This article was written by Microsoft employee Vishal Amin who shares about how he transitioned from a career as a Fighter Pilot and Special Operations Officer to Cybersecurity Specialist at Microsoft.
64KB of data storage and memory. On the eve of my military career retirement that was 20 years in the making, I looked at my common access card and realized that this 3.370 x 2.125 inch card I was holding was the single piece of authentication that validated my career to the outside world. Somehow, the Marine Corps managed to fit my life and my 20 years of service onto a card that was merely 0.030 inches thick with only 64kB of data storage and memory.
So you might ask, why Microsoft, why cybersecurity? Well, in my story that is precisely where Identity, Security and the "Human" intersect.
I remember that day vividly. On March 21st of 2015, the Islamic State Hacking Division released an order to target 100 individuals operating against them. In the same order, they also released the whereabouts, pictures and personal identities of each individual - I was one of those who was identified. The thrill of 36,000 pounds of thrust from the fighter jet cockpit of a McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, the privilege of leading our men and women in service, and my own personal aspirations of continued servant leadership seemingly grounded to a complete halt. The ability to collaborate and engage my peers, to serve my country and most importantly, protect my family were stripped from my control by way of data ownership and identity compromise. I had navigated a purposeful and fulfilling career, layered behind the most physically secure and digitally sound barriers our nation had the ability to provide. Yet, in a push of a button, a simple human event compromised the single most important piece of me - my identity.
The years following the incident, I was constantly in a heightened state of awareness and alarm - imagine having to be always mindful of suspicious unmarked vehicles outside your home, the safety of your family, and the ability to live a normal life without fear of physical or digital harm. This was my new normal. For me, this single event critically defined how the human element is the core to security and protecting our identities.
Realizing that the most important decisions we make in life are not tied to our wallets, but rather how we truly impact those around us and under our influence, I decided to dedicate the remainder of my life and career to Cybersecurity. For many, Cybersecurity is a monetary investment and a layer of protection or insurance on our valuable digital estate.
For a select few, Cybersecurity is how we empower people and organizations to positively impact the world in their unique and innovative ways, without fear or repercussion. Microsoft's mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more is precisely the reason I chose Microsoft, and specifically, Cybersecurity within Microsoft. Ann Johnson, CVP of Cybersecurity Business Development - someone I admire and continue to learn from at Microsoft - shared a few impactful thoughts with me personally before I began my career at Microsoft. She also published them in an article from CYBERCRIME MAGAZINE:
“But if all the people in your security team think the same way, you’re missing out on the diversity of understanding and problem-solving that a wider group of approaches and experiences would bring. We need to avoid the risk of group think, and that’s best done by having teams that come from different backgrounds, with varied experiences that help them find new answers to problems. Not only do you need different viewpoints to get creative solutions: you may not even notice some of the areas you’re neglecting, because you can’t tackle what you don’t know about.” – Ann Johnson
My journey to Microsoft was certainly not traditional, and I can only assume that same sentiment holds true for many others in their journey here. Looking back at the 64KB common access card I was issued, I realize that the authentication and validation that card provided could only be weaponized by the humans with malicious intent behind it. It's our job as humans pledging to use tech for good - and not evil - to defend against that.
What can you do?
Invest in the people, the human. Look for talents in the places you least expect to. They will reciprocate that investment in you and your organization. My career and choice to invest in Microsoft was not simply a "transition", but a journey. For those on their own journeys and navigating their careers in an uncertain, changing and evolving world, I challenge you to invest in passions. For me, Cybersecurity is not merely a job, but an entire frame of mind and a way of life. The investment that I choose to make in my passion has allowed me to diversify the way I view security. That same investment has now allowed me to grow in my career at Microsoft.
Ask yourself: How are you investing in your future, your passions, and most importantly, yourself? When that answer comes to mind, go do that thing. You will not regret it.