Few security career paths are linear. For Stephanie Frankel the journey to Cisco Secure was circuitous. The Ann Arbor, Michigan native studied journalism at the University of Michigan before managing communications for the Washington Capitals and NBC Sports. But after several stints at communications agencies, she charted a new path for herself in cybersecurity. Not only has her diverse background served as a strength in her current role as senior manager for strategy and operations, but it’s also informed her management philosophy.
Road to Cybersecurity
After doing project management and account direction at consulting agencies, Frankel was interested in honing her skills and expertise on the client side. She had heard amazing things about Duo and wanted to stay in Ann Arbor and work for a company with local roots. After interviewing, Frankel realized that “working at Duo was a cool, exciting opportunity with a really awesome group of people.”
Frankel was on the ground running working as a technical project manager in research and development overseeing the Multi-Factor Authentication, applications and mobile engineering teams despite not having worked in information security before.
Duo’s security education allowed Frankel to understand the industry and is something she values for getting more people into the cybersecurity field. At Duo and Cisco Secure, employees come from a variety of backgrounds and some don’t have much (or any) experience with cybersecurity.
Robust educational programs build knowledge about security and specific products which empower new team members to grow and learn. Every team also has a learning and development budget for employees to quench their curiosity and enhance their knowledge through courses, books or other programs Manager of Global Employee Programs Anndrea Boris shared.
“People are open to having conversations and open to ideas and ways to solve those ideas. If you have an idea of how to solve a problem, no matter whether it’s your job or not, people are open and willing to listen to you.” – Stephanie Frankel
Something Frankel also appreciates most is that ideas are valued at Duo and Cisco Secure: “Even in my first job, I would have ideas and go to my boss or our head of engineering and say, ‘Hey, I think this could be a really cool opportunity, and I think it needs this.’ People are open to having conversations and open to ideas and ways to solve those ideas. If you have an idea of how to solve a problem, no matter whether it’s your job or not, people are willing to listen to you.”
After a year, Frankel moved from engineering to marketing to run operations for Duo’s in-house brand team, leading the team through a rebrand. “The team really rallied behind this new brand and it was amazing to see their pride and hard work when sharing it,” she said. With Frankel’s leadership, the team showcased not only the new look and feel of the brand but also the customer research that went into understanding the need for the change.
“Our amazing team knew that for it to catch on internally we needed to help people understand the why. The team put together an amazing training and went around the company to help people understand the security buyer, the industry overall and our differentiators and how we could do all of this within the umbrella of Cisco,” she said.
Recognizing that she most enjoys and feels best suited for a strategic operations role, she had open conversations with her manager. “I told my boss, ‘It’s just not a great fit.’” Her manager was very supportive, and they worked through potential options. “You’ll find a lot of that at Cisco,” she said.
Now as senior manager in the Strategy and Operations Group within Cisco’s Security and Collaboration division, Frankel runs key initiatives for business operations that drive business growth. She is empowered to creatively solve problems and collaborate “with all the stakeholders within each group to move these programs forward, to understand the problems we’re looking to solve, create objectives, a program plan, and continue to track metrics and progress towards those ultimate goals,” she said.
Growing as a Leader at Cisco
A self-described “over communicator,” Frankel believes that as a leader, “the more you communicate and the more transparent you are, the better.” Frankel loves leading people who are experts in their fields and letting them do what they do best.
On the brand team, for example, she trusted her team’s expertise in producing stories, videos and animations to demystify Cisco’s security products.
“All I needed to do was give them the objective and the goals and they were able to come up with the solutions,” Frankel said.
She fondly remembers the boss at one of her first jobs out of college. In that job Frankel wrote press releases and wanted her boss to fully approve the final versions before sending them to the media. Once her boss told her, “Stephanie, if you keep giving it back to me, I will keep finding things to change. I trust you to know when it is ready to go.” That confidence in her so early in her career “gave me so much confidence in myself,” she said.
Frankel emulates his approach to management by recognizing that each employee has different needs in their lives, in their careers, and in how they like to receive feedback. From that boss Frankel first learned that for every piece of negative feedback, you must give four pieces of positive feedback for “someone to actually hear it because that’s how you balance things out in your mind.”
Frankel believes feedback is crucial for growth. “I don’t see how you can improve or grow without it, no matter what level of your career you’re at. Feedback shouldn’t be taken as negative, as much as it is a way for you to improve,” she said.
One of the most helpful things Frankel learned in a Cisco class for managers was the importance of asking a person if they are in a good place to receive critical feedback. “You might not be in the mindset to accept the feedback and to do something constructive with it,” she said. ”If you’re having a bad day or struggling, you could say, ‘You know what, I’m not going to be able to take it today, but let’s talk tomorrow and I’ll be in a better place to receive it.’’’
The Power of Pivot on a Security Career Path
Frankel has spent the last year thriving in a role she never anticipated in an industry her college training in journalism didn’t fully prepare her for. The secret, she says, is keeping an open mind to new possibilities and a willingness to take on new challenges, even if you don’t feel 100% ready.
“A lot of it is getting real world experience and learning your way through it and knowing that there’s a lot of opportunities and a lot of people that are willing to teach you,” she said.
To pivot professionally Frankel advises not feeling pigeonholed just because you studied a particular topic or have been in a certain industry for a long time. Take what you can from where you started such as storytelling and communications skills in the case of journalism for Frankel. While trying something new may require taking a different level or type of job “sometimes it’s worth it because you have that opportunity to grow and you might find you’re happier somewhere else,” she said.
When discerning professional steps Frankel recommends having open and honest conversations with yourself and others such as mentors.
“Cisco has so many mentorship programs and so many people that are knowledgeable about a lot of things,” she said. ”Just because your current role isn’t a great fit doesn’t mean that there’s not another good fit within the corporation, or it doesn’t mean that you can’t create your own good fit.”
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