Career Notes 9.25.22
Ep 118 | 9.25.22

Adam Marrè: Learning to be a leader. [CISO]


Adam Marrè: Hello, my name is Adam Marrè. I am the Chief Information Security Officer at Arctic Wolf.

Adam Marrè: So growing up like many people of my vintage, I got into video games, uh, at a pretty young age. And boy, I just loved, you know, the stories, the visuals, everything about video games and even got into, you know, some of the underlying code and things like that at an early age and in fact, I uh, actually designed my own video game at, uh, I think I was about seven years old and sent my design into Nintendo and they were kind enough to send me back a letter saying, you know, we don't take, uh, designs from young children and sent me some swag, but I was very interested in that and that's kind of what got me started, my interest in computers and networks and all of that. But it was not til much later that I got interested in cybersecurity.

Adam Marrè: So back in those days, and this was, you know, the late nineties, early 2000 timeframe, they didn't have video game design degrees, at least widespread at all. I mean, that wasn't even a, a thing. So, I actually went and got a degree in humanities and the reason I did that was because they allowed you to cobble together a degree for many different disciplines and so I was able to take, you know, coding classes, web design classes, as well as art and design and kind of put together a, a degree for myself. Through some connections I had, I got an opportunity to try, uh, to be an intern. I actually interviewed originally as, as a writer and designer at, uh, the video game studio that was in my local area and I was able to, uh, get an internship and eventually turn that into full-time job.

Adam Marrè: I have kind of an atypical path to cybersecurity and to what I do today as a CISO. But, you know, I talk to a lot of people who came up around the time I did and I think all of us, or most of us have, you know, these circuitous roots. I was working in video games as a developer leading a design team and, uh, 9/11 happened and the attacks of September 11th had a profound effect upon me and I decided at that time to really make a move, to do something different, I really felt compelled to change my trajectory to something that was, you know, more focused on, uh, protecting the nation, preventing something like this from happening again and as I studied things that I could possibly do. Uh, the FBI really jumped it out at me as something that I was very interested in and so I started to make moves to be able to qualify for a job, uh, with the FBI. Today it would be much different, back in those days, I didn't quite have the qualifications required. Now, they're much more interested in people who have a computer background.

Adam Marrè: So when I joined the FBI I was assigned to, uh, a smaller satellite office, uh, or a field office. There were only four agents in the office, so I was doing everything from international terrorism, investigations, counterintelligence, gang interdiction and including cyber. So I began cyber investigations almost immediately and that just grabbed me. I had such an interest in it from the very beginning because it combined my interest and love of computers and networks with, uh, everything I had been taught and was learning about investigations. I eventually became, uh, computer forensic certified and, you know, was dealing with cases in large scale. So that was really exciting for me to do, uh, to participate in all those different kinds of investigations.

Adam Marrè: Really it came to the point where I really wanted, uh, a new challenge. I loved my time in the FBI, there was a situation that rose, uh, with my family, where I wanted to change some of, uh, the way I was working and going into the private sector really just seemed to be the answer to that. So I loved my FBI career. It was great, but really wanted a new challenge. I really wanted the chance to work on a security program from the inside. See if I could build a world class, best in class, security program. So that was the challenge, uh, that I wanted and it just so happens that, uh, one of the things I did as an FBI agent, a lot was outreach to various companies. We would offer to do a, uh, a presentation to the company. So we would give these presentations that were security awareness briefings and so I did a lot of these and I happened to give a briefing to a company called Qualtrics and that turned into an opportunity to interview with them.

Adam Marrè: They, uh, ultimately offered me a job. I was one of the first, uh, security employees hired to focus, you know, entirely on security and that gave me the opportunity to help build a program almost from the ground up and I learned a lot doing that and that led to, you know, after four years of building that great security program there, having the chance to join Arctic Wolf. The reason I was interested in Arctic Wolf is because it's an amazing company that is focused on something that I saw was a huge gap in the industry. I couldn't pass up to, to join as the Chief Information Security Officer, where I would get to participate both as a, a leader of the business, building the internal security team, but also, uh, offer my expertise in an industry and a vertical that I have a lot of, uh, experience in, in that security operations.

Adam Marrè: Something I learned, uh, really starting when I was, uh, on the SWAT team, in the FBI, that was probably where these lessons became the most readily apparent and that is that leadership is its own domain and set of skills aside from whatever it is you're doing. So you can be a great individual contributor in cybersecurity, like you can be the best pentester or blue team member, but once you start to have leadership roles there's a whole different set of skills that you need to bring to bear and I really started, you know, when I was in the FBI, I really started to work on and, and hone those skills and so I really see leadership or management as taking the time to help your people find success and you do that by setting the direction of the team. I think if you really cover those things, you give them the direction, you coach, and then you give them, uh, training and experience in their career. You're gonna have a world class team.

Adam Marrè: We all have those days, how I handle that is really returning back to my principles and what I really believe in and I'm really passionate about security and helping people learn all the things they need to do to protect themselves and I'm also passionate about people finding success in their careers and in their lives. That helps me get through that adversity and then once you have a chance to stop and, and reflect, you can look back and do a root cause analysis or after-action review and say, what could we have done better? And once you've done that a few times, it really makes you resilient to adversity because it really helps you get through the intensity of the moment, knowing that you have the systems in place that will help you get there and when you've done it enough times that it becomes habit, or you're confident that you're going to do it, it really lowers that stress in the moment.

Adam Marrè: So kind of the number one thing I like to tell people when they're considering entering the cybersecurity field, whether that be, you know, in school or as a later career change, is that the most important thing that you can bring is a desire to work in the field is just that. Whatever it is that's motivating you grab onto that, latch onto that. We really need people. So if you have that desire, come bring everything, bring all of your life experience. If this is a career change for you, bring your enthusiasm. Uh, if it's, you know what you're doing just right outta high school and into college. Bring that desire and then just be confident as you move forward, figure out what area interests you, get technical, deep dive as much as you can give as much experience as you can, and then enter the field. Don't, don't be afraid, be confident and move forward.