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Tapping into overlooked talent to improve your security career

Dec 16, 20145 mins
CareersIT Leadership

Success in security is based on your ability to work with others. Improve your career by building a coalition of talent outside security.

Ever heard someone remark that “steel sharpens steel” in an effort to encourage you to be around people who bring out the best in you?

It’s a simple way to explain that the company we keep shapes us. People with more experience and different abilities challenge us to do better.

Naturally, we focus on finding and working with people talented in security. While working with people in security has benefits, real career grow comes from an often overlooked source of talent.

Real growth in security comes from friends outside security

Success in security is predicated on how we work with people. If you really want to make some gains, then consider the talent available to teach, challenge, and grow with you — outside security.

The good news is that everyone is interested in security.

To be fair, they may not be entirely interested — or understand — the sometimes confusing demands of the security team. As the breaches roll by, they read the headlines, change credit cards, and reluctantly sign up for credit monitoring. The people we work with sense the importance of security.

That creates an opportunity.

Instead of thinking about ways to ‘teach’ others in a broad fashion (like lunch and learns), focus on building relationships to advance your career.

What coalition of talent can you build?

Who is the top talent in IT, legal, procurement, marketing, sales, and other departments. These individuals are the hidden talent around you. Consider how bringing the team together or working with these top performers provides a mutual benefit.

Each has something to teach, a desire to learn. Tap into their knowledge and experience. Even better, find ways to experience their experience.

Surround yourself with the talent you need to be successful

Back when I ran a security practice, I used to meet with 2-3 members of the sales team on Wednesday mornings. It was their idea, actually. Over breakfast, we’d talk about sports, hobbies, our families – the stuff friends talk about. As we cleared the table and refilled our drinks, the conversation shifted to how to better explain security.

I thought the meetings were for their benefit. The reality is that I got as much value, if not more, from our sessions.

As a result of those breakfast meetings, I’d get invited on sales calls. They’d coach me on who the person was, where they were in the sales cycle, and what they expected from me. After the meeting, they’d share their impression of how it went – good or bad.

There is no better teacher than experience. It’s living a day in their life. Seeing the world through their eyes. Learning, first hand, what challenges they face. You might see where your best intentions created less-than-ideal situations for them.

In the process, I made real friends. And I learned from our conversations as much as I learned from watching them in action. I took away steps, phrases, and approaches that continue to benefit me today.

Get by with a little help from your friends

Some of the most remarkable gains in my security career came through friendships with people in legal, marketing, and sales. I routinely draw on the lessons from each of the areas. Sometimes I even call my friends up to let them know something they taught me over a decade ago has finally clicked.

Learning how other people solve similar problems is a powerful way to bring those ideas back to our practice of security.

In the process of working with top-talent from other teams, you learn to communicate better. They force you to distill, to clarify, and to explain. In return, they share their experience and knowledge. Over time, we gain the ability to draw on those conversations and experiences to make better decisions.

Experiencing their challenges, first hand, helps you to build better solutions from the start. You know the questions to ask. More importantly, you know who to involve, and how to engage them.

Our friends become champions. And when they need a hand, they reach out to us.

The benefit of surrounding yourself with talent outside security

Building and surrounding yourself with a coalition of talent outside security brings nothing but benefits. These are the relationships we need to drive success in security. Plus, it’s easier to call on a friend to get the inside scoop –and some support — than showing up to a meeting to “talk security.”

Ultimately, these relationships inspire our best performance. They challenge us to do more, to do better. Through the process, we develop the skills necessary for successful in security.

Start today.

Find someone in your organization who is not part of security and is recognized as a high performer. Start with a lunch. Or a breakfast. Offer a mutual benefit with a real desire to get to know them, to learn from them, and perhaps to share.

Who else would you put on this list? Let me know who you make friends with and how it helps improve your career.


Michael Santarcangelo develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success. The founder of Security Catalyst, he draws on nearly two decades of experience of success advancing security in variety of operational roles. He guides leaders and teams on the best next step of their journey.

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