Helen Patton, Chief Information Security Officer, Cisco Security Business Group, hails from Australia but has called Ohio her home for 30 years.  Her transplant to the US is what got her into technology and, ultimately, security.  She’s an author, a speaker, a wife of 30 years and a mother of a 23-year-old.


Helen’s book, Navigating the Cybersecurity Career Path, provides practical information on how to enter the Cybersecurity field through to becoming an influential leader. On a weekly basis, Helen was receiving calls from aspiring or established security professionals seeking her advice. Through her many conversations and experiences, she has put together a comprehensive manual for the cybersecurity community and members to come.


Tell us something interesting about you:  

I’m actually pretty much an open book. There isn’t that much that’s a secret about me, which is sort of counterintuitive. Being a security person, you think I’d be much more private.

Here’s what people who know me would find interesting – I grew up on Punk. When I was a kid, I was into the whole punk/goth scene. People look at me now, they can’t believe it.

I grew up in Australia, so this was not hardcore, but my favorite band was the Clash.  Which hardcore punk people would go, yeah, that’s not punk. But anyway, for me felt like it.

It was the eighties, so for me it was sort of the Flock Of Seagulls’ haircut thing was going on, but combine that with black nail polish, red lipstick, and black eyeliner and that, that was sort of how that rolled for me. I’m not proud. There’re no photos.

What’s one of the most memorable or maybe most surprising moments in your career?

I’ve worked in cyber security at JP Morgan for 10 years, so you’d think since the financial sector is constantly under attack of cyber security threats, I’d have seen it all.

Then I took the role as the CISO at the Ohio State University, and I figured it would be so simple to go from constantly having to stay one step ahead of cyber criminals in a university setting – easy compared to the financial sector.  But I was in for a huge surprise about the complexity of managing cyber security at a research facility…and one that has hotels, hospitals, airports, football stadiums, and 50,000+ students – all with the potential to be a point of penetration for a cyber-criminal and/or one themselves.

When you’re the CSO of a university, you are responsible for everything going on at the university. So, it is similar to being responsible for the security of a whole city.

Not only was the scope of the responsibility diverse and large, but it was also a completely different way of working.  It became more important to learn how to influence people into changing behavior as opposed to telling them to follow a policy.  It was a huge learning curve, but an amazing professional development opportunity.

Do you have any podcasts that you’re listening to now that you would recommend?

From a security perspective, it sort of depends on what you’re going for. If you enjoy stories about things happening in cybersecurity, Dark Net Diaries is super interesting. It is sort of current affairs, things that are happening at the moment. There’s a podcast called Risk risky.biz that I listen to weekly as well.  It provides sort of “the hack of the week” and how people are dealing with it.

More broadly, I listen to things like Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. I also listen to the Hidden Brain as there is a lot that goes on in cyber security around psychology.

What advice would you give to others searching for their ideal role?   

Success in your career comes to down a few things, but one stands out the most:  Find a way to network. It doesn’t mean just show up at conferences.  Create a community of people.  These people will help you keep up as things are always changing in security.  They will help you understand what’s important and how to stay on top of it. They will also be a sounding board for you and refer you to great opportunities.

The other piece of advice I would give if you are interested in getting into cyber security or any other role is to ask yourself, why this profession?

You need know why you are interested in a specific role or field.  Depending on what your why is, will be different parts of the field that can be better for you than others. Understanding yourself and how you like to work, the kind of company you like to work in – big, small startup established – and what attracts you to the role will help you find the right fit.

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