I joined Palo Alto Networks in May of 2016 as a Major Account Manager. I was so excited to join the cybersecurity industry, one that drew me because of its global mission and vision. The leadership team in this region was compelling, looking at how the strong management team in Greater China would help my professional career and knowledge. Building my reputation, gaining experience, and deepening my knowledge under the tutelage of Adrian Chan’s and Wickie Fung’s leadership has provided me with so many opportunities. It’s hard to explain how grateful I am for this opportunity, and how much I have learned from them since joining almost four years ago.
It wasn’t just about learning new things when I joined here. My managers and support system know both my strengths and weaknesses, helping me develop my strengths, and mitigate weaknesses to make me a stronger sales professional. With Wickie’s advice, I built my industry knowledge, while he partnered with me to close deals that supported our client’s infrastructure and goals for protecting their data.
It wasn’t all work, though. The leadership team builds an environment that created a sense of fun, momentum, challenge, and appreciation. All of us are work-hard play-hard, but underlying this is our commitment to integrity and execution. When I was working for HK team, Wickie also assigned me to be “CEO” of the team – Chief Entertainment Officer. If you focus too heavily on work every day, especially in an industry as high pressure as ours, it becomes heavy. The burden can be difficult – the threats we face each day get bigger, more difficult. But that doesn’t mean we stay serious – in fact, it’s so important to create an environment that lightens the burdens we all face in our drive to the mission. After every quarter, we find a way to connect more personally with each other, and my role as Chief Entertainment Officer is to find a way to connect us on this level more often.
Apart from working for the Hong Kong Team, the leadership team with individuals like Adrian Chan help us build momentum within Greater China. Because of the retail industry and customer business needs, I am often pulled across Greater China and surrounding APAC countries. It’s given me exposure to new cultures, experiences, and professional capabilities. I’ve been driven to collaborate around the region, identifying the best possible solutions for our customers seeking answers to the complex cyber threats facing them around the world.
Starting my 16th quarter at Palo Alto Networks, with management support, I joined the Globals team here, now working as Regional Global Account Manager for Greater Chinese global accounts. In this transition, I can feel our company’s commitment to inclusion, knowing that they care about our career development, progression, and incorporation of more voices at every level and background. Each new opportunity I earn, I feel as though there’s an entirely new job to learn. This position is a lot different from my previous role, giving me exposure to new opportunities and people who can build my own capability and development.
Today, Palo Alto Networks has already been an industry market leader and I’m proud to be a part of the team. It’s truly a disruption driven environment, and it’s amazing what we can accomplish together, with our incredible coworkers and products.
But my success wasn’t an accident. I have been successful for a lot of reasons – and some of the keys to my success are many. For me? It comes down to communication and collaboration. These skills are so important to the team, and through that comes the feeling of inclusion, and the opportunity to identify the best strategy and solution. No solution is created without contributions from different perspectives. Success is never attributed to an individual, instead, it’s the strengths of a team that create the best result.
There are times that I believe women are held to a higher standard than men. We’re expected to juggle multiple roles every day: a great mom, a loving daughter, a supportive spouse, a career ninja, just to name a few. And with all of this, we’re expected to balance the rigors of the workplace: upcoming deadlines for projects, acing battle cards with a competitor, and driving results at every customer interaction.
On days that I’m struggling to keep it all under control, I remember the advice offered by Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo. She points to a strong network of support from others in your life as the key to success. But she also famously disagrees with the idea that women can “have it all.” She believes we’re always going to be making sacrifices, either at home or at work — and that’s OK. I am mindful of my own choices and know that there are sacrifices behind each choice I make. And my own community of support makes it easier to wear my various hats and accomplish as much as I do.
Equally important is finding an employer that supports women in the workforce. I’m fortunate that I work for a high-tech company that not only actively recruits women and values the diverse perspectives women bring to the industry, but also encourages a healthy work-life balance because they know this balance ultimately results in happier, more productive employees. Not every company operates this way, and it makes me appreciate my job even more.
The Winding Path to Happiness
As a young teen, I was always interested in technology, and the desire to pursue computer networking as a career option got stronger over the years. I started as a Technical Support Engineer for a telecommunications giant. It seemed I was on the fast track to success, but I soon encountered difficulty on my career journey when I was laid off from one of my first jobs.
I still remember that day vividly: Our entire department had been outsourced, and the newbies, myself included, were the first ones to be let go. Devastated, I spent an hour in my car, crying my eyes out. But after that initial shock, I got my things together, drove home, and immediately planned my job hunt. Within a month, I landed my next job, the one that helped me identify my passion for operations and defined my career.
I spent the better part of my career delivering customer-focused services to large technology organizations. When I had the opportunity to apply my expertise and experience in the cybersecurity industry, it felt like the natural next step. Today I’m with a company that values my contributions and fulfills me every single day. When I look back, I feel grateful to have been faced with that difficult challenge early on. I learned an important life lesson through that experience: We rarely unlock our true potential unless we are challenged with some kind of obstacle or are forced to overcome adversity. What’s more? I think it’s there for each of us. When you look at someone across the table, you might see someone successful. But what you forget is that they might have had their own moment in their own car, crying their eyes out.
Bringing More Women to the Table
There is a massive shortage of cybersecurity professionals today, and the fight against bad actors, who come from disparate backgrounds, demands a wider variety of people to better our chances of success. Encouraging people from diverse backgrounds and with varying levels of expertise will increase creativity and lead to better business outcomes. Women are natural multitaskers and bring such highly valued traits as empathy and team building to the workplace. Augmenting our workforce with women at the decision-making table will make us better at what we do.
Women should know that their skills and perspectives are wanted and needed in technology, and although it can be challenging at times, it also can be very rewarding. For me personally as the mother of small children, I know that the work I’m doing in cybersecurity will affect their lives as they grow older, and I find that enormously satisfying.
I also can attest to the guilt of passing on “mom duties” to take care of job responsibilities — it’s very real and can be all-consuming. I recommend that any woman interested in a career in technology should find a supportive group of other moms who are in the same boat — women struggling with work-life balance — with whom they can share common experiences and seek advice. This can be hugely therapeutic.
For women just starting out in technology, I know how it feels. It’s not the easiest of paths, but it’s getting easier. Here’s what helped me:
Identify a mentor or mentors, and don’t be afraid to reach out to them for direction. Make it a two-way street and offer your own assistance and feedback when it’s appropriate.
Periodically do a self-analysis. Jot down your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, just as any company’s marketing department would. Read a lot, and seek ways to enhance your skills in order to convert those weaknesses into strengths.
Keep an eye out for opportunities that showcase your potential. Women can be extremely self-critical and are more likely to underestimate our own impact. Advocate for yourself and brush up on those negotiation skills.
The strongest asset in my career is my ability to solve problems. I am a fixer and an extensive planner, and I’m persistent in reaching my goals. I am also highly competitive and want to be the best version of myself. Identifying my strong suits early on has helped me navigate my career and excel. I’ve also been fortunate to have worked with other strong women who have exemplified that work-life balance and have been career champions, guiding me along my journey.
It can sometimes feel like you have to be a superhero to succeed at home and at work, but when things get rough, I remind myself of these words from my favorite superhero, Wonder Woman: “You are stronger than you believe. You have greater powers than you know.” And when you’re feeling like everything is falling apart? Know there are others here waiting to lift you up.
I had the privilege of hearing Nir Zuk, the founder of Palo Alto Networks, speak at an event in the Asia-Pacific region (APAC) when the company was still a startup. When I heard him talk about wanting to change the world, create disruption, and do something different from what the industry had traditionally been doing. It was very motivating and inspiring!
In my brief conversation with Nir, he laid out his vision for the company, which had at that time a negligible presence in APAC. A few months later, when someone from Palo Alto Networks reached out to me for an opportunity in marketing, I remembered his inspiring talk and vision to disrupt the cybersecurity market.
But I did have a couple of concerns: Was this another exciting startup story that would fail to prove itself in the market? Would the vision of the founders get translated to action? Was the senior management serious about the company’s worldwide expansion plan, and how soon would that be achievable?
I had several meetings with the leadership team to understand the goals and the plans. By then, I was impressed by what I learned and observed about the company’s products, vision, and culture. And so I bit the bullet and came on board.
A Safer Tomorrow
I have two daughters, and I constantly think about their future. Working for Palo Alto Networks is rewarding in that respect. First, this is such an inclusive and diverse company that I feel reassured about the future we are building for young girls like my daughters. It’s really important to me to work for a company that believes anyone should be able to participate and be respected and empowered in the workplace.
We live in a world where everything is automated. When my daughters are ready to enter the workforce, their entire lives will be digital, and I want them to be safe. Today, they’re still young enough that they can jump into things without thinking about security. They just assume they are safe. I have to constantly remind them of what I do and how we can’t take our safety for granted. I’m proud to be working for a company that is working to ensure a safer tomorrow for them.
I really enjoy the work I do. I look forward to starting work each day — it’s about doing your part to make a change. I want my daughters to see that it’s important to work hard and challenge yourself, but also that it should be meaningful and fun. I’ve never had the Monday morning blues since joining this organization. Every Monday, I wake up ready to get started. I want them to see that that’s possible for them as well.
A Day in the Life
As Vice President of Marketing, my work encompasses so many different activities. It’s about getting the Palo Alto Networks brand and demandout into the market, and that means more than marketing in the traditional sense — it’s also about education. It’s our job to help people understand the need for security in the digital age and how we can help with that need. That education extends to working with our partners, those who are selling or making systems that utilize our cybersecurity products, to help them understand how our products work and why they’re important.
It’s also our job to ensure that customers are fully utilizing our products. We are not a company that wants to sell you something and then disappear. We are consciously working every day to make sure customers see the value in our products, get the maximum functionality out of those products, and trust us enough to continue using them.
Another part of my work is being involved with training programs for new hires, and I talk to them about our philosophy, our workplace culture, and our marketing efforts. It helps me to be connected to almost everybody who comes on board, and that’s fun. I’m so happy to be in a position to help Palo Alto Networks grow and to help people’s careers grow as well.
Since I started here six years ago, Palo Alto Networks has experienced impressive growth. When I look at how far we’ve come from when I started — when we had just a handful of employees and very little brand recognition — to where we are today, I’m really proud. When I first came on board, there were only three of us on the Marketing team, and in my time we’ve grown to where themarketing team in the theatre is over 30.
As a company, we are a dominant player in the market, and because of that and the fact that the entire Palo Alto Networks team is passionate and energized about what we do, we are constantly meeting people who know about us and want to work with us, and that is great.
No Job Is Too Small
Although we’ve grown by leaps and bounds, the company culture hasn’t changed. Sometimes when a startup grows, cultures get diluted and new leadership will cause that initial startup spirit to erode. But even as we’ve gone through a leadership change, those good aspects have remained. It makes me feel confident about my choice to work here.
This is not a company where you follow a narrow, prescribed job description and work in a silo. Instead, everyone rolls up their sleeves and does what’s needed. No job is too small. I love that approach. I come from a culture where you get the job done first and then decide who gets the credit, so for me, that really resonated.
In this organization, people are empowered to try new things. We aren’t punished for making mistakes, and we aren’t limited to our specific roles. It’s not a place where corporate leaders create new policies or procedures without input and say, “You can only do it this way.”
Instead, we have fantastic synergy where we all know our mission, and we are encouraged to follow those “Eureka!” moments and go make new ideas happen in order to accomplish that mission. It’s not about the job title. You wear the Palo Alto Networks team hat first. That’s the priority. Then comes your department, and after that comes your particular role. Titles aren’t as important as doing whatever needs to get done.
Obviously, there are company guidelines and a strategy to follow, but within that, we are empowered to do what’s right for the customer and the business, first and foremost. Because of this approach, we’re all a really strong team, and we have so much respect for and trust in each other. There’s such a strong culture of camaraderie, respect, and integrity. People are always making the effort to work harder, be better, do more.
“Inclusion and diversity” have become buzzwords in the corporate world, but it doesn’t always mean those companies walk the walk. Palo Alto Networks takes action and makes it part of the culture. That’s why the word “inclusion” is one of our company values. In practice, this means that no matter who you are, how young or experienced you are, or even how new you are to the company, we all play an important part of the work being done. We all can make an impact. And everyone within the organization holds themselves accountable.
And we’re all committed to continuous learning. The industry and the market are constantly evolving, so the way you might have done something five years ago to be successful may not bring you success tomorrow. You can’t be content with the status quo. The onus is on each person, as an employee, to stay educated and ensure you have the tools and knowledge you need. I tell my team, “Your career and your destiny are in your hands.” You can’t blame others if you aren’t where you’d like to be. You have to take the ownership — ask for what you need, find solutions to problems, learn what you need to know, and carve out your own role.
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.
There are a lot of other companies that say, “We promote diversity and inclusion,” but they don’t really practice it. I never reallyfeltthe 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, amom, can bring! So leverage those skills and bring them into the technology world, because it’s very much needed.
One of my favorite things about working in cybersecurity is that it’s the battle of good versus evil. It’s not something you always have within other technology-based businesses. But working in cybersecurity, there’s a strong sense of purpose and knowledge that I’m fighting for good.
Leading Customer Success
I started my cybersecurity career in the Israeli Defense Forces, where I led a team of developers. I moved into systems engineering and product management for a telecommunications firm, followed by about four years doing database security before coming to work for Demisto, as the Director of Customer Success. Soon after joining, Palo Alto Networks acquired Demisto, giving me the opportunity to expand my role and develop new technologies.
Customer Success helps with all customers’ activities after they’ve purchased our products — from onboarding to integration, technical support, ongoing engagement with our team, and even program management. Within the Customer Success team, it’s our goal to ensure that customers continue using our products as successfully as possible, ultimately keeping their environments protected and up to date.
Dynamic Days, Dynamic Company
Cybersecurity is an ever-changing ecosystem, and I think it’s one of the most interesting and dynamic fields out there. It challenges you to constantly learn, staying ahead of the newest threats and technological evolutions.
If you want to work in this industry, you have to be someone who questions what we often take for granted. You need to be thinking about how someone could maliciously use data. I don’t believe there is such a thing as too much defense or protection, and it’s something we take to heart in this industry.
As part of working with a vendor like Palo Alto Networks, it’s our job to constantly be innovating. Our job isn’t one of maintenance, it’s improving the products to serve our customers, and challenging the status quo. It means it takes someone who doesn’t like to sit still, seeks new challenges before they arise, and think critically, and quickly, to shape the future of our products.
When people ask me what my average workday looks like, I tell them that there isn’t one. It’s so dynamic that every day brings something different and new. I’m leading a large team of people, all of whom bring unique attributes to their work. I’m always thinking about what services we can offer to customers, growing the team, and planning what we want to do in the future. I also enjoy a high level of interaction with customers, and every interaction is different. I never know how my day is going to look; it’s always changing, but that’s what makes this job amazing.
In my newest role as senior director, I try to be the kind of leader who empowers the team, someone who trusts and gives support to those I work with. I think a good manager needs to identify people’s strengths and weaknesses and assign them responsibilities accordingly. You never want to put people in the position of constantly struggling to perform tasks that don’t suit their strengths — that just sets them up to fail. I try to make sure we identify those weaknesses in order to either help the person develop that as a strength or move into areas where they excel. I don’t like to micromanage. In the military, I learned that a good boss never needs to put his foot down on a decision. Instead, I give the team a lot of space to lead or follow as they see fit, and I am there to offer guidance.
I love that Palo Alto Networks offers its employees the freedom to learn and grow. It’s a very casual, approachable environment that encourages innovation across the board. It’s truly a company that understands that people are the most important assets it has.
Phillip Clark, Global Customer Support System Manager
I have worked in the technology field for over twenty years. Starting my career as a field engineer in the communications sector around 1997. From engineering I moved into program management and then into a people management role. During my career, I have covered a broad variety of fields within technology and whether it was working with contact centers, customer relationship management platforms, or software to web portal technologies, my entire career has been focused within the support arena.
Presently, I am the manager of a global customer support business systems team. We help our company mission of protecting our way of life in the digital age by providing behind the scenes support of mission critical applications used by our organization. In gathering our stakeholders business requirements, analyzing complex problems, we deliver solutions used by our organization to address our end customer’s support needs. It’s a constantly changing, challenging, and evolving ecosystem – but one that I am always glad to work on every day in a field that I am proud to be a part of.
When you hear the term mission driven company, typically you think of a not for profit company. Most for-profit companies’ goals are to increase value to the shareholders and to sell something, typically that people don’t need. I didn’t want to be associated with that. I wanted to be in a job that really had something of value to offer and something I would feel good about aligning myself with. Today, in my role, I support the equivalent of technology first responders, who are on the forefront, servicing our customers in successfully thwarting cyber attacks against their networks. That is mission-driven and I don’t see a lot of opportunities in the tech sector where you can say that you are really doing something that is a positive in the industry and for the betterment of society as a whole, that is not just seeking a profit.
For me, I am connected to technology in ways most are not. I literally depend on technology to keep me alive. I have an implanted cardiac device that is remote controllable via a network. Understanding that, I want to make sure there isn’t a hacker out there who can access my pacemaker. So you can say, I have a very personal motivation to ensuring networks are protected. I also have a passion for making sure that the world is as safe as possible because everything is becoming more and more intrinsically dependent on networks and data.
When I look at technology and how everything is increasingly becoming more linked, whether it’s an appliance in a home or a car, there is some level of technology behind it that is being routed over a network and having that network secure is extremely important. That’s the mission. As such, I am a part of something that is protecting our digital way of life and that means that I’m not only coming to work to add value to a specific function, but in a way, I’m part of something that is important and is making a difference to the world we live in as a whole.
Why Palo Alto Networks?
The types of companies I’m drawn to have always seen support as a differentiator in the industry. That is important. My team comes to work knowing what they are doing is valued and matters. A lot of companies say that for support, you just should be on par with the rest of the industry. Who wants to go into a place where they are told that mediocrity is ok. Really? Are we are ok with that? Similarly, who wants to be told your job is important but doesn’t bring a lot of value to the mission of the company? I joined Palo Alto Networks because they believed in legendary support.
Working in a Fast-Paced Industry
I think we all know and hear that things move fast, but I don’t think you get a full sense of how fast things move until you are here. Things move extremely fast at Palo Alto Networks and you need to be nimble and agile. It’s important to be passionate and invested in your project but it is also important that when priorities change that you don’t take it personal if you need to drop a project and switch gears. The value you bring in a role comes not only in your ability to deliver, but also how quickly you adapt, when priorities change.
The caliber of individual that is drawn to Palo Alto Networks is truly unique. In my career I’ve had strong relationships with peers outside of work who were coworkers that became friends, but my current team often does things as a group, that is completely voluntary and not company sponsored and usually you’ll see 100% participation. We spend a lot of time together at work, and they will still make the choice to come and spend even more time together outside of work. I believe in connecting at a human level, because we are more than the sum of the projects we deliver and having time to recoup and bond outside of work, to connect on a personal level, provides a personal reward, camaraderie and friendship that I really appreciate. The team’s closeness and how they build on those relationships is amazing to be a part of. It feels more like family than coworkers, and that’s something I’ve never had before in my twenty plus years of working in the technology field.
My Experience in Tech
I have always been drawn to science, as a child I loved astronomy and the idea of space exploration. I knew from growing up as a kid in the late 70s and 80s that there was the concept of spin in technology, that by the time you produce something, and it goes to market, it’s already obsolete. I understood that. However what I see today in the evolution of technology, is just how accelerated that change has become. Advancements come at an exponential rate. The amount of physical space that a chip takes now versus when I started in my career is amazes me. I never thought we would cross the barriers of understanding that we have. As machine learning and AI become more present in our everyday life, we will have to determine what the ethical responsibilities of that are. I feel as if the generation coming to the market today will be able to achieve more in terms of technological advancement than the founders of Apple and Microsoft did and do it in one fifth the time and the center of it all, is AI. We stand at the precipice and I feel that is if I’m part of that history that is about to unfold. As a society we are on the tip of the next great evolution and I’m excited to be involved in it.
I think we live in an amazing time and I believe in what we are doing as a whole in terms of technology. But as with all things, where there is something meant for good, it has the potential to be turned or exploited for the bad and so at the center of it all, you will always need cybersecurity.
My advice for Jumping into Cybersecurity
First and foremost, believe in yourself. Don’t let someone else define or dictate what you can do. I have physical limitations, I’m legally blind, and I remember being told at a young age that I would never amount to anything because of it. That I would never be a productive member of society. That is when I learned to not let someone define who you are. So you must first believe you can do it. Then you go get the skills that you need to succeed. Attitude in everything. Anyone can learn a skill and it doesn’t always have to be through conventional channels, but not everyone has a good attitude. I think that’s what sets Palo Alto Networks apart from other companies. We look at the attitude, not just the aptitude of the individual. Maybe a candidate doesn’t necessarily have all the relevant background, but they have something similar. We ask can they achieve this job, and do they have the right attitude, and we weigh that against a set of qualifications.
Lastly, you must continue to keep an open mind and be coachable. If you are willing to learn and willing to grow, you will find a lot of doors open for you in your career path. You can’t allow yourself to get to the point where you think you know everything. Never lose that zest to learn and keep an open mind.
Fleur van Veldhuizen, District Sales Manager Commercial Sales UK
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!
It’s always been in my nature to help the underdog. Whether it’s supporting others while growing up as a military brat, taking work on US government contracts where missions were time critical and affected many, or becoming a volunteer EMT to help save people in my community and overseas, I enjoy helping and connecting people. Coming to work for Palo Alto Networks has allowed me to extend that to a larger, global community.
I was a government contractor in the DC area for over twenty years before starting with Palo Alto Networks. With a background in software development, management, and technical training, I found my new home with Palo Alto Networks Unit 42. We’re the team that detects new threats, details them, identifies the risk, and shares that with the industry to better protect all digital environments.
When I came on board, the first task I was handed was our efforts around the Cyber Threat Alliance. The CTA was our answer to how to disseminate information throughout an industry trying to address new threats emerging every day. It is an organization with the perspective that unless we share our information, share the threats we are facing, we will fail. It’s this organization that enables us to work with other companies that are coming together for the common good. We are collaborating, and this gives us more access to data than we would ever be able to compile on our own. We are sharing our data, our perspectives to find better solutions together. It’s been amazing to get on phone calls with competitors and have intelligent, collaborative conversations because we know we are all in this fight together.
This isn’t just the CTA but the industry as a whole that expects this kind of behavior. I’ve learned so much from working with other companies and government agencies. They, in turn, learn from us. I’ve seen us move forward on solutions that protect our customers and our digital way of life. I’m proud to work for a company that centers its work on humility – the humility to ask for help, work together to identify solutions, and find them, together.
Staying Innovative in a Changing Industry
Part of the evolution of our industry is evolving not just the way we detect the threats but who is involved in detecting them. I’m excited and inspired by the programs I have been able to participate in while working here. I helped with the creation of the initial cybersecurity badges for the Girl Scouts. I presented to Black Girls CODE in California. I’ve attended and represented the company as a speaker at several conferences, most recently RSA. It’s no secret that there is a shortage of women in the industry, so it’s nice to have the opportunity and support from the company to be involved in programs and events that are driving a positive change.
The industry is constantly changing, and we have to improve, develop new products, and work with different organizations to avoid getting stuck in a rut as well as ensure we stay innovative. I’ve never seen a company grow and expand as successfully as we have before in my career. It’s challenging but I love to be challenged – I love how fast-paced my work can be, and I love that things are always shifting and changing. I’m never bored. Teaching young ladies in Girl Scouts how to stay safe in the digital age; helping my mom remotely when she has computer problems; and working on a team that discovers, analyzes, and reports on the latest threats are the reasons I get out of bed every day and proudly wear my Palo Alto Networks gear.
I started dabbling in the computer world because my father used to run a distribution one of the main mainframe companies at the time. When I was about 10 years old, he brought home a ZX81 Computer, which was one of the very first home computers, it had 1K of RAM. At the time, I wasn’t really into gaming, I was more interested to understand how those games functioned, as such it introduced me to coding, at that time in BASIC.
From Slopes to Circuits
Believe it or not, my career in cybersecurity started with skiing. By the time I was 13 I was skiing for the regional squad, and by the time I was about 17, I was skiing on the national team. Of course, skiing isn’t free, and during the summer months I worked to fund the winter ski racing season. I got work at one of the main anti-virus firms in Europe at that time. It was my first job at cybersecurity organization. During school you did a work placement, I did mine as a car mechanic, because as a boy, and still today, I love cars! However, I quickly realized working on cars was rubbish; It’s oily and not fun. My summer job helped me realize the potential of the technology world. My brain is logic bias, so I wanted to understand how computers functioned, how anti-virus software worked, and of course how cyberattacks worked. After a year out skiing and working, the company owners challenged me to pursue a degree in computer science, I challenged them to support me on the endeavor, and that’s how I ended up writing my own behavioral anti-virus tool, as my dissertation for my degree in computer science.
Working in Technology
What I love about my work in cybersecurity is that every day is a different day, and that’s still true every day I go in. It doesn’t matter what job you do in cybersecurity, research, support, consulting, or something else, you will find a large variety in your day-to-day tasks that is impossible to predict, and your job will never be boring and monotonous.
Take consulting or advisory work as an example which I have done as the Chief Technology and Chief Security Officer, you think you’re going to come in for the day and do a list of tasks, but all too often something occurs, a major threat outbreak, a large breach, new regulations come into effect. On those days, I would often get redirected to meet with government agencies, clients and then talk to the media about these events. For me, jobs in cybersecurity hit that key factor – variety. I’m not the type of person who can come into work and repeat the same tasks over and over. I need variety in my job; variety is the spice of life.
Why Palo Alto Networks?
I’ve been working in the cybersecurity industry for over twenty years, in a couple different companies with a variety of products. I’ve always known about Palo Alto Networks, I watched the start of the company from an outside perspective and I had friends who went to work there and had great careers. I was three weeks into working for a startup when I was approached by Palo Alto Networks about a job opening. The timing was wrong. I would have loved to go work there but it just wasn’t the right time. Fast-forward to after the company I was working for went public – the company started going in a different direction and I reached out to my original contact from Palo Alto Networks and told him now was the right time and I wanted to work for Palo Alto Networks. He said it was unusual to have someone cold call him back. I had to sell myself to him as a candidate and the rest is history. There are a lot of players in the technology and cybersecurity market, but I wanted an organization that truly has a world class vision and strategy, where I could be passionate in where they are going.
Companies change, and move, and that’s necessary. But I have left organizations when I didn’t agree with where they are going. I really hold on to that belief that I am going to make a difference in the world. One of the questions I always ask myself is when I retire from cybersecurity, what do I want to be remembered for? How have I changed the industry? It’s a Goliath kind of ask, especially in such a big industry. But I think it’s important for all of us to have the ability to shape our own little corner of this industry. That starts with working somewhere that has a desire to shape and change the world as a company.
Disrupting and Shaping an Industry
Working in cybersecurity, we have the opportunity and responsibility to make a real impact. I’ve always worked closely with law enforcement agencies and sat UK law enforcement and now today the Europol industry advisory board to help shape how our society and communities interact with and utilize cybersecurity measures. It started when I use to run cyber forensics training for law enforcement staff and evolved from there. But it’s more than focusing on the “today”. It’s always important to shape the industry by involving the next generation, too. I’m proud to work for a company that recognizes this and is involved with organizations like Girl Scouts and with academic programs. Cybersecurity is a skill, that in a very digital world, everyone should learn, starting at school. It’s probably not a surprise my own children do well in their school cybersecurity test. By my believe is every child and adult should be as well prepared.
Cybersecurity is global impact. It’s an evolving threat to our lives. With that responsibility comes innovative thinking – sharing information like few industries have before. It’s why the Cyber Threat Alliance was established: to shift an industry, that our organization co-founded. I’m always impressed by their ability to collaborate with other companies for all of our mutual advantage. It takes a savvy executive team to recognize that. We also helped instigate the cybersecurity moonshot program, which has the goal of working with the government make the internet safe in 10 years. Closer to all our homes we have the Cybersecurity Cannon, which is dedicated to recognizing written works that are critical to the cybersecurity world and its future be that for hobbyists or executives.
Advice for Hacking into the Industry
Finding your career path can be difficult, but the most important thing is to be passionate about whatever you do. When you find a passion in life, it drives you through the good and the bad aspects of your career and everything in between. If you are passionate about a topic, you will read forums, you’ll watch the news about it you’ll have a drive and hunger for it, and you’ll continuously work towards understanding how something works. My passion for cybersecurity has shaped my career, just as my career has shaped a small portion of the industry.