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!
I started at Palo Alto Networks as an intern in early 2017. I was a mathematical engineering major at the time, and the study program included some basic networking courses (CCNA/CCNP). While taking these courses I started becoming interested in cybersecurity and realized that there was a big gap of cybersecurity professionals in the market, so there are always job opportunities in this field. Cybersecurity has also become more relevant in the past few years as we can see frequent breaches in the news, and a lot of companies have been undervaluing security in the past and need to catch up to recent security standards.
My internship was based around modeling the staffing requirements of our technical support engineers to meet our future customer’s technical support needs in accordance with our service level agreements. It was rewarding and fulfilling to work on a project as an intern that had an impact on the company. My project helped determine how we are going to hire employees in the future worldwide.
After my internship completed, I transitioned to work as a technical support engineer. I had some basic skills before I was hired and I worked with a technical trainer at Palo Alto Networks to determine what skills I was missing. Together, we built a training program and assigned a personal mentor who helped guide me through programs and certifications I would need to complete for my job. There are a multitude of topics that need to be covered in order to be able to work in this field, like TCP/IP, ARP, SSL, TLS/PKI, IPSec, routing protocols (OSPF/BGP), and NAT. These are just some of the basics, which will eventually have to be learned in-depth.
Transitioning to full time from any internship can be a difficult process. Getting your first career out of college or certification/trainings, can also be difficult. For me, I was thankful to have the support and assistance of my organization, but I have some advice to those who are seeking their first career out of college or internship.
When you are planning your professional career development, look at job descriptions in the field you are hoping to enter. One of the first steps is to make sure you earn a degree relevant to the technology field. Job descriptions are a great place to start – they provide context to what companies are looking for, the background, certifications, and degrees a company is expecting. But a degree usually isn’t enough. After you’ve started to pursue your degree, I suggest that you seek out introductory education into the cybersecurity field. This means seeking supplementary education to the skills a company is seeking. Often, this will be outside of the university environment, and offered by third parties like Palo Alto Networks, or online learning systems. Palo Alto Networks offers their certified cyber security associate program (PCCSA) (www.paloaltonetworks.com/services/education/certification). It’s an entry level certification that will help educate you on the most recent technology for managing the cybersecurity threats of tomorrow. It’s a great resource for anyone looking to transition into the cybersecurity field.
Becoming qualified once isn’t enough, however. You’ll want to keep tabs on the industry while pursuing your degree. Certifications are changing as quickly as the industry changes to address the most critical cybersecurity needs. As Palo Alto Networks transitions to support cloud, we are seeking more cloud experience. If you are seeking a degree in any kind of technical industry, you have to stay on top of these trends – that means subscribing to technical blogs, reading technical support books, and researching common qualifications and responsibilities of the kinds of roles you are hoping to secure upon your graduation.
Looking for a career should be more than skillsets and technical aptitude. You should be seeking a career with an organization that aligns with your values and priorities. I was impressed from the beginning how open everyone here at Palo Alto Networks was. I didn’t have that same experience at my previous job and the difference in the environments is incredible. Everyone was so willing to help me learn and accomplish my goals, and I really felt supported by the team. This is unique to Palo Alto Networks, from my experience, and something that helped me accomplish my professional goals quickly after starting. When you’re seeking your next career move, make sure that you are identifying an organization that aligns with your expectations, but also matches your work style.
For instance, I learned quickly to make sure to vocalize my requests for help. It takes less time to ask for assistance than spend two hours trying to find information. Asking questions is an important skill here if you want to learn and grow into any position at Palo Alto Networks. You can’t feel like it’s a weakness to ask questions. It’s a strength which will help solidify yourself in the team dynamic.
Palo Alto Networks has been a great place to work. Our motto here in the EMEA office is one team, one goal, one destiny. We bond over our different experiences, cultures, and backgrounds. We have become one team, one family. I’ve never experienced that dynamic in other companies. Everyone here has such a mutual respect for our different backgrounds here. It’s a great environment to be a part of and one that is always growing.
If you are interested in learning more about joining our team, please reach out to me for more information at email@example.com.