Wendy ThomasI’ve held a number of strategic, operational and financial leadership roles in the last 25 years, including Chief Strategy Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Product Officer.

Currently, as President of Secureworks, I support multiple functions, including product and engineering, operations, customer experience, and Secureworks’ threat intelligence-focused Counter Threat UnitTM (CTU).

Right now, my number one focus is leading Secureworks’ transformation of our vision, strategy and business model. We’ve been securing customers for nearly 20 years now, but the way we’re doing that has been evolving, as the industry and our customers’ security needs to beat the adversary are changing.

Siloed detection was noisy and insufficient, and customers weren’t spending their time wisely on the events that posed the greatest risk to their organisations. Increasingly, customers and channel partners have told us that they would value our guidance in building the skills, capabilities, and resources needed to run their own SecOps (Security Operations). This enables them to leverage the same software that our experts use on behalf of our customers, with continued access to the benefit of the broad threat intelligence we gather each day across a global ecosystem.

To solve for these opportunities, we invested in a world-class team of engineers and product developers to take everything we’ve learned, with an eye toward customer pain points, to build Secureworks® TaegisTM, our cloud-native security analytics platform, taking prediction, detection, and investigation and response to the next level. We’re also investing heavily in the customer experience, embedding the Voice of the Customer in everything we do, and expanding how we go to market with channel partners to protect more customers globally.

This is a multi-faceted transformation with a single, clear purpose to outpace and outmanoeuvre the adversary at scale. I’m really proud of everything teammates across the company are doing to keep us moving forward and to protect our customers.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, I did. However, I’m afraid my forecasting success rate is pretty low! Most of the technologies that underpinned the industries I’ve worked in didn’t exist when I graduated from college.  And I’ve held roles in functions that, not only were outside my major, but were functions that I probably could not have described with great fidelity.

My career plans were always around the attributes of the career I wanted, versus titles or specialties. I sought organisations with a global footprint, in industries that would always force me to keep learning, and companies whose products and services were beneficial to the world. I wanted roles early on where my performance could be more objectively measured, ensuring my contributions and performance could be mine to own and control.

I also was very comfortable that my titles and even my compensation did not have to be linearly up and to the right. There were times, I stepped back in ‘title’, or shifted to a lower base with more compensation at risk, in different roles over the years because I saw that it added another, proverbial arrow to my quiver that was important to me in terms of my own development.  While some may not recommend a ‘non-traditional’ career approach, I think that mindset is what made me more open to taking on roles that weren’t pre-prescribed for me. That meant there were more opportunities open to me.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Everyone faces challenges – professional, personal, and unfortunately sometimes both at the same time!  The question is how you respond. Early on, I spent too much of my time thinking through a problem by myself – all the angles and permutations – and then simply taking a deep breath to keep fear of failure at bay, putting one foot in front of the other, and powering through.  Later, I learned to seek advice and a sounding board from someone I trusted.  Too often, I tried to figure things out on my own, thinking that’s what I was supposed to be able to do. But even when I was successful, net/net it simply took more time and energy than it needed to, versus if I had asked for counsel sooner.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m most proud of the number of people on my teams who have since gone on to even greater “greatness” – as they defined greatness.  For some, they’ve moved up the traditional career ladder to executive leadership, C-suite or Board roles.  But I’m equally proud of those who’ve sought counsel and support for major career path changes (both functional or industry), or how to embark on a new working model (e.g., job sharing, starting their own business), and forged their path accordingly.

From a more traditional career perspective, I’m most proud that I’ve landed in an industry that helps to make the world a better, safer place.  At Secureworks, we say our purpose is to “secure human progress,” and that truly reflects what we do each day. Whether keeping hospitals and vaccine makers safe from ransomware or making sure your financial information stays secure within your bank.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Looking back, it was my willingness and drive to take on stretch roles where I might not be wildly, perfectly successful.  I’ll admit to feeling a concern, especially later in my career, that if I put myself in a position to fail, and did, that I’d make it harder for other women (or another ‘non-traditional’ candidate) to get a shot at a similar senior opportunity.  That was an unfair burden to accept, and I often talk about that now with mentees who have similar concerns with respect to their race, veteran status, sexual orientation, etc.  It’s a very real, but not obvious, impediment to highly qualified people from accepting stretch roles that could accelerate their career path and personal development.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Three things to keep in mind in when looking to excel your career: feedback, mentors and sponsorship.

Seek feedback proactively, with an open demeanour. While not all feedback and advice will be useful, or even right for you, making people who care about you comfortable enough to share their observations and feedback will help you be more aware of how you’re perceived and enable you to grow beyond measure.

Seek mentors proactively and ensure that you have the foundational elements to make the relationship mutually beneficial.  Because a great mentor is also seeking knowledge, be equally thoughtful about what you bring to the relationship and what you specifically hope to gain.

Understand who your sponsors are (or are not) at your organisation.  Mentors are important, but careers rarely progress without strong sponsorship inside your organisation.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There are some interdependent phenomena that create a bit of kinetic friction to women (and others) in technology career paths, but I sincerely believe we can make a significant dent in that friction with the consistent application of a handful of practices over time.

  1. Pay consistency for qualified candidates regardless of race or gender. Lower pay for women means that, on average, family trade-off decisions more often result in career gaps for women, simply based on the math of income. I’m not talking about paying more regardless of the candidate’s qualifications. I’m talking about paying similarly valuable candidates (and similarly high performing employees) consistently, rather than opportunistically. That means ending the practice of offering compensation based on ‘what do you make now?’  The cycle starts early in a career and gets perpetuated over and over again across underrepresented groups.
  2. Recruiting practices. We’ve been scrubbing our job description postings around pre-qualifying requirements that are nice-to-have vs. must-have, to ensure we consider non-traditional great talent. Some of our greatest talent doesn’t have a traditional education. In fact, their proactive approach to being self-taught and obtaining certifications is a sign of drive.  And with coding challenges, internships, and other forums to do more objective assessments, the path to quality hiring is navigable.  We’ve also worked to be more conscious of how we recruit via ‘networking’ and employee referrals, particularly in situations where our employee base doesn’t reflect the diversity we see in the market.
  3. Flexibility. Particularly in technology roles, the quality, throughput, and impact of work very rarely must be done completely during traditional business hours and, as COVID has taught us, don’t always have to be done in an office building either. Presence may provide managers a false sense of control, but hours in the office do not equate to impact. They do, however, create barriers to recruiting great talent that needs any amount of flexibility. A flexible approach can benefit everyone, but women tend to be sensitive to signs of flexibility when considering a career choice, so don’t implicitly encourage them to self-select out.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

I’d ask if you’ve not only identified which of your high performers are also high potential, but have you also proactively had a meaningful dialogue with that talent around what will help them progress and be successful in your organisation?  Underrepresented groups, who don’t see someone like them in a leadership role, tend to be more hesitant to ask for mentorship, feedback, or support.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

If I had a magic wand, Hollywood would make movies with flattering portrayals of technologists who are diverse AND the heroes. If COVID taught us anything this year, it’s that science can save the world.  What could attract more, desperately needed, talent to technology than showing the powerful benefit a career in STEM can have?  Helping young people visualise the variety and impact of STEM careers is so important to building a pipeline of talent that self-selects in.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

The resources I’d recommend for tech professionals is similar for both men, women and trans professionals. However, in terms of gender-specific events, I do enjoy opportunities to network with women in the cybersecurity space as a session at broader industry events like RSA.

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