Security leaders must interact with areas across the enterprise to help mature cybersecurity
This is an exclusive interview conducted by the Editor Team of CIO News with Saira Mohammed, Chief Security Advisor at Microsoft
When asked about her professional journey in the cybersecurity industry, Saira said, I am a Chief Security Advisor with the Microsoft Modern Work and Security team. In this role, I serve as a trusted advisor to business, IT, security, privacy, compliance, legal, and risk management executives to help enable their digital transformation journey by aligning security strategies with business operations. I regularly interact with customers to help them integrate security with business and IT processes to mitigate risks and protect customer and employee data.
Prior to joining Microsoft, I served as an information security executive (Deputy CISO) at State Farm Insurance and Financial Services. Since joining State Farm in 1988, I have worked in a variety of roles, including those of programmer, designer, technical lead, IT architect, lead IT architect, and IT director, before becoming an information security executive. In my executive role, I worked on people, process, and technology-related projects and interacted with areas across the enterprise to help mature the cybersecurity program at State Farm.
I have a bachelor’s degree in engineering from India and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Oklahoma. I received my MBA degree from Illinois State University. I have several information security certifications, including Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP), Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC), GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSec and GISP), and nearly half a dozen insurance designations.
I am passionate about helping others, especially women and members of underrepresented groups who pursue careers in cybersecurity. I am an active member of Women in Security at Microsoft, WiCyS (Women in Cybersecurity), and a member of CHIEF (an organization to promote female executives).
Speaking about her journey as a women in the technology industry, Saira said, I was born and raised in a small town in India, near Chennai. When I was growing up, it was very rare for women to study engineering. I am the first in my family to pursue a degree in engineering, serving as a role model for others. I am happy to share that several of my female cousins have become engineers. Breaking this barrier conveyed to me that barriers are meant to be broken. It also gave me hope and confidence to try new things and take on bigger challenges. In addition, I am passionate about helping other women, especially women of color and minorities, navigate their careers as a way of giving back to the community.
When I came to this country from India, everything was new. In fact, until I came here, I only wore traditional Indian clothes. I knew right away that I needed to be open-minded and that I needed to learn lots of new things. I had to adjust and adapt. My ability to adapt and my natural curiosity have served me well in my career.
In my career journey, I have moved from one job to the next, assuming increasingly challenging responsibilities. Just as I was getting comfortable and settling into one job, I had the opportunity to move to a different role. Looking back, I am so glad that I transitioned as often as I did because such transitions enabled me to learn new things, but most importantly, build relationships and expand my network. These qualities have helped me both professionally and personally and have made me a resilient leader!
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