Intel 471’s Senior Director of Customer Success Alex Keedy, shortlisted for Next Generation Leader of the Year in the Women in IT Awards USA 2022, discusses the need for more gender diversity in cybersecurity.
How did it feel to be shortlisted?
It was an immense honour, especially because I don’t have a traditional computer science background and am not as technical as some of the other candidates. I was so impressed to hear about my fellow nominee’s backgrounds and accomplishments. I am proud to be included with these amazing women.
Why do you think you were nominated, and the work you’ve been doing at Intel 471 so important?
Joseph (Joe) Harris, our Vice President of Intel Collection Management, nominated me for this award based on what he observed me accomplish during my tenure with Intel 471.
I was brought into the company to build and strengthen customer and operational engagement. To this end, I led the collaborative initiative to establish the Intel 471 Customer Success Team, which focuses on building, scaling, and driving an exemplary customer experience while executing the strategic growth plan. The Team zealously guides the customer journey and delivers success with operational precision.
What would have been the risk if this work hadn’t been done?
As we head into questionable market conditions, it is even more critical to be mindful of how we protect and generate revenue by delivering a valuable customer experience. At Intel 471, we continue to innovate and develop new offerings to scale and grow to provide additional value to our customers during these tenuous times. We are one of a handful of companies delivering dark web intelligence that empowers customers to anticipate, prevent and defend against cyber attacks. At Intel 471, we are committed to ensuring that our customers are happy to act as our advocates, and we accomplish this by putting our customers first and ensuring they know we have their best interests at heart.
What steps are you taking to ensure long-term success, and what would you like your legacy to be?
My goal is to have all the Customer Success playbooks, structures, and necessary cross-training in place, so the company would run like a well-oiled machine if I were to step away. I’d also like to bring in new people who would never have had a chance otherwise. I want to look back and say that what I did made a difference.
How many women are on your team?
We are committed to building diversity across all our teams, but to answer your question specifically, we have three women and two men on the Customer Success Team.
Did you have more women on your team by design?
No. But our company has diverse representation, including females at all levels, which has been refreshing.
Given there are very few women in cybersecurity, how would you encourage more to join, and what skills do they need to be successful?
Many people find the cybersecurity realm to be a bit of a mystery. They believe that they could never succeed without a highly technical background, which is contrary to what I have observed. Many of the successful people I’ve met in cybersecurity have expertise in various fields. Most successful cyber professionals have found a good mentor and continue to nurture this relationship. If I were to start my career in cybersecurity over, I would have sought out a strong mentor when I was in school – someone who I wanted to emulate, whose career trajectory and skills would help me hone my path forward.
Certifications are also a great way to get your foot in the door, but learning on the job, taking that first internship and making those connections are worth their weight in gold. Any good positions and opportunities I’ve had have been by word of mouth. Go to that conference; go to literally everything because nothing is a waste of time. Even if you just learned something new or made one connection, the whole point is just putting yourself out there.
How did you get into cybersecurity, given that you don’t have a traditional computer science background?
I studied intelligence because I thought, post 9/11, the thing to do was to go into something related to terrorism, whether it was domestic or international. I went to the University of Kentucky and worked at the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security on domestic terrorism. Then I found the Paterson School doing its first test pilot programme for cybersecurity. About four months after taking the course, a new position opened at the Homeland Security Office for cybersecurity. I did an internship there and really enjoyed it; it seemed like a good career trajectory. After graduating, I got my first job at Booz Allen Hamilton in Washington, DC and stayed in the consulting, threat, and intelligence realms.
People tend to associate the role with being geeky and nerdy. Do you recognise that representation?
You get a bit of that stigma if you’re on the operational side. My entire career, until about six months ago, was on the operational side. But you must learn that there’s a person on the other side of the computer. That’s why I think diversity plays a big role because you’ve got to understand a range of people and be able to relay information to the customer. That’s where things get lost in translation, and the customer says, ‘I don’t know what any of this means; I just want you to explain it to me in layman’s terms.’ You also need soft skills in addition to those hard technical skills.
Does diversity of thought help in this role as well?
Yes, that’s why threat intelligence is a good job choice, even if you don’t have that computer science background. If you can write well, analyse well, think outside the box and problem-solve, you’re able to see and break down threats in a different way and put together what an attack sequence would look like. If you have just one type of person thinking about attacks and adversaries, you’d be missing the whole picture.
Do you think women with certain softer empathetic skills better lend themselves to this analytical role?
I do. I’ve read a couple of studies that say women are more sceptical. They spend more time on things, ready to dig deeper into different rabbit holes. I’ve found that many men are confident and say they’re ready and that a suggestion sounds like the correct answer. Women tend to be less confident in their results and question themselves. They also tend to do a little bit more research. It’s nice to have a varied group of people on your team because you can bounce things off each other. And people can peer review and check and find different aspects and bring up further questions.
Why are you so keen to inspire more talented women into cybersecurity?
Having more women, people from different backgrounds, countries, experiences, and degrees, makes for a better workforce, able to defend against more cyber threats. All in all, you’re protecting the private sector and governments, and that’s good for every person. It just makes sense from a security standpoint. There’s just immense career potential.
It’s also great for people who want a family; that’s one area many women fear. It’s very flexible, and I’ve worked remotely before and after COVID. As you see more high-profile attacks, more customers will be spending more money and investing in more cybersecurity experts, and I think women are an untapped resource.
How does Intel 471 attract more women into the company?
Intel 471 promotes inclusion and working with everyone in the team. Our leadership vehemently protects our cultural values to be humble experts, tackle problems head-on, emphasise collaboration and camaraderie versus the competition, minimise administrative barriers and bureaucracy, and create a culture of accountability and empowerment. It is a performance-based culture that promotes diverse thinking and action to solve problems. At Intel 471, you can ask the CEO and executive management questions directly. This cements a culture of ‘we’re all working towards the same goal.’
We hear a lot about encouraging more women and girls into STEM roles. What do you think would make a difference?
A big push would be offering practitioner classes at all levels, not just theoretical or academic courses. Many people think they’re not technical enough, but they don’t know without exposure. So, it’s working with universities and getting cybersecurity and STEM into the younger classes.
These kids could learn from elementary through high school that this could be a career. Currently, they don’t know what cybersecurity is and its different offerings, such as pen tester, incident response, and threat intelligence. Education about these roles and opportunities would make a huge difference for women. It is also offering scholarships to people that show interest in cybersecurity.
Now that everyone seems to be working from home, how do you achieve a balance?
I take breaks, 15 minutes in the morning and afternoon, to walk the dogs, relax and do a mental reset. When the day is done, I like to do something that lets me escape, such as watching an educational documentary or a murder mystery, and not think about work. I watch and learn anything that can bolster my skills in different areas.
Finally, is there any particular area that you would like to highlight?
At Intel 471, when we’re looking at threat actors and detailing different types of cybercriminals, we realise there is a person behind the keyboard. So, no matter if you think your background is non-traditional or unconventional, you can find a footing within the field because we need those diverse thoughts to combat these threats. I encourage anyone interested in cybersecurity to apply. It has been a great experience for me.
Find out more about our Women In IT series of summits and events, and nominate for Women In IT USA Awards 2023 here.