Michele D. Guel, a Distinguished Engineer at Cisco and Chief Security Architect in the company’s Security & Trust organization, is the winner of the 2016 Leadership ABIE Award. She’s also Cisco’s Woman of Vision. In the Q&A below, Michele shares her inspirations, challenges and advice for aspiring women technologists.
Tell us a bit about your current work and what inspired you to do it. What have you found challenging? What have you found rewarding?
My current area of focus is around operational security excellence in the Internet of Things and cloud spaces, as well as pervasive enterprise business partnerships. The cybersecurity field as a whole is always challenging, both technically and in terms of enabling business partnerships at Cisco. I have worked in many facets of the field over the past 26 years. Meeting the challenges of new industry trends like the Internet of Things, forging a path and learning with and from others is what I find most rewarding about the field.
What do you see as your most significant accomplishment so far?
In my 26+ years in the field, I have had an opportunity to be part of many firsts in the security industry, forging new paths, establishing foundational security controls and teaching others. It is hard to say what is most significan, but. being the first female distinguished engineer within IT was a big accomplishment and something I am very proud of. What I feel most proud of is the opportunity and accomplishment of teaching literally thousands of people on various security topics. Within Cisco, the numbers are in the hundreds, but I feel I have made a significant impact on the concept of Service Security Primes and moving security closer to business decisions. More recently, I had the opportunity to cofound the Cisco Women in Cybersecurity Community – a recognized Business Initiated Network under the Inclusion and Collaboration Community. In the first year we grew the community to over 200 members and ignited a passion among many women who are new to the field of cybersecurity.
When did you first realize that you wanted to go in the technology field and what is your favorite part about it?
When I was a freshman I went to a university recruiting event and learned about the U.S. Naval Academy. I wanted to pursue a career in the Nuclear Navy. While I didn’t go into that field for various reasons, I was always interested in and took science and math classes in high school. I never considered taking a programming class until my Kenpo instructor, who was helping me with a calculus problem at the time, asked me if I had any programming or computer classes. The following semester I took a Fortran class and discovered I had a talent for programming and that was my first full time job at age 19. This led to a career in system administration and finally security.
Did/do you have any mentors who deeply influenced who you are? Historical Inspirations? Tell me about them.
When I was 29 I began a mentoring relationship with Alan Paller, who is the founder of the SANS organization. He has been a tremendous influence on my career and we have continued the mentoring relationship to this day. More specifically, Alan provided numerous opportunities for me to grow and learn by allowing me to play a significant role in the early groups and direction of the SANS Institute. I have had a few other key mentors within Cisco as well. I highly value mentorship and recommend to everyone to seek out a mentor or coach.
Do you have any advice for other women interested in computer science/technology?
YES – Pursue your dream with passion! Believe it, do it, live it! Get connected and get moving — this is the best way to start. Find a group, get involved and meet other women (and men) who are doing exciting things in the field you are interested in. Cisco has a multitude of opportunities such a stretch assignments, job sharing and a multitude of training courses.