Success stories in cybersecurity and information technology

Ian Walters, Principal, Thought Leader, Coalfire

RISE is Coalfire’s initiative to Recruit, Influence, Support, and Educate women in cybersecurity. I am honored to have been invited to be an active member of the RISE steering committee and help contribute to this worthy cause.

When I was asked to write this blog post I was told it was because I am a mentor of women in cybersecurity. To be honest, I’ve never thought of myself as a mentor. I didn’t wake up one morning and say “today, I’m going to start being a mentor”. It is something that has (apparently) happened organically as my career has grown.

As a manager and team leader it is in the job description that you need to get the best out of your team, but it requires a symbiotic relationship. When I am building a team, I always think about how the team members can make me look good. My philosophy is that I won’t get promoted if the team can’t manage themselves, or if I don’t have a natural successor.

Rather than list the top 10 things that would help women in cybersecurity (I don’t have that list!), I’d like to share some of the success stories of people that I am proud to have been associated with in my 4 decades of working in IT and cybersecurity.

JS

I recruited JS to my IT team in Dubai in 1998. JS wasn’t trained in IT but showed aptitude with spreadsheets (Lotus 1-2-3 back then!) and I believed that there was an IT professional in there.

After almost a decade of working together I took pride in seeing JS grow into a well-rounded IT professional and business analyst. JS never shied away from the difficult tasks and always took time to fully understand the business requirements before producing solutions that enhanced processes and business performance. When training end users on new applications, the sessions were always well thought out and with empathy and compassion towards people that were learning new systems. This was especially important in some of the developing countries in the Middle East and Africa region as we migrated from manual processes to automation.

JS stayed loyal to that company for over 23 years, and recently reached out to me via LinkedIn:
“You got me started in IT and there has never been anything that I have achieved in IT that I have not attributed to you. Even my current team knows you. And everything I received from you, I have tried my best to pass on to the new team members that were assigned to me to build and train. When anyone in IT asks me how I could be the kind of manager that I am, I always said that I learnt and received much from Ian Walters and I am just passing it on. Thank you for believing in me and giving me opportunities.”

PJ

PJ was another recruit to my growing IT team in the Middle East. Straight out of school and not really having a career direction in mind, PJ was full of enthusiasm but needed that energy to have a direction. Over the next 7 years, PJ would develop into a first rate busines analyst and helped us mediate between IT and the business to gather requirements from the internal and external customers for application development. The company was under an intense period of transition and expansion and PJ was instrumental in managing the process, including implementing operations and accounting software applications to the new offices across the world.

PJ went on to become a project manager for multiple IT teams across the globe such as master data, software development, quality assurance, business analysts, and business intelligence.

AB

AB joined my team as a quiet, shy person who hated public speaking and any kind of attention. Preferring to do back-office administrative work I thought AB was just one of those people that is happy in what they are doing and have no desire to change. How wrong I was!

During a period where my budget wouldn’t allow for extra staff, but the work kept on building, I asked AB to step in and assist with testing and training. Like a light bulb being turned on, AB took to the tasks immediately and thoroughly enjoyed the interaction with the end users.

AB went on to work for Microsoft and is now an IT and management professional with 20+ years of extensive experience in handling high-end IT projects, account management, client services, business analysis, technical support, and customer service.

AB is also a three-time Guinness World Record holder (but I can’t claim any credit for that!)

MB

As a junior network specialist, MB also came to my Dubai team as a young recruit. With the speed of technical development back then (late 1990’s) it was important to keep pace and MB excelled in learning and implementing new technologies.

In the years between the Y2K bug and my departure from Dubai in 2006 I worked side-by-side with MB to ensure that I passed on everything there was to know about running a regional IT department and a global network operations center.

MB became the Regional IT Manager for the Middle East, Africa, India, and Eastern Mediterranean region, responsible for the management of the regional IT Team comprising of Service Desk Analysts, Systems Engineers, Team Leaders, Programmers, Development Manager, Maintenance of IT infrastructure, Implementation of the Global Policies and maintaining the IT budget for the regional offices.

TPG

TPG doesn’t have a very extensive LinkedIn profile and I must admit to having lost track, but in researching this article I do know that TPG has been with the same company for 25 years and I was part of that recruitment.

At the time, TPG and I were the only ones in the company that knew the programming language of the shipping manifest application (MUMPS). We would sit together in the run up to Y2K, often for 14 hours a day or more, in a seemingly never-ending cycle of coding and debugging.

The TPG story isn’t one of mentoring so much, more of a mutual understanding of the challenge at hand and the desire to achieve the seemingly impossible. Two professionals working together with a common goal.

As the clock ticked over from 11:59pm on 31st December 1999, TPG and I sat together watching the monitors. The world kept spinning, our ships kept sailing, and the application continued to send manifests to all our ports. At least one of those things wouldn’t have happened without TPG.

XX

I have directly hired XX twice and was instrumental in a third recruitment. That’s how highly I regard XX’s work ethic and knowledge.

XX is another of my success stories that didn’t have a background that matched what I was looking for but came across as someone who was eager to learn.

For 6 years we worked together to build a security and compliance department for a large healthcare clearinghouse. XX was my go-to-person for all things privacy and together we successfully navigated an OCR audit and several third-party audits and assessments.

XX’s career in cybersecurity and privacy has shown outstanding growth, evidenced by 2 promotions in the first 2 years of being a Coalfire employee.

XX in now a senior manager and I can see that the team is flourishing under a management style not too dissimilar to my own!

And finally…

One thing to note in those amazing stories - I didn’t use a personal pronoun. You, the reader, have no idea if these people are male or female, black or white, American or Indian. It didn’t matter to me. All I saw was the raw material and the possibility of helping someone reach their full potential in a challenging, yet rewarding, career. I now look at their LinkedIn profiles and smile, because I know I played a small part in their success.

Four of the six stories above are about women, only one of them is American; can you tell? Does it matter?

Coalfire is an amazing place to work and there are literally hundreds of people with experience and knowledge that they are only too happy to share. Reach out to them.

Ian Walters

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Ian Walters — Principal, Thought Leader, Coalfire

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