Eric Schou, Senior Director of Partner, Services, and Product Marketing
When a friend of mine first approached me about joining him at Palo Alto Networks, my initial response was no, I was happy with the company I was working at. But he repeatedly suggested it to me and expressed his passion for this company, and although I said no several times, I was intrigued about this company and decided to learn more.
I agreed to do an interview with a member of the executive team, but it wasn’t like any interview I’d ever done before. Mostly, it was just an enjoyable conversation where this person talked about the organization — where it’s been and where it’s going — and then shared his thoughts on how my skill set was valuable to where they were headed. It was less about my doing any specific job and much more about the culture, people, and future of Palo Alto Networks, about what we’re going to become, and ultimately, that’s what hooked me.
I have had a career in technology, marketing both hardware and software, data management as well as cybersecurity. This opportunity intrigued me because of what’s at stake, this is about something personal that affects all of us, every day — the protection of our personal information. I take our mission very seriously, for myself and for my kids. It’s not just a job, it’s a critical aspect of safety in our lives, so it’s not just important to me on behalf of the company; it’s important for my family’s future. In this position, I have the privilege of being able to spread that important message and contribute to people’s digital safety, and I’m really proud of that.
Outside the Job-Description Box
Since I joined Palo Alto Networks, I went from having no direct reports to leading a team of 15, and we’re constantly growing. The company and our individual careers are growing at a rocket-ship pace, and I’ve learned a ton.
My primary focus in this position is on partner and services marketing. I’m working with all kinds of people every day, each of whom has a different amount of understanding about cybersecurity and our products, so it’s important for me to communicate well with people on any level, whether they’re laypeople or technology experts, and get them excited about what our organization does. My day-to-day work involves writing that effective messaging, working one-on-one to present our products and enable people to use them, and generally sharing the importance of how working collaboratively will change the future of the industry.
When I first started here, my responsibilities were much narrower in scope, but the company has grown so fast that the scope of my work has grown with it. In fact, “scope of work” isn’t really a term we use around here. This is not a linear company, and people don’t do linear jobs. We’re very fluid, and things are always changing.
The people who thrive at Palo Alto Networks are those who can embrace and even chase that change. We don’t like to just stick with what we know. Instead, we just go for it, we try new things, we make things happen. Our philosophy is that we fail fast and learn faster. We’re encouraged to make mistakes because that means we tried something new, pushed ourselves, rose to meet a challenge, and we learned something from it. I’ve been pushed more at this company in my three years here than I ever have before.
One of my favorite parts of this job is being involved in the interview process and giving people a peek, during our 45 minutes together, into just how unique and special this company is, and how it’s like no place I’ve worked.
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.
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.