Bryan Palma, CEO of cybersecurity company Trellix, spoke recently at the biggest cybersecurity conference in the world, the RSA conference, and issued quite the call to action. Social media companies are soulless, he said. Tech workers who want to find more meaning in their work…well, there’s plenty of work to do in cybersecurity. Soulful work, he says.
Palma has been hearing about the shortage of security workers for many years. He wants the industry to come together and do a much better of recruiting people from all walks of life. And that effort begins by explaining just how important — how soulful — the work is. In this episode of Debugger in 10, you’ll hear my conversation with Brian. You can listen at Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Or, click play below, if a button appears. One click below, you can watch Brian Palma’s RSA talk. And Below that, you’ll find a transcript of our conversation.
(Lightly edited for readability)
[00:00:00] Please welcome chief executive officer TRX, Bryan Palmer.
[00:00:18] Bryan Palma: Social media has become a destructive force in our lives. It is tearing people apart, sowing division between families, friends, and [00:00:30] associates, fueling a rise in hate speech and disinformation, sparking a surge in online harassment and real life violence. It is wreaking havoc on our children’s self-esteem triggering an increase in anxiety, depression. And other serious social disorders, but worst of all, today’s social media companies are taking [00:01:00] little action driven by greed stricken with apathy. They have revealed themselves as soulless.
[00:01:13] Bob Sullivan: How do we get from soulless to soul full? That was the topic. When Brian Palm spoke recently at the biggest cybersecurity conference in the world, the RSA conference, he issued quite the call to action. Today’s social media companies have [00:01:30] revealed themselves as soulless, he said, So tech workers who wanna find more meaning in their work?
Well, there’s plenty of work to do in cyber security. Soulful work, Palma says. Welcome back to Debugger in 10. I’m your host, Bob Sullivan. Brian Palma is CEO of Trellix, a cybersecurity company. And he’s been hearing about the shortage of security workers for many. He wants the industry to come together and do a much better job of recruiting people from all walks of [00:02:00] life.
And that effort begins by explaining just how important, how soulful the work is. Here’s my conversation with Palma. I begin by asking him, what does he mean by soulful work?
[00:02:16] Bryan Palma: First of all, one, one of the main things you’re doing is protecting people. The second thing you’re doing is stopping bad guys or hackers from doing things to normal everyday people.[00:02:30] And I think for us that feels very soulful. Like something you can get up in the morning and feel good about.
[00:02:37] Bob Sullivan: So I’m Irish American, which means a lot of my male relatives are either cops or firefighters. And I, when I stand out in front of a bunch of cybersecurity people, I often see what feels to me like a convention of firefighters, of people who are brave enough to run into things that many people wanna look away from. And people who are rescuing, uh, folks who are just trying to live their lives. [00:03:00] Uh, what do you think of my metaphor?
[00:03:03] Bryan Palma: I think it’s good. And I, you know, I think obviously what those folks are doing brings direct, you know, physical danger to themselves. And in many cases, what we’re doing in cybersecurity is in the virtual world, but the outcomes actually are very similar.
[00:03:18] Bryan Palma: They can have the same type of consequences in the physical world. So I think it’s good. I also think if you look out at a group of people, like I recently did at RSA, who are in the industry, many of them [00:03:30] have those same backgrounds. They were police officers. They were in law enforcement, they were in the military. So a lot of people that wind up in cybersecurity have experience in those same types of professions.
[00:03:43] Bob Sullivan: We think of firefighters as heroes. We don’t quite think of cybersecurity professionals as heroes yet, but should we?
[00:03:51] Bryan Palma: We absolutely should. I mean, the example that I gave last week is, and, and are real at the RSA conference, just around hackers who could stop [00:04:00] insulin machines. I mean, if you stop or take down an insulin machine, it, it could cause death to people. If you think about other hackers that are targeting clean water, people’s access to clean water. We know there are a number of hackers out there trying to steal money from nonprofits that are helping to feed people who need food. There is definitely a hero potential, I will say, within cybersecurity.
[00:04:25] Bob Sullivan: So you started off your talk very directly with, I don’t know any other way to say it. It was a pretty strong attack on social media. And even to some degree to folks who work at social media companies, who by now are, must be aware that most people, a majority of people, as you pointed out, think social media companies are doing more harm than good. Do you think people who work at those social media companies should be stepping away and stepping into feels like cyber security?
[00:04:53] Bryan Palma: Yeah, I don’t wanna make judgments about the people. I was really talking about the industry and really the impact it’s had on [00:05:00] us as a society. And I think to your point, the polling that I shared, 70% of people saying social media does more harm than good. You know, I think it’s a big concern in, in our society today, but I wanna be clear, I wasn’t making any value judgments about the folks that work there. What I was presenting was saying, Hey. Over here in cybersecurity, we do soulful work and we’d love, we have a shortage in the number of people who do that soulful work.
[00:05:26] Bryan Palma: And we’d love to have people from across technology [00:05:30] join us. So if you were a person who was considering or looking for a different purpose, then we’d be welcome to have you because the skills and what those people represent. And what they do is, is very aligned with cyber.
[00:05:43] Bob Sullivan: I definitely had the sense, like you were doing giving a recruiting speech and it’s a speech I’ve heard for a couple of decades covering cybersecurity. We have a million, maybe 2 million, maybe 3 million unfilled jobs. And you made the point that not very much progress has been made over the past couple of decades. [00:06:00] Why do you think that is?
[00:06:02] Bryan Palma: Well, I think as I went through in, in different components of my talk is we kind of … I used a British colleague who works with us, who’s our chief revenue officer, Adam Philpott, who says, “we need fresh water in the pond.” And I think, you know, as I look across LinkedIn and as I think about the problem we have .. we have gone into a lot of different ways to source talent and we haven’t been great at developing talent. We [00:06:30] haven’t been great as I pointed out, going into diverse groups and making sure we’re cultivating and training and preparing people for careers in cyber security.
[00:06:38] Bryan Palma: So that’s what I was really advocating for is … to your point ..this is the same problem that’s been around, you and I have heard about the data, year in and year out, the shortage just continues to grow and now it’s time for some different strategies. And I was trying to present those strategies that I think can have an impact.
[00:06:56] Bob Sullivan: You had a bunch of one liners in your talk that I really appreciated. So I’m [00:07:00] going to ask you about a couple of them. Here’s one that really struck me. The hackers are more diverse than we are.
[00:07:08] Bryan Palma: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s true. The hackers understand. And what I said was they know that having a big tent is important and there’s unwritten rules in the, in the dark web.
[00:07:17] Bryan Palma: And, you know, folks that work together, come from all different backgrounds and they have a common purpose, you know, which unfortunately is not a good one. It’s to commit crime or it’s to do bad things. [00:07:30] But we on the other side are, are not as diverse. And you know, that limits us. I think it limits our ability to be innovative.
[00:07:38] Bryan Palma: It limits our ability to solve problems that, uh, are presented by the hackers who actually are more diverse.
[00:07:46] Bob Sullivan: So I also heard you say, uh, that you are frustrated by this. Um, in fact, you use the words fed up … you are fed up but far from defeated. So can you talk about those two things?
[00:07:59] Bryan Palma: [00:08:00] Yearh .. again, I’ve been in the industry for 20 years. I’ve heard a similar refrain year in, year out. So I am a bit fed up and I want to do something different. And that was really why we launched this soulful work campaign was to get people, to advertise, to get people, to recruit, to get people, to market our whole industry, not my company, not my competitors, but everybody.
[00:08:20] Bryan Palma: This is a place you wanna be and you wanna work. And then we outlined some particular areas that I think would make a big difference. One is we gotta focus on the K to 12 population [00:08:30] and what we do there. Two is how do we get a better, stronger pool of college students from traditional and non-traditional career paths?
[00:08:38] Bryan Palma: And then three: how do we get people who maybe have been doing other things to make the move into cybersecurity? Uh, and I gave some examples of that. So that’s the point about me not giving up for sure. We are presenting, a whole program to help finally start to stop this trend [00:09:00] of a continuing gap of employment.
[00:09:03] Bob Sullivan: You talked a lot about making it easy for someone to switch to a career in cybersecurity, even from something unrelated. So can you just talk a little bit more about how that might happen?
[00:09:12] Bryan Palma: Yeah, I think, you know, number one as an industry, I mentioned it a bit, but you know, there’s an assumption that you need to have a college degree to work in our profession.
[00:09:23] Bryan Palma: And I just don’t think that’s true. The reality with the democratization of education and learning, being [00:09:30] online is we know there’s lots of people…and from our polling, we know lots of people in our industry said that they train themselves. They’ve learned…new skills, they’ve learned new segments of the market, new tools on their own.
[00:09:44] Bryan Palma: So I think one of the things we need to do is get people the access to the training they need. So they could re-skill if they were coming from another technology company or maybe from a completely different industry. We can also back that up with certification programs because of course [00:10:00] we wanna make sure that they have the qualifications and that we can certify that they’re capable of doing the work.
[00:10:06] Bryan Palma: And then finally, you know, whether it’s internships for students or apprenticeships, which are the opportunity to let people come in and work under established professionals and experts. We think that’s a critical, program to be standing up across the industry as well.
[00:10:24] Bob Sullivan: It’s a big deal to give one of these RSA keynote speeches and yours seemed a little bit different. How has it been received? Has anything happened since you’ve given the talk? Have you been approached by people about the ideas?
[00:10:35] Bryan Palma: Yeah, I think it was well received. I’ve gotten a lot of emails. I’ve gotten a lot people who reached out across different platforms for people saying, we’re glad you talked about what you did.
[00:10:46] Bryan Palma: And I think we’re starting to see some good pickup on the soulful work campaign. We recorded a number of videos in our booth there. Hundreds of videos in our booth, and we’re getting people that are following up. We’re seeing people use the soulful work term across the industry. It’s early days still, but, we feel pretty good about, the impact that we had at RSA.
[00:11:09] Bob Sullivan: During your talkyou compared this kind of a reframing of cybersecurity work to what happened to the milk industry during the 1970s and how milk reframed itself. Do you wanna tell that story?
[00:11:22] Bryan Palma: Yeah, so I think what’s really important…I was trying to think about where did an industry come together for the good of the industry [00:11:30] and, you know, the milk industry is a great one.
[00:11:32] Bryan Palma: What happened in the 70s was people just started drinking less milk because they were competing with soda and juice and other types of beverages. And I think what the milk industry did that was really smart It said, we have a collective interest in keeping people drinking milk. So it’s not about are they buying my brand of milk or your brand of milk, but we want ’em to keep buying milk.
[00:11:53] Bryan Palma: And what do we do together? And that obviously launched the ‘Got Milk’ campaign that many of us are probably familiar with and [00:12:00] saw on TV or heard on the radio. And it actually had a huge impact. Millions of gallons of milk consumption…it very good for the industry. So my using that as an example was to say, Our recruiting problem is exactly the same in cybersecurity.
[00:12:17] Bryan Palma: You know, as someone who stood on the stage at RSA, I want more people in cybersecurity. I don’t care if they’re working for Accenture or IBM or Mandiant or others, I want ’em in cybersecurity. I [00:12:30] want the best technologists, the best people to be in our industry because we have a shortage. So if we come together and can talk about why it’s great to be in cybersecurity, That can help us close the gap.
[00:12:42] Bryan Palma: And then obviously we can, just like the milk producers do, we can compete within our category. And we will do that.
[00:12:50] Bob Sullivan: And I do wanna go back to the beginning of your talk, where you talked about technologists who are working for companies that for whatever reason, don’t necessarily align with their values [00:13:00] and that they should consider making a change to an industry that does more align with their values. Can you just talk about that a little bit more?
[00:13:07] Yeah. Listen, I’m not here to talk about what people’s values are, but what I’m here to talk about is that cyber security presents an opportunity to do purposeful work. And as you mentioned, many of the people that work in cyber security have done a lot of other things in their [00:13:30] community.
[00:13:30] Bryan Palma: They care about their community. They care about the wellbeing of the world. I also think, you know, in today’s world where we’re, we’re very polarized, one of the great things is cybersecurity is still a bipartisan issue, which tells you it’s an important issue to all people that we need to get.
[00:13:47] Bryan Palma: As I mentioned, not only here in the United States, but across the globe. So for those technologists out there that are looking for something more. I think we have more to offer and I think they can feel good about their [00:14:00] work, uh, in cybersecurity, as they know, they’ll be helping, uh, a lot of people.