and IETF NAC efforts, he has influence that will hold sway at the core of NAC open standards work. The work will call on his ability to listen and learn, skills he has consciously developed over the years.

Hanna credits his Harvard University education -- he graduated in 1987 with a bachelor's degree in computer science -- for his versatility, giving his high school math teacher, Robert Kaplan, the nod for steering him there rather than toward Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When he was accepted at both schools, he asked Kaplan which he should choose, and Kaplan told him to think about himself and the areas in which he needed to grow.

Hanna, who says he was a nerd in high school who was immersed in computers, took Kaplan's counsel seriously. "He was right. I needed to expand my people skills, and it worked out quite well," Hanna says. "I'm much more articulate, less shy and able to listen to others and bridge the gaps between different perspectives much more so than if I had just gone deep on the engineering.

"Whatever facts you learn will be obsolete 10 years after you graduate, if not five. Constantly learning and listening to others - those skills carry you over," he says.

Harvard emphasizes the need to study and understand many different viewpoints and perspectives, he says, lessons he put into practice as an undergraduate when helping organize rallies to protest investment in South Africa. He reached out to a broad spectrum to strengthen his anti-apartheid cause. "We were not just going to invite the Democrats and the Republicans without various groups on the far left, on the right, all different angles, the gay and lesbians. All these different perspectives had to be included," he says.

Radia Perlman, a Sun fellow, calls Hanna diplomatic, careful and tough enough to handle the mix of personalities that participate in standards bodies. She knows Hanna from the years he spent at Sun Labs working on IP multicasting and security, 1997 to 2004.

Position:Distinguished engineer at Juniper and co-chair of the Trusted Computing Group and IETF NAC standards efforts.
Years in industry:19
Years with Juniper:About one, with the acquisition of his former employer, Funk Software, where he trail-blazed NAC development.
Major career accomplishment:"Two things. First, the research I did at Sun Labs. As many as 30 U.S. patents have been issued on that work. More recently, the development of the Trusted Network Connect architecture and standards."
Little-known fact:Had access to an IBM mainframe at age 7, sitting on his math-professor father’s lap and typing in commands via a teletypewriter.

"You have to have a strong enough hand and also be very careful how you word things, and I think he's capable of doing that with ornery people," Perlman says. You can be successful by being a bully and letting your bully friends dominate the thing, whether they're good or not. I'm glad Steve is not like that."

Kevin Walsh, director of consulting sales engineering at Juniper Networks, where Hanna is a distinguished engineer, says his colleague knows how to listen and make others feel their opinion is valuable. Hanna's gentlemanly demeanor and thoughtful nature don't mean he's a pushover, though.

"You might underestimate him, because he doesn't have to force opinions on you," Walsh says. "If you have any sense of an open mind, Steve will show you why he thinks his answer is right. He will make sure you understand his position. You can agree with him or disagree with him, but it won't be because you didn't understand him."

Co-worker Oliver Tavakoli, vice president of architecture and technology with Juniper's security products group, says Hanna seems to have a good balance between work and his home life. "A lot of times when you see people this good at what they do, it's at the cost of no life outside of work. With Steve, it's all about the kids, all about the wife," Tavakoli says. "It's clear his family is important to him, but not so that you feel he is disengaged at work."

That home life is pretty busy. Hanna and his wife, Libby, have two daughters -- Caroline and Ruth, ages 9 and 12. They also have a parakeet, two cats, a beta fish, about 30 gerbils, four degus (South American rodents) and two chinchillas. While the pets are mostly his wife's doing, Hanna says he encourages involvement with animals by leading the local 4-H Club, which he also founded. He enlisted the help of a local farmer, who provided space and animals for about 25 local kids to care for. "I don't really know that much about farm animals myself," he says. "I was in 4-H briefly, and to be honest, I studied how to fix lamps."

The family is also musical. Ruth plays the flute, Caroline the cello, Libby the guitar and Steve the piano. "We have music sessions in the evening after the kids finish their homework. We'll play some music, sing some songs; it's wonderful," he says.

He also sings in his Unitarian Universalist choir; he's sung in choral groups since he was in junior high school. "Singing is very cathartic for me, a way to blow off steam."

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