With inspiration from her family of engineers, Jessica Smith was raised to approach problem-solving with curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity. These skillsets have helped her to pivot in a career path that started in photography, developed into finance and auditing, and now focuses on information security standards and compliance for the payments industry. In this edition of our blog, Jessica explains that working for a company that encourages the exploration of new skills and cross-training, including harnessing the power of mentorship programs, can make all the difference in one’s success.
How long have you been at Mastercard and what is your role? What is a typical day like for you?
Jessica Smith: I have been at Mastercard since October 2018. I am a Manager in Industry Standards, Cyber & Intelligence Solutions. Our team provides security standards and solutions to ensure the safety and security of the global Mastercard ecosystem.
A typical day consists of managing our Card Production vendors in our Global Vendor Certification Program (GVCP) where we manage security standards and engage with our vendors throughout their certification cycles to ensure they meet standards and establish risk mitigation plans where necessary.
I also help represent Mastercard in the external PCI Security Standards Council’s Working Groups ranging from Quality Assurance, Card Production, and our technical working group (DSS). In these working groups, we develop and enhance security standards to ensure alignment with the industry as well as Mastercard’s standards development and strategies.
How did you get started in the technology or payments industry? What led you to that career choice?
Jessica Smith: I initially selected an undergrad in professional photography, but quickly realized I was drawn to more business-oriented work environments. I remain very grateful for the sense of visual literacy and the view of technological innovation that studying photography opened for me, especially the push to always keep creating and innovating.
I went to Maryville University, a St. Louis-based university that partners very closely with industry leaders to have a hands-on experience for in-demand skills. They offered a degree in Accounting Systems and Forensics which was a perfect hybrid of traditional accounting techniques modernized with today’s technology plus a twist of auditing, including investigative methods and the legal elements of fraud. We also studied important topics that continue to help me throughout my career like IT governance, risk mitigation and compliance.
Once I graduated, I started full-time at a local accounting and advisory firm while I completed my MBA. I performed internal and external IT audits for clients across the United States. We focused on IT process improvement, Sarbanes Oxley audits, and IT consulting. I thrived in this role because we always had a first-hand pulse on what the industry was doing and how clients were meeting their various compliance requirements, including PCI.
I enriched my audit experience when I joined Mastercard’s internal audit team where I was able to partner with stakeholders to understand their business and technology environment during audits and the risk mitigation process while providing relationship management of the associated risk and control environment. This experience made me realize the importance of being “part of the team” and understand the objectives that Mastercard is working towards.
The role that I am in today involves collaboration with both internal and external partners as well as the other payments companies which keeps our team involved with the ever-evolving industry.
Who has been your biggest role model in shaping your career path?
Jessica Smith: My grandfather was born on the day the stock market crashed in 1929. He then had a career in commerce. He passed away when I was a few years into my career. Over the years of irreplaceable time with him, he shared his vision and passion for economics which has inspired me to explore it myself.
Also, both of my parents (and most of my family) are engineers. They taught me and my siblings to approach problem-solving with curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity.
With this combination of family influence, I was raised to harness an appreciation for, and aptitude for, understanding the history of the payments industry, but also the inspiration to trust and participate in its innovation.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
Jessica Smith: I am most proud of my ability to pivot. I have definitely pivoted in my career path – from photography to finance and auditing and now to my current role focused on standards and compliance. There is not a clear path to get to where you are going in life so you must remain open to the opportunities that are presented to you.
I am grateful to work for a company that encourages the exploration of new skills and cross-training. This encourages leadership to think differently about the skillsets they require in their teams and brings new perspective to the role. This company mindset has allowed me to explore different roles and have the flexibility for different opportunities within my role.
Every day is a learning opportunity. The role of an auditor can be challenging in specific instances. I appreciate the importance of establishing trust with not only clients, but my colleagues as well. I learned to navigate resistance and work to build mutually beneficial relationships with different types of people.
Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that is the case?
Jessica Smith: Because I am early in my career, I know there are more women today than there were in the past, but I know there could be more. Fortunately, many women have realized the importance of implementing more STEM skills in early education. STEM education programs like Mastercard’s Girls4Tech program is an encouraging step in the right direction.
My observation is that women tend to be more willing to collaborate and less afraid to ask questions – both keys to problem-solving. You show confidence by asking questions.
It is also important that companies identify the importance of a flexible work/life balance for all genders. There should not be unnecessary apprehension around balancing your career and your home life as your priorities evolve with your life changes.
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?
Jessica Smith: Lean into vulnerability – do not be embarrassed to admit you need to learn more about something. It is okay to not know everything and it is important to continue asking questions. There is always more that you can learn on your own or learn from others’ experiences and build on it.
Stay curious – look things up and stay open to other perspectives. I once heard that the most important question you can ask is “Why?”. This is a great problem-solving method as asking “Why?” more than once will drill down to the root cause. You will either find the answer or come up with a better question.
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?
Jessica Smith: I am lucky to be able to say that I have found myself empowered by my colleagues throughout my career and have not experienced many of these moments. Since I started my career path, I am grateful that I have had many women mentors along the way – some professors, some who were working right beside me, and some who had already forged their path. I continue to seek out those mentors as they make a positive impact and are always available to provide guiding perspective.
What do you see – or hope to see - as the future for women in technology roles/payments industry?
Jessica Smith: I think we have learned from history that the technology and payments industries are always evolving and will continue to do so. You cannot stay stagnant when it comes to your skillsets.
It is also important to maintain a connection with your industry and the innovation it is experiencing, both internally within your company and externally. Cross-industry collaboration is very important.
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?
Jessica Smith: “Control your controllables”! This advice was initially given to me during one of my first particularly stressful audits, but it has stuck with me ever since, both on a professional level and personal level. Although it is important to identify the uncontrollables, it is more important to focus on things you can control and not give worry about those you cannot. You can always re-evaluate when mistakes occur, but you must keep moving and keep growing.
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?
Jessica Smith: Realize the power of mentorship and be open to learning from unexpected sources and someone who does not necessarily do the same thing you do. My advice would be to make both seeking and giving mentorship a habit and a priority. When we make time for mentorship, we are all made stronger because of it.
Just recently, I started participating in Mastercard’s Women Mentoring Series where you are paired up with someone else at Mastercard who you may not know. Throughout the series you learn about your partner and how they have overcome specific challenges and met their goals. They are also there to help you in real time and can help you develop both personally and professionally. This continuous series has reminded me to make time for these important conversations while challenging me to build a network outside of my team.
The world, especially your industry, is more connected than you think – your personal, professional, and community networks are important.