She’s been recognized by U.S. agency heads for her award-winning contributions to national security. But, when Cindy vanBree retired from the Defense Aerospace sector after a long career, she wasn’t ready to stop working. In this edition of our blog, Cindy explains how she found continued success by following her passion into consultancy and why it’s never too late to start over again. In fact, in Cindy’s case, some careers even come full circle; through her continuing education, she will once again leverage her Defense Sector experience after having been recently certified as a Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) Registered Practitioner.
How did you get started in the technology or payments industry? What led you to that career choice?
Cindy vanBree: I came into the payments industry as a second career. I started in information security and technology in the Defense Aerospace sector over 30 years ago, focused on U.S. national information security regulations compliance. I had retired after a long corporate career, but I was not finished working. The idea of consulting – and working outside of the defense sector - was very intriguing.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date? What has been your most significant learning opportunity or challenge?
Cindy vanBree: I have had a lot of highlights in my career, from becoming a James S. Cogswell Outstanding Industrial Security Achievement Award winner to being recognized by U.S. agency heads for contributions to national security. But my proudest accomplishment has to be my transition from an industrial security executive to a security consultant outside of the defense sector. I believed the key to success would be obtaining industry certifications so, after retiring, I immediately set about studying for both the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). I sat for the CISSP exam in one month and the CISA the next – and passed!
My most significant challenge was gaining the technical knowledge needed to be a solid Qualified Security Assessor (QSA). The learning curve was very steep in the beginning. Now, every PCI DSS assessment adds to that knowledge base and that’s why doing them is my favorite type of engagement. I was most pleased when my manager referred to me as the Pondurance PCI DSS subject matter expert.
Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that is the case?
Cindy vanBree: I do notice the near absence of women among my clients. My team at Pondurance is mostly women, though. Having been in the workforce for so long, I have seen a slow, but steady, increase in women in technology and engineering but still not on par with men. I think the problem may be social in that women do not take up computer science and engineering at the same rate as men. Studies show that even after graduating with a computer science degree, women tend not to follow through with a career in technology. I’ll leave it to the social scientists for those answers.
In your experience, does being a woman in your profession come with confidence challenges that you have to overcome, for instance doubting your own ability? How do you overcome it?
Cindy vanBree: I have experienced doubt in my own abilities or decisions, especially when what is usually a male chief information officer is facing a non-compliant Report on Compliance (ROC) or delay in an assessment due to technical shortcomings. I overcome it by making certain that my conclusions are supported by facts. I am so fortunate to work at a company whose culture is collaborative; I have access to a wide range of experts to advise me and a leadership team that stands behind its integrity.
Many women in the tech industry have felt their gender has affected the way that they are perceived or treated. Have you ever been in a situation like that? How did you handle it?
Cindy vanBree: I was a member of the company leadership team in a male-dominated industry for a number of years. There were times I would make a suggestion or express an opinion only to be ignored, while the same expressed by a male would be given serious consideration. Women have a difficult balance to achieve. If she is too assertive, she is labeled aggressive or worse. I’ve learned to use humor when appropriate and make sure my tone is level.
What do you see – or hope to see - as the future for women in technology roles/payments industry?
Cindy vanBree: When taken into perspective, women have made great progress over the past 30 years, though it doesn’t feel fast enough. As new generations enter the workforce, I think we’ll see more women in technology roles. I hope to see more paths to entry open up, one that considers the current barriers. I hope to see more organizations focus mentoring programs to encourage women to enter the technology sector and information system security, in particular.
Were you given any advice during your career that has stuck with you? As a result, do you have a personal mantra or a famous quote that you live by?
Cindy vanBree: As a young professional, I remember my dear father telling me “don’t get on the bus.” Sales conferences would routinely arrange for participants’ wives to be bussed to shopping venues or go sightseeing while the men congregated to network (play golf) or discuss business interests. In telling me to not “get on the bus,” my father was advising me to stay in the company of those whose interests were in line with my own, rather than choosing a social norm. In today’s context, that might mean hanging out in the computer lab or spending extra time talking to someone about a particular technology you are interested in.
What advice would you impart to other women about how to succeed in the payment industry or in a technology-based field in general? Is there anything you wish you had known?
Cindy vanBree: I would tell other women that you can achieve success in whatever you put your mind to, whether it’s entering a technology field early or making a late career transition. Show up, do your best, and be kind to yourself if you occasionally fall short. If you keep at it, you will fall short less often. Position yourself for learning opportunities by stepping out of your comfort zone and be willing to take some risk. Form a network of people with whom you can share ideas and check understanding.