Building a Modern Mentorship in the Cybersecurity Industry

November 12, 2021

Career planning in the cybersecurity industry can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, there is no typical or structured course to follow, which can make it difficult for people to find their way forward. On the other, the explosive growth and constant evolution within the field presents virtually limitless possibilities. The question is: Without a roadmap to follow, how can people chart a course to the career that they want? 

Umair Imran

While formal mentorship programs certainly have their place in an industry that has, in many ways, reinvented the game, people don’t need to limit themselves to a traditional mentorship model. In this post, I share some of my best tips for building modern mentorship, whether you’re a professional looking to break into the industry or a cybersecurity veteran who wants to inspire the next generation of talent.   

Finding a Mentor: Three Tips for Mentees

1. When breaking into the cybersecurity industry, focus on your skills and competencies.

One common theme running through our 5Qs employee interview series is that people don’t need to have cybersecurity industry experience to land a job in this field. This is especially true for tech roles, which often require core technical skills but not sector experience.

Finding a mentor can be a great first step into the industry, as this person can help explain how to position existing technical skills, as well as soft skills like problem solving, abstract thinking and analysis, when applying for a cybersecurity role.

Having a mentor can help bridge that gap — and there’s always going to be a gap, whether that’s in confidence, skills or ability. A mentor is someone who can see where you are and where you want to be and then help you find that pathway between the two.

2. To find a mentor at work, get out of the office! 

Some of the best professional connections are not made in the office or on a team project, but through an area of personal interest. At CrowdStrike, we have Slack channels that focus on interests like cars, cycling, gaming, cats — you name it. Interacting through those channels is a great way to build your network in a natural way. 

For people who may not have those digital channels available, try to make the rounds at events, lunch-and-learns, happy hours — any type of social event that will put you in contact with people who may one day help in a mentorship capacity. You don’t need to ask for a meeting or a sit-down right away, but when you feel comfortable, ask if you can meet for a coffee or have a 15-minute call. In many cases, people are more than happy to take that time to share the knowledge they’ve accumulated over the years. 

3. Speak up: A questioning mind is an engaged employee.

There’s no such thing as a silly question. We’ve all heard that saying before, but many of us don’t embrace it often enough in a professional setting. 

But here’s the catch: If you don’t ask, you’ll never learn. And in the cybersecurity industry, there’s a lot to learn. So when you have questions, reach out to your mentor or other trusted colleague and ask for help. It’s the only way that you’ll continue to develop and advance as an industry professional.

Becoming a Mentor: Three Tips to Start Inspiring the Next Generation of Cybersecurity Talent

1. Embrace the mentor mentality and start small.

It’s important to remember that you don’t need to reach a certain level in your field to be a mentor. One way to start playing that role is by recognizing the need on a small scale. If you see someone struggling and you know the answer, put your hand up. Take on those “micro moments” and build them into a deeper mentorship over time. 

If you’re not comfortable with that, there’s also the option to just share some of your experiences and expertise. It can be as simple as sending a note to your team and saying, “Hey, I worked on this really great ticket. I thought you’d be interested in it. Here’s a link to it, have a read-through. And if you’ve got five, 10 minutes, we can go over it.” 

It tends to work really well because people start asking questions about what you did and why. You can talk through some of the other possible options or how they would do it differently. It can be a really natural way to branch into a mentorship. 

2. Get personal: Be aware of dynamics.

Mentoring someone means understanding the person as an individual. Take time to figure out what goals your mentee has, what their motivations are, and what existing strengths and capabilities will help them progress in their career. Work together to chart a course to the future. This may include skill building, new assignments, cross-team collaboration and/or more networking. 

Try not to fall into the trap of comparing what your mentee wants to achieve to what other people have set as goals or what your goals were when you were in their position. Everyone’s path is unique. Part of being a good mentor is encouraging people to work toward the things in life they value most. 

3. Don’t forget the soft side: Focus on attitude not aptitude. 

I always say “attitude over aptitude.” This is especially true in an industry that’s always changing and a company that’s growing rapidly. People who have a good attitude, who want to learn, who can work well with others and who are self-motivated make for great employees. 

If you’re in a position to be a mentor, it’s really important to focus on nurturing the mentee’s attitude along with their aptitude — because in many cases, technical skills may get you in the door, but your soft skills, like communication, leadership, empathy and problem solving, are the things that will really advance your career. 

It’s important to remember that cybersecurity is a constantly evolving field. Even the most seasoned professionals are always learning and growing — and virtually everyone in the industry can add value by sharing skills, experiences or simply words of encouragement. 

Got something to add? We’d like to hear about how you’re helping foster a positive and inclusive environment for all in the cybersecurity industry. Sound off with tips, advice and your experiences to @CrowdStrike.

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