Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work?
I was an Army brat. My father was a field Artillery officer in the US Army. My mother was an elementary school teacher up until the time I was born.
Both of my parents were born in Norfolk, VA, where they grew up and went to school through college in the area. The military took my parents to the states of Washington and Oklahoma before they returned to southeast Virginia where I was born in Portsmouth Naval Hospital.
My father found creative ways to stay in southeast Virginia as the Army sent him to grad school at Old Dominion University, then taught ROTC at Norfolk State University before going off on an assignment in Korea for a year while mom and I stayed back home in Virginia Beach, VA.
Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating?
I attended Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology in Fairfax Country, VA, before heading to University of Pennsylvania where I graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. I loved the problem-solving aspects of engineering and was intrigued by the opportunity to apply this problem solving to business management which was the opportunity that Capital One presented to me.
I spent three years at Capital One where I began as a business analyst and progressed to a role with P&L responsibilities before heading to graduate school where I received an MBA from Harvard Business School.
What inspired you to get into the tech industry?
I went to a science and tech high school and took a detour through the business realm in the financial services market. Given all of the excitement around the rise of the dot.com industry and tech in general towards the end of the millennia, I was compelled to go back home, so to speak.
What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you’ve held before joining CyberArk?
I’ve had extensive experience leading strategy, mergers and acquisitions, venture capital investments, and business development in technology software, services and hardware. Prior to CyberArk, I served as SVP of Corporate Development at Nuance Communications and Head of Strategy and Corporate Development at BMC Software. I also held business development, strategy and operating roles at Dell, Bain & Company, and Capital One.
Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Chief Strategy Officer at CyberArk?
I am responsible, in collaboration with my colleagues on the executive leadership team, for establishing the strategic direction of the company. I formulate, assess and execute global strategic growth initiatives including organic investments, acquisitions, joint ventures and strategic alliances.
What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional?
I have been consistently recognized as a high-performance executive leader with excellent analytic and problem-solving skills, and strong business acumen who delivers exceptional results.
Put in the work, focus on learning, improving and adding value.
Take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, sometimes taking on opportunities that others overlook.
No matter what you're working on, no matter what the assignment is, take it seriously, own it, excel at it and demonstrate your value.
The margin for error as low as typically managers, peers, even subordinates will expect the worst and be quick to validate their hypotheses with any missteps. However, you must remain confident in yourself and your abilities while being genuinely open to feedback and constant improvement. It's not easy. It's a full-time job in and of itself.
What types of programs and initiatives does CyberArk have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?
At CyberArk, we are committed to driving diversity and inclusion across the organization and our initiatives include:
Diversity Speaker Series, HR diversity training programs such as the Partnership Inc.
Ongoing communication and feedback from employees
Continually reinforcing our Core Values.
More specifically, our employees have initiated a pilot program to support the TRIBE Academy. TRIBE Academy is a career and professional development organization committed to serve those from traditionally underrepresented racial and cultural backgrounds in business and STEM sectors.
What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry?
Technology is a broad and complex industry that crosses a number of vertical markets and has numerous discrete components such as software, services and hardware. Given this, my first piece of advice is to really educate yourself in such a way as to gain more specificity with respect to the target. That is, determine what it really is that interests you about technology. In my case, I wanted to get myself in to the flow of innovation and growth that seemed to be driving essentially everything in the world as I was getting started in my career and was somewhat flexible in terms of how and where I got started.
During the education process, it's extremely important to establish, extend and leverage your professional networks to explore. Reach out to black professionals in technology, solicit their thoughts and opinions, learn what it's really like on the inside. Focus on the networking and education aspects. I can tell you that black professionals in tech are eager to see more within the ranks and are more than willing to lend a hand. Once you've gotten through this step, it is extremely important to dive in, get and engaged and get busy learning. The tech industry moves extremely quickly and features a steep learning curve that never really flattens. That's also part of what's so exciting about it.
While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken. Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?
Companies really need to make genuine efforts to reach out and attract young black professionals to technology even before they enter the workforce. Start with internships and consider scholarships. There is a vast pool of black talent that is not being effectively deployed and is not even considering the tech sector for various reasons. Companies really have to make an effort and address this proactively.
For those of us already in the tech sector it's important to provide various levels of mentorship. We must make ourselves available, provide guidance, support and encouragement. Formal programs are important, but we need to do this through informal methods as well. At the end of the day we must remember that we are all in this together. All races, nationalities, genders and orientations. We must support each other as we are stronger together.