Career Notes 7.24.22
Ep 109 | 7.24.22

Mary Writz: Take a negative and make it into a positive. [VP Product Strategy]


Mary Writz: Hello, my name is Mary Writz. I'm Vice President of Product Strategy at ForgeRock.

Mary Writz: Most of my career I've been a woman in a male dominated career and in fact, I became a manager and a leader very early on. So I was often leading people, mostly men older than me, potentially smarter than me, more well paid than me. So I had to learn how to think about galvanizing this group to charge forward with me, even though I was a bit of a minority in that way, but my method for doing that was just to make sure we all stayed very passionate about what we're running toward.

Mary Writz: I had a hunch that I wanted to be an accountant because I had a pragmatic mindset and some good business acumen. Turns out in college, I took some accounting classes and realized I definitely did not want to be an accountant. I took other classes that excited me so much more. Uh, I started taking math classes like calculus, linear algebra, and I also started taking computer classes, particularly networking and that just really sparked my intellectual curiosity. So I just kept running in that direction and pivoted to eventually cybersecurity.

Mary Writz: When I realized that I definitely did not wanna do accounting, I was halfway through my degree and I didn't wanna change schools. I was in the business school, so I stayed in the business school and majored in information systems, which was a good middle ground at the time to pair, studying computer science with business domains.

Mary Writz: I had an internship, where I ran IT for a small startup and then I took this job at IBM. They were hiring for ethical hackers, which sounded like the coolest job I'd ever heard. I didn't know what I was doing, but it was 2001. Nobody knew what they were doing and I knew just enough to be dangerous, so it was a really great start to my career. I stayed a security practitioner in pen testing, some forensics, some security architecture and then I started pivoting to building services and products around threat detection and that's really where I settled into my career and grew into an executive was through this product rank of building products to help protect enterprises.

Mary Writz: You know, products an interesting space, you spend like a third of your time learning, understanding the market, the competition, technology, and then you spend about a third of the time designing your strategy and what's gonna be important to build, uh, to go forward and you spend about a third of time communicating to everybody to make sure they understand what you're doing, so it's a very hyper connected type role. I spend a lot of time, day to day on the phone, connecting with people, but also just rolling up my sleeves and thinking about what we're doing, why we're doing it, and just sort of obsessively looking to see if I'm missing anything.

Mary Writz: A big part of my ability to progress my career has been public speaking, both in small venues and big, some life changing events for me happen speaking to small groups, but board meeting type groups that really elevated my profile and also being confident to speak in large audiences. Even more importantly, to speak about my ideas about technology and why they're valuable and why we should build them and why we should prioritize the things we're prioritizing. So I feel like communications has been so key and particularly in cybersecurity, some of the concepts can be deeply technical. So finding ways to talk about what you're doing in accessible ways for a broad audience, not everyone you're talking to is technical. So how can you think about these concepts, but convey them in ways that are understandable.

Mary Writz: I find that when I'm talking about identity and access, I talk about it from their perspective. So, you know, when you're trying to log into a website to do something, our technology is under the hood validating that you are who you say you are and that you should have access and so I try and frame it from the lens that they experience the technology. I tend to lead very high performing teams and I have much of my career. I've honed my skills for that particular type of high performing employee, which is to set a really strong vision and get buy in. So have the team help set the vision and strategy because then they feel ownership and they'll run and take it across the line for me.

Mary Writz: Well, there's two things I tell myself and the first is focusing on what's the next thing I need to do, so I get very shortsighted on what's the next thing I need to do so I can keep moving forward. The second thing is to remind myself that these are actually usually the defining moments in your career, and you can turn something that feels negative into a positive by showing people how you can respond to what's happening with a lot of energy and focus and care. So you can turn these things around, you know, we've seen some really bad breaches for example happen, but the response was so amazing by the enterprise that had actually gained customer loyalty and so I try to remind myself that these are opportunities and try and think about it like that.

Mary Writz: I think this area is the funnest area to be in. It's a hyper-growth area with a lot of things changing all the time. So I would say jump right in and don't be afraid to take some risks. It's a really interesting area and just get exposed to a lot of different things and take some risks. While I really love the technology accomplishments. I've had the things that mean the most to me are when employees or peers will tell me that working with me or for me change their life for the positive and that is what I would hope my legacy would be that the people around me would feel that they've been able to achieve career milestones or have a really stable, interesting job thanks to my help, that's what I hope my legacy will be.