Career Notes 1.3.21
Ep 30 | 1.3.21

Ellen Sundra: Actions speak louder than words. [Engineering]


Ellen Sundra: Hello, I'm Ellen Sundra. I'm the Vice President of Global Systems Engineering at Forescout Technologies.

Ellen Sundra: Well, I always gravitated toward technical toys. I was the one that asked for the mechanical robot and then promptly took it apart to see how it worked. So I migrated in that direction when I was younger, when I went to school and in college, I found that I migrated towards the math classes just purely because I had better grades in math than I did in English. So before I knew it, I was halfway on to a computer science degree and then I was off and running.

Ellen Sundra: When I graduated college, it was in the early nineties, so there wasn't a lot of options that I was aware of at the time. I started as a tech assistant in a architectural firm, just doing a little bit of programming and helping them with their computer systems. Shortly after that, Windows 95 was released and I saw a lot of frustration with the architects and navigating through this new application that they had to work through to design their buildings. So in my free time, I created a training program and I sat down with each one of them and I walked them through the new software. And after about six months, I realized that my real passion was training people and educating people.

Ellen Sundra: I think what made me unique in the role that I was in was that I was a woman and I was able to communicate very technical topics in a very simplistic way. It made customers feel very comfortable. It made the teams I worked with more comfortable with the technical subjects. Eventually, I started pulling in people that had the other the same skill sets that I had. And I built a team around me. And that's when it was suggested that I move into management and build larger teams.

Ellen Sundra: I've inherited a very technical team at Forescout. A really talented team. I found where I could really provide a lot of value was on the soft skills side. My training background really came into play with being able to help coach on some of those soft skills, the communication skills, the presentation skills, something that was was needed when you have very technical people that are trying to communicate to a larger audience. So today I find that a lot of my coaching of my team is more around the soft skills side. And then I find they're very motivated to learn their own technical skills.

Ellen Sundra: When I started training, I was thrown into a world that I wasn't expecting. And it was primarily men. It would be a class of 50 people, and I did feel a little challenged. I'm certain they were uncomfortable when I walked into a room and saw a young woman. How on earth is she going to teach me data communications? So I had to learn very quickly to not try to prove myself to them, but show them what I knew. And by training and by teaching, I was able to communicate what my understanding of the technology rather than listing off certifications and trying to prove my value to them. I learned that actions speak louder than words, and if you're able to provide value to them, they really in the end don't care about your gender or your age and really your background.

Ellen Sundra: I think when people think of cybersecurity or security in general, programming comes to mind and and really a lot of the degrees have a lot of programming in them. But I think when you're looking at the cybersecurity world, you have to keep a really broad, open mind on all the different aspects and all the different jobs that can benefit from a cybersecurity skill set. It's not just programming, but there are jobs that would involve whether it's government fairs or marketing or contracting, in my case, sales. There are a lot of jobs that people are not aware of until they get into the industry. So take the first job, get in, but then keep your eyes open and figure out where your skill set is going to best serve you and the organization you work for.

Ellen Sundra: In the beginning of my career, I always tried to fit in. I tried to be one of the guys and there was a point in my career when I realized that what made me special and unique was the fact that I am a woman and that I do think differently. So once I got comfortable with voicing my own opinion and that might might go against the norms, I found that my career really started to take off because the value that I was bringing to the table was unique and all the other people sitting at that table. So I wish I would have developed my own voice earlier in my career. I think it's important to embrace that diversity and the perspective that you bring to the table so everyone should find what their unique skill set is. What are they bringing to the table? What's their perspective and really embrace it?