By Noureen Njoroge, Founder of Cisco’s Global Mentoring Program
We rise by lifting others – a tenet proclaimed by the 19th century American writer Robert Ingersoll – is my guiding motto as I advocate for the importance of mentoring in cybersecurity.
When I began working at Cisco, I quickly realized I needed a mentor to help me navigate the new culture and find the corporate resources to become successful. Mentors can play a key role in offering custom-tailored career advice and answering discreet questions. The field of cybersecurity is so vast, with so many domains of expertise, that new entrants can get stuck trying to design their paths. With so few women in the sector, it’s even more vital that those who have walked this walk guide others.
It can be hard at a company as large as Cisco to find that special person to coach you. While I didn’t initially know where to start, I was determined to find a mentor. In my quest, I learned that not everyone makes a good mentor. Some will sign up but then struggle to make the time. After some serious networking, I found the right people, and they have been so phenomenal and so impactful in my career journey. So, what did I learn from the process? A good mentor should be a good listener, patient, trustworthy, open-minded, and willing to give honest feedback.
Building a community where people can share best practices and new ideas enriches a mentoring program. I founded a global mentoring program for Cisco that meets biweekly. Anyone around the world can join the sessions, network, ask questions, share security resources, and, most importantly, get paired as mentor and mentee. I can tell it’s having a big impact.
I have experienced two types of successful mentoring programs: on-demand and long-term. An on-demand program randomly pairs mentors and mentees from an internal employee database for short-term assignments. This style can be good for promoting a mentoring culture as it requires everyone in the organization to participate and rotates pairs every quarter. Progress is measured with a survey each quarter. Such a program fosters satisfaction as employees feel engaged and empowered by their peers.
A long-term mentoring program is more effective for those who already know what specific goals they want to achieve or are seeking coaching within a department. I’m a perfect example of someone who sought long-term mentoring; as an aspiring CISO, I realized that it would take time to gain the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience for this role. So I specifically sought CISO mentors and a long-term mentoring relationship with them. This has worked extremely well in my career development.
Whether organizations choose one or both models of mentoring, it is a best practice to offer training on how to become an effective mentor because the majority of people have never had one. And it doesn’t stop there.
The Global Cybersecurity Mntoring program has strengthened the cybersecurity community (at Cisco) by building stronger personal ties among members, enhanced careers and professional opportunities available to participants. In addition, it’s building a governing security culture that improves cyber defense by making the people a priority.
- Lisa Andrews, Mentor, Project Manager, Cisco
As a newbie in cybersecurity field, I needed guidance and mentorship on how to proceed with my career. This community gives me that and more.
- Veronica Kimble, Mentee, Information Assurance
I am thankful to the Global Cyber Mentoring (for) resumé assistance, practical job hunt strategies, negotiation tactics, and the confidence to overcome imposter syndrome.
- Gloria Pendine, Mentee, Intern
The Global Cyber Mentoring program allowed me to network with like-minded professionals.
- Miriam Wangai, Mentee, Student
Ideally – and even more rewarding – you mentor others. I call it paying it forward and making it happen for others. I always encourage my mentees to do the same. In fact, many are not aware that mentees can be mentors (or inverse mentors) by sharing what they know with their mentors. This can really foster a strong mentoring relationship.
I highly recommend organizations embrace mentoring programs as part of their security culture. Cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility, therefore all should be involved. Commit to an ongoing initiative and find a way to measure the impact. Mentoring makes the difference!