Career Notes 11.20.22
Ep 126 | 11.20.22

Omer Singer: The offense and the defense of cybersecurity. [Strategy]


Omer Singer: Hi, my name is Omer Singer and I Lead Cybersecurity Strategy at Snowflake.

Omer Singer: For me it was always gonna be about computers. Uh, my dad was a pretty early engineer at Intel, and so he got me hooked from a, from a very early age. I remember playing, uh, computer games when single person was kind of the only option and then also getting started with programming, learning basic, uh, then doing some C programming and, and just really falling in love with the power.

Omer Singer: I knew I wanted to be in computers, but I didn't know what I wanted to do within the field. When I went into to college and started studying computer engineering, I still didn't know what I wanted to do within the field. So it just started broad with general computer classes and everything that they make you learn around computers, most of which I haven't used since. But, um, USC saw that cybersecurity was going to be a really important field, and they opened up a kind of certification, where you could take classes with actual practitioners, people whose day job was in cybersecurity. But a few times a week they'd come by the campus and teach, uh, cybersecurity kind of one on one and that's where I got my exposure to cybersecurity and, really fell in love with it.

Omer Singer: So for me it was actually kind of a direct, uh, line from school to work. I mentioned that these were, um, courses led by people that were practicing in the field. Actually, one of my professors, at USC had his own cybersecurity consulting company, kind of a boutique firm, and, and I was his first hire. We started helping companies to protect themselves. Back then, you really needed to convince companies to care about cybersecurity. So it was kind of a different reality and the way that we built that awareness, we actually extended a, a kind of a free service, where with their permission, I would plug in, um, in the morning to the network and for the afternoon we had a presentation set and a blank, uh, PowerPoint presentation. And I would proceed to hack into the network and break into the servers with permission again, right? This was all authorized, but, um, then in the afternoon, show Mr./Mrs. CEO, here's a coat that you insured, and here's kind of the value, and here's how I got it, and here's screenshots from your computer and people were shocked that back then people didn't realize how vulnerable, uh, their networks were and so through that we, we built a business and, and I got to experience, um, cybersecurity also from the attacker's perspective, which is really a fun place.

Omer Singer: I kind of bounced back and forth between the offensive and defensive sides. I spent, um, about four years in the IDF serving as a Cyber Intelligence Officer and kind of saw firsthand, uh, what a well funded and motivated, uh, team of cybersecurity experts can do and it's pretty scary, I think when you then you go back to the defender's position and especially for, for companies like Snowflake, where, where I ended up, you know, it's really, uh, a zero tolerance for breach kind of environment. But before I got to Snowflake, I just had more experiences in protecting networks and one of the things that really stuck with me was, how little measurement happens in cybersecurity. So we were doing all the security work, but our customers really didn't have a sense for how good or how bad of a job we were doing and that kind of got me going on an entrepreneurial path. I was going to start my own startup, co-founder ended up dropping out. 

Omer Singer: So I found myself in, in Silicon Valley, uh, with a, uh, pregnant wife, no health insurance and, and really kind of, of predicament. But I had this background in cyber security and went and applied for security engineering roles. And, um, I didn't know what a data warehouse was, but when I learned about Snowflake as a company and how it has this mission to be kind of this, uh, infinitely scalable database in the cloud, um, I was very intrigued by that. 

Omer Singer: So when I joined Snowflake, I was in the internal security team, and our, our mission was to protect Snowflake as it went from kind of a scrappy startup that, that is, uh, kind of moving fast and breaking things to a publicly traded, uh, very well known enterprise, uh, business. So, so we built the security program to, to protect that. My experience in doing that and building that security program with a data driven approach, uh, led me to just talk to more and more customers, and I actually switched over to the product side. So these days I'm helping security teams across Snowflake's customer base to take a data driven approach to cybersecurity, apply some of the lessons that we've learned that others have learned, and I'm working with a lot of partners in the space as, uh, we're building this ecosystem. I'm helping kind of those two sides, uh, come together and, and have more successful security programs across all these thousands of customers.

Omer Singer: My leadership style is to give people a lot of credit. Um, I think you kind of need to choose early on or are you gonna trust the people you hire? And to a fault, I trust people that they're gonna do what's right and that they're gonna do a good job. I'm a big fan of OKRs, objectives and key results. Setting explicit objectives for the people on the team, then those need to roll up into the team's OKRs, which need to roll up into the company's OKRs. Everybody's clear on where we need to get to, and the key results represent how progress is measured, so giving people a lot of kind of faith upfront. But then also giving them transparency into these are objectives, these are the key results and how you'll be measured. Um, I found builds a team that is intrinsically motivated and, and gets results.

Omer Singer: I think you need to, to stick to the mantra that this too shall pass. When things are, are going great and everything is just working the way you always dreamed it would. Um, Well that'll pass and stuff will happen. But also when, when everything is going wrong and not according to plan, well that will pass too and, and for me, that was really the case, you know, and I just stuck to the things that I was passionate about, about cybersecurity and, and this kind of interesting intersection between cyber security and data stuck with that. And things did turn around and it was all for the best. So I'm keep, keep that mantra in mind, you know, this too shall pass.

Omer Singer: I do hope that people look back and that I will have made an impact. I think, uh, there are people out there, who I see doing amazing things in cyber security and I know that my team back in the day in different companies where I worked was there kind of breaking into the field because I took a chance on them and even though they didn't have any skills, that were directly relevant to the role. I saw that they had passion and they had ability, and that if they would focus themselves, we could train them up to be successful SOC analysts or to be successful in the field. And, and after that initial role, they, they've really, uh, gone on to do some amazing things and hopefully they remember back to kind of how they got the start and uh, and that I played a role in that.