Life is a journey with many twists and turns, and if you’d asked me 10 years ago what I’d be doing now – the idea of working as a leader in a world leading Cybersecurity company would not have been my answer – but here I am – and it’s great. Cybersecurity is crucial to the future of every organization as the world sprints through digital transformation, it brings stability of services, facilitates innovation and has impact right the way through to ensuring continuity in our daily lives.
We hear about cyber-attacks on organisations and individuals all the time and the consequences of a breach can be devastating for both. As a District Sales Manager, I lead a team that is helping (potential) customers assess how to best protect their environments, information, and products and therefore achieve their own true business goals. I have been working at Palo Alto Networks for 3 years now. I started in a position running inside sales and grew to running a customer and partner focussed team with the responsibility to contribute not just fiscally, but also in many other ways to the company’s success.
Transitioning into IT
I began my career in recruitment. If I had continued my career path in a traditional sense, I might still be in recruitment in the Dutch market – but here I am, leading a team of cybersecurity professionals in the UK. So how did I end up here?
On this journey, I reached out to people within my network and asked them what they did in their careers, what they loved about their industry, and what they didn’t. Ultimately, this search led me to IT and my place here at Palo Alto Networks.
Cybersecurity might surprise you
Given my background I’d never thought of leading a team in Cybersecurity. The industry is very technical and by joining Palo Alto Network you can certainly say that I stepped out of my comfort zone. It’s not easy and even though I experience growing pains from time to time, it is with great pleasure. No two days are the same; it’s extremely demanding but fun at the same time.
If anyone asks for my advice now I would recommend changing industries. It is a great experience, step into the deep, take the risk and go with the adventure. It will make you richer as a person.
Organisations such as ours are not only looking for people with a technical background. We believe diversity strengthens our ideas and our business. To provide our customers with the best products we need to strive for a workforce that reflects the diversity of our customers as well.
Cybersecurity has now become an industry that affects our daily lives. If you’re looking for a dynamic career, then cybersecurity is the place to be. Think of the devices you use, the transactions you initiate, the actions you take throughout your day. Cars, banking, mobile phones, online purchases – everything must be protected. Without security in these environments, our lives in the digital age would change drastically – with Palo Alto Networks, you get to be a part of that.
Working at Palo Alto Networks
Our industry is fast-paced and constantly evolving. Cybersecurity is an interesting industry and a hotbed of innovation, like every industry there are other companies building products and services and we must compete and differentiate effectively – and then there is an additional angle that most other industries don’t have – the adversary – the bad guys – the black hats – people trying to overcome our customers defences everyday – and they are innovative too. This creates a pace unlike anything I’ve experienced before – there are always new products being developed, and it’s a continuously accelerating environment – which means I’m continuingly learning – and that’s something I’m passionate about.
I’ve learned that working in a hypergrowth environment is challenging, you must get comfortable with regularly being taken out of your comfort zone, gain knowledge every day about the industry and deeply understand your client’s infrastructure, their pain points, challenges and business outcomes and enablers. It’s an endlessly rewarding journey.
As the industry constantly evolves, so do we. This means we have an opportunity to grow as professionals too, I have learned a lot about myself, the field I’m in and how to help build and lead an international team during a hyper growth phase.
Build your network
As I mentioned earlier, I found this career through networking and stepping out of my comfort zone. No matter what kind of role or industry you are interested in, connecting with other people, and widening your network will enable you to broaden your horizons and make new discoveries, and can really help you progress in your career.
When networking, keep in mind that it’s not all about you, but about the other, networking is connecting with people. Networking is not about collecting contacts, it’s about building relationships. Be genuinely interested in people and invest in the relationship. Apply good listening skills and help others. That’s what networking is. I never contact someone with a “how can I help myself?” approach. I ask questions, listen to what they say, encourage and help others by connecting people to accomplish their (career) goals.
Leading to success
As a leader it’s my responsibility to find and retain talent, help my team to succeed, to coach and push them constructively to be their best while supporting their career progress. I believe it’s important to create an inclusive culture of trust and empowerment. Ensuring my team feels that they can be open and honest with me, by creating an environment where we celebrate successes and failures, where taking risks is rewarded, where we learn from our mistakes and move forwards fast.
I believe this is only possible if you have the courage to be vulnerable as a leader too. For example, when I don’t know the answer to something I’ll admit it, and if I’m nervous about giving a presentation, for instance, I’ll be honest about that, too. I notice that by sharing my experiences and insecurities, my team is comfortable too. There is absolutely nothing wrong with not knowing something or having difficulty with something; in fact, by talking about it and by putting the right people together, you increase your knowledge and find solutions.
Setting goals and direction is important, whether this is at the company, project level or for career progression. By engaging, this creates a team that wants to know what the priorities are, and what they are working towards and what they are striving for. I don’t want to tell them how to do things, I provide guidance. I welcome their way of doing things. It’s like runners in a marathon: each person has his or her own individual training plan. The same is true for the workplace. I lead from the front, but I also view from the sidelines to encourage, reflect and give feedback on their performance and I invest in their success so that they can successfully reach the finish line. Then we celebrate…. A very important part of sustaining success for everyone!