Career Notes 12.11.22
Ep 129 | 12.11.22

Jameeka Aaron: Sometimes you just have to follow two paths. [CISO]


Jameeka Aaron: Hello, my name is Jameeka Green Aaron and I am a Chief Information Security Officer at Auth0 a product unit of Okta.

Jameeka Aaron: I wanted to be MacGyver, that was my favorite TV show. Um, and I just thought everything about it was really spectacular. And that turned into me taking apart so many things in my family's home, the vacuum cleaner, uh, the VCR, uh, lots of what are now kind of, uh, legacy technologies, uh, that got me shipped off to STEM camp on the weekends. I spent my weekends in the Bay Area, the Lawrence Hall of Science, and the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories and the Berkeley Hall of Science and that, you know, set me on the path to today. Didn't know that then, but now I look back on it now and think brilliant of my parents to channel my energy in that direction.

Jameeka Aaron: I was actually not that great of a student. One of the things that was the result of that is I was like, well, are you gonna go to community college to kind of clean it up? What are you gonna do next? And I decided that I did not want to, um, stay at home, number one, but also that I needed to do something that would keep me very focused, but was also fun. And so I chose the military and decided to go into the Navy and I happenstance my recruiter she says, I think you would be great at the job that I do, which is now a legacy rating called Radioman, which is RM went to the Navy, uh, as a radioman, and shortly after I graduated from RMA school and went to the USS Freshmore, which was my first duty station, our name changed from Radioman to IT and that is the job that it is right now today. So that is kind of where I got my initial chops in tech, but also started my journey in college. So I followed two paths at the same time. I was doing college education, but I also was certifying at the same time.

Jameeka Aaron: I faced challenges, but I didn't know what I was looking at. I didn't know, um, that women weren't supposed to. I didn't know that there were challenges around racism still in our country because I grew up in a very diverse community, and so it wasn't something that I had really experienced in my life up until that point. I touched down the Navy and was like, there's something here that I just don't understand and it's a multitude of things that are regarding cyber and women and black people and, and people of color in this industry. That wasn't work that I did early on because I didn't know. When I started to understand what was happening, I advanced very, very quickly, uh, in the Navy as an enlisted person and what I came to understand when I made Chief was that, um, you're different and, and there's something going on here.

Jameeka Aaron: I was in a group of 13 sailors who made chief at that time in 2006. I was the youngest and I was the only woman and I was the only black person. And I remember looking around, um, the day that I was pinned and thinking "my family is the only black family here" and I thought to myself, "I think we might have a diversity problem," and it was a very lonely time for me and it was the first of what I would realize would be times in my career where, um, although my head was really in the game, I was a little bit heartbroken to, to be an only, um, or to be a first. And I realized that this was something that I was going to have to figure out how to address it and how to not have that feeling of otherness and I said to myself, you will be better than this and you will help change the game. And so as I went to Lockheed, that was one of the first things on my mind is how do you create a workforce that looks like the world that you really live in?

Jameeka Aaron: So I started at Lockheed Martin Mission Systems in San Diego and spent five years there with that team building a team of, um, both physical and cybersecurity professionals. And so that was thrilling work. I'd never done the physical security side. And then I decided that I wanted to kind of follow a career path where I realized cybersecurity folks can do anything, everywhere. We're everywhere, we're in every industry. And so I started to kind of say, "I wanna work on programs that are fun for me." And so interviewed for a job at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, got the job, and then after about two or three years there, I realized, Hey, it's time for you to move on. What do you wanna do next?

Jameeka Aaron: One day my husband was talking to me and he's like, I really think that you would do well to to find a space where your personality and your passion for what you do match up and I remember thinking, "this is just not the advice that I even asked for, wanted him to give," but it set with me. The next day I went on LinkedIn and I saw that Nike had a job for director of business engagement for their international businesses, Converse and Hurley and I thought, this is the perfect job. I'm gonna be talking about cybersecurity and the programs, applied for the job, the recruiter called me the next day. By that Friday I was on a plane to Oregon to interview, got the job and that summer of 2016, I resigned from Lockheed.

Jameeka Aaron: Nike sold Hurley at the end of 2019 and coincidentally, one of my, uh, leaders at Nike who had left in, I think 2018, came to Auth0, was the CISO of Auth0, called and said, I think you'd make a great CISO for Auth0. I'm leaving, I think you should interview for the role. I started the interview process in the summer of 2020, uh, finished and got the job in January of 2021. Accept the offer and joined Auth0 in March of 2021, right in the middle of Okta acquisition. It was actually announced a few days later, I was aware of it and by that point I was very aware of who Okta was and was really excited, and that's kind of how I landed where I am today. I'm doing a ton of incredible work between both companies.

Jameeka Aaron: I think a, a big part of, um, my leadership muscle is making sure that I'm clear about what's being asked of me. Um, and what I can do. I'm very, very transparent. I use the word transparent, but what I really like to say is that I'm clear. I believe in clarity. Sometimes you can't share everything with your teams and so, but you can make sure that they understand what's happening and so I would say that's my leadership style. I'm a very, uh, open leader. I would like to think that I, um, am the kind of leader that people would want to work for. I believe in leadership development and growth. Um, I believe in, in honesty and clarity and transparency, but I also believe in continuous learning. Um, this is a journey, not a destination. Cyber is always changing, and so you have to be the kind of leader that really pushes your team to operational excellence around education and how we work.

Jameeka Aaron: One of the things that I think is, is challenging industry right now, we're seeing the great resignation and I think that the great resignation is really about people and how they feel and how they're treated at work and the culture that, that they can thrive in. People are leaving because they're not finding space for them to be their authentic selves at work. Now I do think it's still work, and so I do think that there are guidelines for how you do that. But more than anything, I've been able to thrive, um, in the midst of all of my adversity because I was just honest. I was honest about the days that I was struggling. I was honest about the days when I was tired. I was honest about, um, how I work. I am someone who will throw themselves into their work, um, when things are challenging. And I was really honest about what I was doing. Understanding that there would probably come a day where I would need some significant downtime and I would have to take that and so I was very honest about that. 

Jameeka Aaron: I've reached a level of success where I can be very very transparent. However, it is one of my leadership styles to not just be transparent, but allow people to be transparent and honest with me and so I do that. Sometimes you have to give your leaders the opportunity to show up for you as human beings, because they will do that, um, if you give them the chance. The other thing is I think that that's where we, we find ourselves really challenged in the workspace, is not really truly gauging or being honest with ourselves about the places that we work and what they can give us and what they cannot give us. Your workspace is not gonna give you everything that you need all the time, sometimes you have to find that in other places. I understand that work is not supposed to do everything for you. You are supposed to have friends and family and, and your tribes that really help shore you up during times of adversity and I leverage them all the time.

Jameeka Aaron: I hope that I am remembered, um, as someone who, first of all was a great cyber professional who, um, identity is about people and I think that I have found my way, um, in this space, in this identity space where we're taking technology that should benefit people and really putting that into practice. So I hope that people remember that about me, that I was someone who, who felt like and believed in and worked to make sure that technology, um, was about people.