Our VP of Engineering & Security is dominating 2019. This year alone, Jennifer Minella has been featured in Cyber Ventures “Women Know Cyber: 100 Fascinating Females Fighting Cybercrime” and spoken at industry-leading events including the RSA Conference and the (ISC)2 Secure Summit in Hong Kong. On June 14, Jennifer was ranked #4 in Security Thought Leadership on IFSEC Global’s Top Influencers in Fire and Security for 2019! A champion for all-things security and IT, Jennifer talks about her latest achievement.
What sparked your interest in security and IT?
Growing up in a family-owned technology company made tech a natural path for me. My interest in security came soon after, when I realized how easily networked systems could be compromised. I pursued a path in InfoSec early in my career, earning my (ISC)2 CISSP certification in my 20s.
Do you have any mentors? If so, who are they and how have they helped you get to where you are today?
Absolutely! I have (and have had in the past) so many mentors. Aside from my parents, professionals like Alan Shimel, Chris Hoff, Mike Rothman and others helped me, believed in me, and nurtured my professional growth. Even locally, there are many friends I consider mentors and look to for myriad advice including Chuck Kesler, Dr. Uma Gupta and too many others to name.
When did you first become involved in the national and international security arena?
Soon after earning high-level technical certifications and the CISSP in 2008, I began speaking at national and international conferences in different industries on security. My blog became a hub of information on various network security and wireless topics, often referenced by professionals and editors of magazines. I was also consulting for media along with enterprise clients. By the time 2009 rolled around, I was fortunate to become somewhat of a fixture at some of the largest professional conferences including Interop and later RSAC, as well as more localized events promoting public-private partnerships like the US Secret Service ECTF, FBI and InfraGard.
You spend quite a bit of time volunteering. What inspires you to volunteer your time to serving individuals and organizations in the security industry?
There are a lot of reasons humans like to volunteer, including that warm fuzzy feeling of doing right by the world. For me, some of the volunteer opportunities are very personal. I’m just wired to be a ‘helper’ and love participating in ways that move the needle for people or industries. I serve on the Board of (ISC)2, an international organization with approximately 150,000 members in 100+ countries. This is at the opposite end of the spectrum of the local CyberPatriot teams that I have mentored over the years. That organization allows me to work directly with a couple dozen amazing high school students 1-on-1. We’re in a time when cybersecurity is critical to all businesses, as digital assets outweigh traditional physical assets, but we’re struggling with a lack of talent coming in to the field. It’s great to participate in any project that helps bridge that gap– no matter how small.
At the end of the day, if I can improve just one person’s life, get one more person interested in what we do, or help one other security professional be successful, then I can say it’s a good day.
What does being a security thought leader mean to you?
There’s a quote from Peter Drucker that says, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Being a thought leader means helping the world figure out what the right things are.
What role do you hope to play as an industry thought leader moving forward?
I think most of us cringe when we are described as a “thought leader’” or “expert” in our field. For me, I’m very humbled by the recognition, and I tie the definition back to helping people. I think my contribution to the world is to help bridge the gaps between technical concepts and business needs, communicate effectively, facilitate connections that help other people, and walk the tightrope of the type of “blue sky” open thinking that lets us evolve. If I can help others with these activities while also help develop others to make meaningful contributions, then I’ve hit the target. For me, that means continuing to mentor (and to always BE mentored), to volunteer as much as possible, and make sure I’m staying educated and well-informed about what’s going on in the digital world.
How has being an international speaker, trusted advisor and security expert challenged you as a professional? How has it helped you grow as a professional?
There are definitely a lot of challenges, and in this area I tend to do things the hard way; I usually write custom content for my audience and topic. I’m frequently asked to speak at conferences and work with the event team to understand how I can help fill knowledge gaps. It’s rewarding, but it means a lot of extra work as each hour of content takes several hours to develop and refine. Both my regular work and speaking roles also mean I frequently have to step outside of my normal competency and learn something new or tangential to existing knowledge. So I always do research, I really dive into the subject matter.
How has mindfulness-based leadership impacted your leadership style?
Mindfulness has had a profound impact on my daily life at home and at work. You’d have to ask the people around me, but I like to think I’ve developed a high level of EQ and general awareness of myself and others. That translates to better communication, greater depth of trust and transparency, and the ability to delegate more as I become less and less attached to specific ideas or outcomes.
Where do you see the security industry headed in the next 5 years?
There are several trains of thought my brain embarks on here. First, I think we’ll have a better integration of people with technology, even as we move toward the direction of automation and AI. It’s a bold statement, but I think the human factors and application of softer skills (which are actually quite hard) such as mindfulness, will become an accepted modality of success and part of the profession.
On the more technical level, I think we’re headed down interesting roads with cryptography (one of my geeky passions), both in terms of highly sophisticated systems which will nullify most of the security technology we have today, as well as drastic swings in how people and devices are uniquely identified and authenticated.
What trends or issues are emerging in the industry? How can thought leaders such as yourself shape the conversation?
The short-term trends are always interesting but more anecdotal as they tend to be cyclic. When you’ve been in the industry for a long time, it’s hard to get excited or roused by the trend-of-the-day that’s just a thinly veiled up-cycle of yesterday’s fad. But certainly there are meaningful and more long-term trends that we follow. I think our role in these conversations is to remind the world that “change is the only constant” and we have to constantly challenge ourselves, our thinking, our perception and our bias. A strong leader not only challenges traditional thoughts, but actively creates a safe environment for professionals and organizations to test new ideas.
You have to be okay with failing, and you have to build the trust of those around you to take the same chances.