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One of the things I learned the hard way in my cybersecurity career is that people and relationships matter. When I started this journey more than twenty years ago, I thought that being technically sound and having unique solutions to problems was the path to success, both in delivering on my objectives at the time and for career growth.

To some extent, this was true. Having a good technical grounding in cybersecurity, developing creative solutions to complex problems, and demonstrating that I could execute was important. And while these skillsets helped build trust and credibility, I realized they weren’t enough if I wanted to advance my career.

As my responsibilities became more complicated and my expectations grew, I realized that without the people aspect of the equation, my creative technical solutions didn’t matter. This epiphany was equally enlightening and painful. Until that point in my career, I relied solely on my technical skills; it took a lot of emotional investment and constructive (and sometimes non-constructive) feedback from those around me to realize that people and relationships matter.

Like the rest of my career journeys, this one isn’t complete. I still occasionally fall back into my comfort zone, and sometimes the relationship-building part gets a little difficult for me. Now though, I consider my awareness of the opportunity and my continued focus on growing this part of my skillset a win.
While I’m continuing my journey, I wanted to share some of my conclusions that might help ease the pain and speed the progress of others on a similar journey. There are no secret recipes here, just some things that took me way too long to realize:

  1. Before I send an email or text to someone, I ask myself whether a face-to-face or phone conversation will work. Sometimes, this is a little more informal and gets done faster than written messages.
  2. Even though I’m busy, I take time to grab a coffee or lunch with someone to catch up. I used to view this as time away from what I needed to get done. Now I realize this is time well spent, and it helps me get more (and bigger) things done.
  3. When I get on a call or to a meeting, especially if I’m early, I remind myself to get out of business mode and ask people how they are doing. Sometimes this is a game-changer, setting the tone of a conversation and making it a genuinely nice break from the churn.
  4. I will take a second to read the room or the status of a project and then consider where some conversations, especially informal ones, can help remove roadblocks. This is hard sometimes, but the outcomes always surprise me when I can do this.
  5. The importance of empathy should never be underestimated. It is a starting point to helping someone achieve their goals. I always try to listen to understand and turn that into ways I can help. This is often a game-changer in work relationships.

Suppose you are in cybersecurity or beyond, and my story resonates with you. In that case, I encourage you to spend time thinking outside of the (IT) box and not underestimate the power of soft skills and human relations. Our IT, cyber, and technical stigma doesn’t have to ring true. You can still be your authentic self and figure out how to be the best you can be through others.

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