Career Notes 5.8.22
Ep 99 | 5.8.22

Amanda Fennell: There's a cyber warrior in all of us [CSO/CIO]


Amanda Fennell: Hello, my name is Amanda Fennell, chief security officer and chief information officer at Relativity.

Amanda Fennell: The most common answer when somebody asks me what I wanted to be was typically an archeologist, but the reality was a librarian, which I feel like is maybe an archeologist in its own way.

Amanda Fennell: I came from a reasonably not well-to-do family, and so like, college was where I was going to either become something different than everything that there had been, or I was going to not go to college and not have any specific direction. So I definitely was very emphatic about getting to college and I went to the college that gave me the most financial aid, essentially because again, aforementioned not any money, and uh, that was quite a journey, and I turned out, I actually did really great in college and not great in high school, 'cause I was really bored in high school.

Amanda Fennell: I knew from the time I was 12 years old sitting in a vet's office and there was a Time magazine, that they had just discovered Ramesses the seconds tomb in Egypt, and I said, that's it, that's for me. I was always told because I loved history and reading, I could just be a lawyer or a teacher, and when I saw that, I said, no, no, no, I could be Indiana Jones, I could do archeology, went straight in knowing what I wanted to be and going through archeology did it in three years and started working in anthropology and archeology.

Amanda Fennell: The reason I love internships is because I learned a really valuable lesson that, what you think something is in academia is not what it is in real life. So starting in archeology, I realized, wow, you basically live in a hotel and you're very lonely and don't know anyone, and you're spending all day in the ground with a little brush and a little trowel. So it was just not at all what you think it is as you're going through all of your academics, and, I tried to keep going in it and get a master's in it, but it just was really lonely and boring and not what you thought it was. So I decided to start looking for something that had more job security and could use my skills in different ways.

Amanda Fennell: I was sitting in a graduate course for paleo homonid biology, and the teacher came in at the Smithsonian and said, um, look around, there were 32 of you, and there is one full-time paying job in this industry in the entire country, and I currently am in that role. So none of you are going to be spending $150,000 in student debt to get a job, so I said, huh, I'm going to look for something else, and I stumbled upon at the time, the very early industry of digital forensics. So I dug into it and thought, I don't know anything about computers. I barely got past my, you know intro to computer science courses and everything. But as I dug into it, I really loved this and I thought I could do this. I could do the same skillset, but with technology where I am able to take a small piece of something and extrapolate what happens and how to fix it.

Amanda Fennell: Once the industry of digital forensics became known, it was just a frenzy of recruiting and really great opportunities, uh, everyone loved that there was a formal education coming from that industry, so really just, you know, baptism by fire, worked for guidance software, and then, um, Booz Allen Hamilton, all the three letter agencies and everything in the DC area learned a lot Symantec. These were all great names, but eventually you get to a point where you want to implement great security that you have been watching and not controlling for a long time, and so I tried it, and one day I got a phone call from the founder and at the time the CEO and he said, I don't know if you know about Relativity. I said, I do, of course, I know I'm in investigations. I know about Relativity and e-discovery, and I said, but I I've got like 58 business units, you can't really sell to me and he said, I don't want to sell to you. I want you to work for me and, you know, it starts like every conversation, it didn't feel like it was going to be the right fit or the right time, but what a compelling idea for somebody to say, I will let you build the program you've always wanted, here you go. I had take it.

Amanda Fennell: I learned the valuable lesson of what it looks like to move too fast for once, I think a lot of people in our industry, we complain that things go too slow or that we have to take so much time, but I was finally in an arena where it was a slingshot, you know, you, you pull back and get ready to go and you take off and I learned that there are some mistakes and stumbling along the way when you go too fast and, uh, learned how to slow down, which was really ironic to come to a startup industry and this really booming thing, but to learn that this was where I slowed down and uh become a lot more thoughtful.

Amanda Fennell: I'm pretty used to being on remote audio dial-ins and video calls all the time, but, uh, covid definitely put it into overdrive where now everything transitioned into this remote access capability. So I come to my desk in my home office, sit here, get through my emails, make sure there's nothing crazy on fire and then work on developing and strategy for making sure that we're just innovating in the security space and doing what we can to make sure that we contribute, making things better.

Amanda Fennell: You know, it's hard to feel like you could be an inspiration. You go through so easily with imposter syndrome until you don't, it's like you, you just finally, one day you realize I can do this and I do my best and I'm giving it everything I have, and so looking back, I wish that probably I had access to technology earlier. I wish that I had been able to, to learn more about computers earlier on, but the only thing that really got me to where I am more than anything is enjoying what I do, uh, and being good at it hopefully or great, um, is what I aspire to. But curiosity, I think that's how I came upon a lot of different opportunities, seizing that opportunity when it showed up. 

Amanda Fennell: I think that my go-to when something really difficult comes at me is nowadays, to stop and breathe and give the other person or party, or etcetera, opportunity to speak and listen with open ears about this. So often whenever something comes up, that's not going your way. It's really quick to put up defenses and attack back or try to prove why you're right or something. I think a lot of times people expect that, but I prefer to do the unexpected. So instead I like to be thoughtful and open to the idea that I could be wrong and listen very thoughtfully to what what's being put in.

Amanda Fennell: I've thought of this before, how to be remembered. I do hope that I left things better than I found them, not just the security of a product or a company, but I believe strongly that every person has a little cyber warrior inside of them and can become something really great to contribute back into the security of the world. So I just hope that I've inspired some of us and in my company, uh, hopefully to be that cyber warrior and that they look back and think that this was a really great opportunity that they learned more about security.