As someone who is results-oriented and prefers a fast-paced environment, I know that coming to work for Palo Alto Networks in April 2019 was the right choice for me. Nonetheless, it was a bit of a transition. I have a degree in marketing and began my career in market research before transitioning into product management, first in the payments realm and then in human resources technology. My background was heavily focused not only on bringing global products to market but also on improving the customer experience. I stepped away from the workforce for a couple years after my sons were born, and then I went back to work in product management for a cybersecurity company.
All of my experience has included an emphasis on privacy and data security, so in that respect, working in cybersecurity at the enterprise level made sense to me. But unlike my colleagues, many of whom have considerable technical expertise, my expertise is in the customer experience and the application of human behavior enabled by technology.
When I first came on board with Palo Alto Networks, it was intimidating for me — aside from being in a department dominated by men, I was also surrounded by these highly technical minds and lacked that knowledge myself. I was nervous. But over the last 13 years of my career, I’ve developed the ability to quickly comprehend the customer’s perspective and where it ought to be, and I soon realized that this is a valuable perspective that I could contribute, and before long that feeling of intimidation went away. That’s one of the things I appreciate here — that the environment encourages people from a variety of backgrounds, with a wide array of skill sets to join the team. It’s because they realize that diversity is what ultimately adds value to what we can offer our customers.
A Human Touch
Focusing on the customer experience isn’t typically where the priority is in cybersecurity. There’s a perception that customer experience discussions are “fluffy,” that it’s too touchy-feely with its focus on how customers feel and what they want. But what a lot of people don’t know is that it’s a science that involves collecting and analyzing quantitative and qualitative feedback. And it’s also an art, knowing how to talk to customers to arrive at the root of what problems they need and want solved. Sometimes they don’t know it themselves, so you have to know how to get it out of them, which isn’t easy.
But Palo Alto is different and transitioning to make customer experience a priority. And we know, from industry trends, that companies are no longer just competing on technological features and functionality; they’re competing on experience.
As consumers, we all gravitate toward the apps that are easy to use, right? We engage with those apps that connect with us and speak to us emotionally. That’s the level of engagement we want for enterprise products, and that’s what I’m working on. So I get to be on the forefront of this transition to a more customer-centric focus, which is really exciting. I get to influence the ways in which we can improve the customers’ experience, get into their minds, understand their needs and motivations, and translate those things into features and functions that we haven’t even thought of yet. We are working to anticipate their needs and design a delightful experience for them, which is encouraging and empowering.
Diverse and Included
There are a lot of other companies that say, “We promote diversity and inclusion,” but they don’t really practice it. I never really felt the concept of inclusion until I came to Palo Alto Networks. Not only was I given an opportunity to join the company without an extensive network security background, but bringing a woman into this male-dominated field brings a different perspective, and this company saw the value in that. My manager has been a huge advocate of diversity and inclusion, and he has demonstrated this repeatedly. For example, many women have the experience of being talked over in meetings, but here, my manager is sensitive to that; there have been times where someone began to talk over me, and he stepped in and said, “Okay, I hear what you’re saying, but hold that thought please and let Debbie finish sharing her ideas.” I really appreciate a leader consciously thinking about these things.
In my fourth week with Palo Alto Networks, I volunteered to lead a customer journey mapping workshop, to share some of what I knew about this concept with the more technology-focused members of the team. As a new member on the team who clearly didn’t have the technical expertise that they had, I was nervous about leading , although I felt it was important to talk about this idea of looking at things from a more customer-based perspective. As I said before, this isn’t often a top priority for everyone, and it seemed clear that I didn’t have everyone’s full attention or buy-in. But my manager addressed it right away. He announced that this was an important subject, but that if these team members didn’t plan to participate, they were welcome to leave. The fact that he was willing to do that for me told me he had my back, that he saw value in what I had to say, and it gave me a wonderful sense of inclusion, empowerment, and support.
In my time with this company, I’ve seen a real desire to add to the diversity of the team, which includes encouraging more women and moms to apply. Cybersecurity can be an intimidating industry for women to enter, but it really is a great thing for us to have them because it provides a much-needed perspective. As we launch products and think of new ways to solve customers’ problems, we need to have those insights into the needs and values of ALL our customers, so the more perspectives the better.
It’s also important to say that I appreciate being given a chance to share what I knew here, even though I wasn’t the obvious candidate. At Palo Alto Networks, the managers here are willing to provide the training and resources we need to feel comfortable in our positions. There are boot camps, white papers, textbooks, and a wealth of people willing to share their expertise and help you to be successful.
So for women, my advice is not to be scared of a challenge. Instead, face it head on, like a bull! Women, especially us moms, prioritize relentlessly. We are master multitaskers. We have the ability to go broad and deep, that’s just how we’re wired. For example, when I’m planning to take my boys on a trip to a museum, I’m thinking, “Okay, what do I pack for snacks? Should I pack backup clothes? What time should we leave? Should we eat before we leave? What else do I need?” Our minds are always thinking that way so we can ensure we have a successful trip to the museum. It’s a lot of planning and prioritization. And each of those choices can make a big difference — like if we don’t have snacks, they’ll be grouchy later and it will ruin the trip.
Translate that to the technology world. If you want to ship this product, you need to get all the stakeholders aligned with it, because if we don’t, the customer will call us later with issues. If it’s not effective, they’ve paid millions for it and now we have a major problem. So what happens to our brand, and to their loyalty? And what happens to our company’s longevity? So thinking about all those pieces is truly valuable. This is the value a woman, a mom, can bring! So leverage those skills and bring them into the technology world, because it’s very much needed.