Strategic Cyber Ventures is supported by an incredible board of advisors, with decades of cumulative experience spanning a myriad of industries.
In this series, we’re taking the time to get to know our Advisory Board on a deeper level.
Strategic Cyber Ventures: Tell us a little bit about your background and your relationship with the cybersecurity industry.
Simone Petrella: I think I’m like a lot of cyber professionals where my path into the industry was actually not through computer science or cybersecurity per se. I actually started out in the Department of Defense, and I have a threat intelligence background.
In 2005, I left government and went to work for Booz Allen. My background in the industry is all in the threat of different cyber actors and what they could do in this context into the DOD or the US government, and at the time it was not a popular mission, it wasn’t the sexy thing to do.
But I distinctly remember going home one day and thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know where this whole computer thing is going, but let’s stick it out and see where it goes’.
SCV: Tell us a bit about how you got started with CyberVista.
SP: I had the problem that I was looking to solve, which was, in this emerging field, there was a ton of opportunity and I could not hire and retain staff to fill the gaps of what I needed in my project.
My common story that I tell is that I would find really great talent, and I would say, we’re going to give them training, we’re going to get them technical expertise. I loved finding people with alternative backgrounds and making and growing them into cyber professionals. And after about 18 months they would say, ‘thank you so much for this experience I’ve learned so much. I have accepted another job offer from a competitor for 30% more.’ And I couldn’t do anything about it! I didn’t have that leeway to give a 30% raise to someone after 18 months.
So, I live this problem, this workforce shortage, where there just wasn’t enough qualified talent to fill the roles. So in 2015, I had the opportunity to found CyberVista. And our mission is to disrupt the way we think about the model of education. The underpinning of our philosophy is that companies need to invest in growing and developing their talent inside first, and stop relying on external forces, whether it be universities or vocational schools or even traditional training mechanisms, to somehow create a workforce that they need, especially when the job roles have changed so significantly.
SCV: It seems as though anyone can really get involved in cybersecurity. Can you say more about the ‘workforce shortage’ and what we can do to combat it?
SP: I don’t have a background in education and training but it’s certainly something that leads into it. And I think every issue comes back to education — I would love to see a world where we can go back and teach people how to learn, and have a passion for learning because if you’re interested and have the willingness, you don’t need to have a hidden talent for cybersecurity. You can do anything with almost any skill set.
My biggest pet peeve is when people tell me: ‘well the only people that I can have be cybersecurity professionals are those that take apart computers in their spare time and put them back together, and they’re hacking things ,and playing video games, etc etc etc’. I think that that does a massive disservice to not only the industry, but also the types of people that could be successful in the industry, because it’s extremely limiting.
What you really have to instill in the next generation is that ability to absorb new material, learn something new, and the ability pick up new skills that can be translatable into a lot of new environments and a lot of new job opportunities. That’s exciting!
So it does start early and I think that there’s also a lot to be said for the marketing problem that cybersecurity careers have. I got into the industry in 2005 and 15 years later, we’ve made some incremental progress on representation from women and minorities, but not a ton, and even some of the gains that we have made is primarily due to the fact that there’s a bit of a broader definition of what counts as a cyber security job. So, I don’t know if we’ve made as big of a dent in women and minority representation as we could.
I do think it has to also start back with, how do we think about the problem how do we portray this as a job field that people can get interested in — there are so many prongs to it, it’s so difficult.
That’s why I think that coming in early is important.
So the question is, how do we think about people that are in dire need right now for a job change, or looking for a job, and while they might not at first blush look like they’d be your typical cybersecurity professional, they could be really, really good. And frankly, you’ll probably end up waiting and spending less on them than waiting for the eighth grader to come through high school and then whatever higher education they need to go to get them into the job workforce.
SCV: Why made you decide to join the SCV Advisory Board?
SP: First off, Hank and I go way back. Essentially in many ways, Hank is responsible for my career in cybersecurity. And I think that it’s actually a good example of how people take a risk on you and see something in you maybe you don’t see yourself, and it puts you on a path that you might not have otherwise expected.
I think that in many ways that SCV is now embodying that for companies. It’s taking companies that are in those initial seed stages who are trying to then grow into real companies. It requires nurturing, and someone to see something in those companies that they might not even see for themselves because they’re just trying to slog through survival and getting to the next round of funding.
So being able to be part of a company where I can relate to some of the experiences they’re going through because I am going through some of them myself as well has gone through them.
And the fact that I think that it’s a really important part of the mission space in cybersecurity, as well as economically, to provide an avenue for us to stimulate some really cutting edge solutions and technologies that wouldn’t otherwise necessarily have a real path, but the philosophy and approach that SCV has taken is a more hands on, proactive approach and I think that that’s really important, because it’s about growing value.
When you’re starting a company, I think there’s this short-term perspective of just how quickly can you get out, what’s the ROI, and yes that’s important, but really it’s about the question of, can you actually work with and support companies that are really contributing something of value to the market and to their customers as well.
And I think that SCV embodies that mission first focused perspective in kind of capital allocation.
SCV: How have your past experiences shaped who and where you are today?
SP: So, I think that every experience you have kind of shapes you for what you are moving forward, and if my experience and my path to get here today taught me nothing else it’s that you have to go with the flow and not necessarily think only in one linear direction, at least for those of us in the world, which I am certainly one of them, that didn’t have a clear cut career goal or calling of what I wanted to be.
But I think that the flexibility and the fundability of being thrust into different experiences and having to learn on the fly is extremely valuable. I don’t have an MBA. I don’t have a background in marketing or sales. Those are all areas that you kind of have to learn in a crash course when all of a sudden you’re charged with running a company that has all those elements.
But you learn it, and it’s also really important to then find people to surround yourself with who do know it really well, and can be part of that team. So I think it’s a constant journey, and I’ve learned from my past experiences that you have to be willing to stick your neck out and get uncomfortable, and when you’re uncomfortable, then that’s when really special things can happen.
SCV: Where would you like to be in five to 10 years?
SP: I don’t know, I think that story is yet to be written! I mean I like to think that, I’ll be able to go out and eat restaurants again, in five or ten years, that would be great.
No, but I think making a difference in the world. I see CyberVista growing, and I’d like to be part of that for the long term. I think we’re doing something really special and I want to see what that grows into. And, if that gives me some time to do some photography and cook a few more meals at home in the interim, I would love that.
SCV: Since interviewing Peter and learning about his tattoo studio, we decided this would become our signature question: Would you ever consider getting an SCV tattoo?
SP: Well, I don’t have any tattoos. So as much as I love SCV, I don’t know if it’d be my first. My initials are “SCP” so maybe we could incorporate it somewhere in there, but I think I’m going to stay tattoo-less. That way I don’t have to explain to my son later on, like why you should or shouldn’t get one.