In infosec we like to tell our young to find a mentor, but while we universally agree that having a mentor is a good thing, the consistent feedback I get from those who look for them is that infosec mentors are far and few between. I managed to track one down in the wild and get them to agree to an interview, here is what they told me.
Our mentor is Will Carson, humble infosec practitioner, experienced IT director from the financial services sector and all round good guy. I know Will because he works with our friends over at Cybrary and when I heard that Will was a mentor for them I knew I had to talk to him and asked him for an interview. Here is what he told me.
Why Did You Decide To Start Mentoring In Infosec?
I started mentoring in infosec because some great people mentored me. They didn’t do anything miraculous; they simply answered my questions, provided good advice based on their experience, and helped me accomplish my goals. After such a positive personal experience, I wanted to give back in a similar way. Mentoring isn’t and exclusive club, reserved for the most senior influencers in the space. Quite the contrary, mentoring is something anyone with valid experience and perspective can do. Even if you’re only on the second rung of your career ladder, there’s certainly someone that’s trying to get onto the first rung. A hand up can come from anyone further along in their life and/or career than you.
What Role Do You Think Mentors Play In Infosec?
Mentors play several roles in the infosec community, but many of them distill down into increased efficiency and efficacy. Having a mentor network helps people avoid common pitfalls, make decisions with perspective they haven’t personally gained, and overall make wiser choices professionally and personally. A good mentor helps hold people accountable to actionable plans that will help them accomplish their goals. I suppose it is possible to climb Mount Everest unguided, but your chances of success are dramatically improved if you take a Sherpa along with you. Remember the words of the Old Man in Zelda, “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.”
Who Needs Mentorship, What Do They Typically Need Help With?
Merriam-Webster tells us a mentor is “a trusted counselor or guide.” By that definition, I can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t benefit from that arrangement. I’ve had the privilege through my position as Chief Mentor with Cybrary to talk with people just getting started in the field all the way to those well ahead of me in their journey. Sometimes being a mentor means reminding people of their goals and justifications when the path gets challenging. At other times, being a mentor is about giving advice on the best path ahead. The members on the Cybrary platform span the globe and reach across seemingly limitless demographics. If you are someone that benefits from walking through the course of your life with a companion that has your back, then a mentor is for you.
How Much Time Do You Spend Mentoring Others?
It’s shocking for me to say this, but I spend at least twenty hours a week engaged in various pursuits that all drive towards helping people accomplish their goals. I’m fortunate to have a few great platforms that give me the chance to help people in their adventures directly. Cybrary and LinkedIn both provide me a chance to connect with people in a very meaningful way. In addition to traditional mentoring activities, I also have the chance to build structures, processes, and mentor networks that reach even more people than I could reach myself. Mentoring mentors impacts so many more lives than I could alone.
What Infosec Groups & Communities Are You Involved With?
I am currently a Chief Mentor with the online cybersecurity education company Cybrary. For better or worse, I am part of the cybersecurity community on LinkedIn as well. In addition to these groups, I am a member of my local ISACA chapter, (ISC)2, and a recent addition to the secjuice community. I haven’t seen any other professional communities as vibrant and welcoming as information security. Certainly there are a few corners of the web where infosec is a dumpster fire, but I can thankfully admit that I am not involved there.
What Advice Do You Have For Those Who Wish To Mentor Others?
Don’t let imposter syndrome get in your way. Don’t let your own insecurities get in your way. You have come through all the circumstances and experiences that created you for a reason, and that’s all it takes to mentor to others. Being a mentor is a position of service that magnifies other people. If that motivates you and appeals to something inside you, then find a way to give back. Mentor is a current buzzword for the simple act of helping another human with their life based on the life you’ve already been through. Take a chance, help somebody out, you might rediscover the good side of humanity and keep at it.
What Advice Do You Have For Those Who Wish To Find A Mentor?
Don’t find one mentor, find a mentor network. No single person can give you the perfect advice you need. Not one person can tell you what you need to do. You owe it to yourself to take a wide array of wise council, process that advice, and choose your own path as a result. Also, don’t just look for someone at the top of the career ladder. In fact, this can often lead to poor results due to lack of practicality and relatability. Find mentors that are a few steps ahead of you and vet their advice with the input of others. Remember, at the end of it all, it’s up to you to end up where you want to go. Mentors make the process more efficient. Past all of this, you have to network. Find places where people congregate that do what you want to do and be there. The infosec community is surprisingly helpful and inviting. Once you are where they are, ask for help, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
If all else fails, connect with me on LinkedIn and I’ll be one perspective for you.