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Tech, Triumphs, and Tenacity: Tom Lee's Resilient Journey

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Why the tech industry? Tom Lee’s answer is simple: it’s always been tech. But is it always a win in tech? Tom’s story is both defining and humbling.

From a young age, Tom “just loved solving problems, and math problems were always fun. I've been a quality assurance person, did product management, and served as a director of engineering. But, regardless of the role, I always asked, how do we collaborate better and how do we work together?”

His current role at Palo Alto Networks is a senior manager of Program Management. In non-tech terms, that’s ‘the glue and the grease’ when presenting disruptive technology in its most magnificent form.

On paper, his journey is what many young tech talents aspire to be. However, when one’s health takes a downturn, our career trajectories are not always linear with whatever life deals us. Just at the peak of his career, Tom went through one of the darkest periods of his life. He noticed a slight facial paralysis, leading to an MRI scan. It was not a tumor, nor dangerous, but a small blood clot, called cavernous malformation, had grown over the years to the size of a walnut.

Once removed, he lost hearing on one side, followed by tons of complications. Tom found himself in a dire situation and entered depression. “I remember sitting in front of my whole team and said I need to take time off work. Work always defined me, I’ve always enjoyed it, and I was in tears at that moment.” Tom was always the cheerleader, the most upbeat and positive person. But with “a supportive team, good friends, and family support,” Tom took a short sabbatical and disability leave.

Over a decade has passed, and although Tom still grapples with moments of self-doubt due to his facial paralysis, his unwavering positivity and resilient mindset serve as lessons for many. Placed in an inclusive workplace like Palo Alto Networks, a character as tenacious as his undoubtedly becomes a source of inspiration for thousands of co-workers.

When discussing inclusiveness at Palo Alto Networks, Tom said, “everyone is amazing here. The inclusivity part, in particular, I may have some shyness about how I look and whatnot, but I've never encountered people who have had any problems or acted differently towards me.”

Tom is part of two employee network groups (ENGs): PRIDE and the Women’s Networking Group. He channels his best to be an ally, emphasizing, “at the end of the day, we are humans, and it’s great to meet and support others. The only way we will continue to build that inclusivity is to continue to build that collaborative culture, integrity and all of our values. ENGs are huge pillars of those values.”

When asked why he supports the Women’s Network Community, he witnessed the lack of female presence at cybersecurity conferences, saying, “it was one of the first times I realized how difficult it was to be a woman in cybersecurity. It's crucial for us to change the narrative and showcase Palo Alto Networks as an inclusive cybersecurity leader. By embracing diversity, we not only shift perspectives but also gain numerous valuable benefits. It's a win-win situation.”

For those who get the opportunity to network with Tom, an advocate for the LGBTQIA community, he can be found occasionally at the monthly meet ups. After all, his ethos and love for mentoring and learning come from his sister, who is a teacher!

Tom lives in the heart of San Francisco and is happily married to his husband. And the sharing of love doesn’t stop there; his 15-year-old pup Boston is old and grumpy but receives all the tender love and care from the most positive owner.

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