October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and this week’s theme is centered around education, training and careers in the field. Therefore, it was the perfect time to catch up with WhiteHat Security’s CEO Craig Hinkley to get some inside advice for anyone looking to rise through the ranks within the cybersecurity industry.
When you’re starting out in the tech sector, it’s important to find some positive ways to differentiate yourself from your colleagues. In my case, I became a certified Cisco Certified Internet working expert (CCIE) in 1996 and was one of the first 1,200-1,300 people in the world with that qualification.
It was a lot of work to pass that exam and to build up that level of technical differentiation, but it set me apart in the early days and got me involved with some great programs and projects. I think the fact that I was always ready to help and take the lead where appropriate with projects, key initiatives and critical support escalations has also been a massive help throughout my career.
Alongside gaining some formal qualifications, I think the most important bit of career advice I can offer is to be self-aware and self-critical. Not in a negative way, but in a way that’s constructive and helps you and the people around you grow and evolve. The more senior you get, the more important this is.
The other critical thing is to ditch the idea of a career ladder. Especially in cybersecurity. Think of it as more of a lattice and allow yourself to move laterally, diagonally and vertically. This will give you a chance to find your career along many different paths and to keep your options open for new and exciting opportunities.
For those looking to get right to the top, my most important piece of advice is to ‘bury the man.” By which I mean, put your ego behind you. Sometimes that means leading from behind rather than in front.
Once you get there, I’d also say the CEO’s job is to focus on the unknown business issues while the team focuses on the knowns. Then you’ve got to get your senior management team to work on the business opportunities and driving forward with them. Today, my job is to go and understand what we don’t know – talking to customers, investors, peer groups and CEOs in similar industries. That lets me learn more about what could be lurking around the corner and understand what might be occurring off-radar.
I have worked for some larger corporations in the past, and while I haven’t received bad advice per se, I’ve seen some pretty bad demonstrations of poor management. Things like: Own the room. Demand respect. You’re the smartest person in the room. Let people know you’re the boss. These are all the hallmarks of a non-democratic leader. But I will say this. If you’re open and honest with yourself, you can learn just as much from a bad leader as a good one. Just don’t turn into one!