This morning, The Software Report revealed their Top 25 Women Leaders in Cybersecurity of 2020. I’m thrilled to share that our very own Tia Hopkins was named to the list—and in no less than position #7!
To shine an even brighter spotlight on Tia, I thought it would be fun, educational and inspirational to have a little Q&A session.
First off, let me offer my wholehearted congratulations! I’ve had the pleasure of working with you for almost two years now and I’ve seen your growth and contributions first-hand. To say that this recognition is well-deserved is an understatement.
Wow, thank you so much. It’s such an honor to be recognized as an industry leader in a space full of so many incredibly intelligent and talented women. I feel like a huge part of my ability to grow and be successful over the past few years is in part due to the amazing team I have the pleasure of working with at eSentire. The real joy for me in this recognition is the validation that I am representing both them and the eSentire brand well.
That’s really great to hear—and you make us very proud. The Women Leaders recognized in this exclusive list were selected based upon a range of criteria, including integrity, intelligence and drive. I think you might be a bit uncomfortable talking about yourself in those capacities, so let’s talk instead about some of the other criteria. Two in particular seem especially relevant to your role: improving the company’s functional capabilities and growing the company’s revenue and profitability. As the Vice President, Global Sales Engineering, how do you contribute to these objectives?
Great question. At a high level, my role is focused on leading the team that provides pre-sales engineering support to our customers, partners and prospects. This involves engaging in discussions to uncover current gaps, pain points and opportunities for improvement within organizations’ security programs, then designing and demonstrating a solution that aligns with the desired outcomes of the decision makers.
It is critically important that my team is able to facilitate these discussions in a manner that allows them to present a solution that solves for the current problem(s), make recommendations for future consideration (build a security program road map), and gather feedback on additional services or functional capabilities that would be helpful in the grand scheme of their long-term partnership with eSentire. Building these relationships ultimately contributes to revenue growth, brand awareness and increased profitability.
Well you and your team have certainly made a big contribution. Another criterion is promoting a positive and productive culture at work. You lead a global group in an organization with multiple offices and people scattered across several countries. What does it take to build an effective and supportive team in a distributed environment?
I think the key here is team. We are not automatically a team simply because we all carry the same title or work for the same company. In addition to being in multiple offices scattered across several countries, we all come from various walks of life, have a wide range of professional background—and the list goes on and on in terms of the things that make us different.
What makes us a team is that we understand we are all working toward the same goal of solving customer problems and continuing to grow the company. It is important to me that the team is not only supportive of their own territory, but also of one another. We realize, and more importantly accept, that we are much stronger together and that our combined knowledge and experiences will serve us all much better if we are supportive of each other rather than working in a silo and taking on challenging tasks individually.
That said, there is an individual component that contributes to a strong team as well. I refer to my team as a Rock Star as a Service (RaaS) organization, so we absolutely must deliver on that promise. In terms of enabling individuals and continuing to help them grow, it’s important to understand people as people, not just team members. I see the most success in my leadership roles when I connect with the members of my team on a personal level. From there, I meet them where they are in terms of skillset, ensure they understand how their role contributes to the overall success of the company, build confidence around their strengths and challenge them to improve in the areas where they lack confidence—instead of focusing on weaknesses.
I think you’ve done a great job of describing a combination of how leadership, coaching and individual empowerment create a cohesive, high-performing team no matter the specific circumstances. And extending that previous thought a little bit: you joined the company in 2017 as a Senior Solutions Engineer. It didn’t take long before you were a Team Lead—and it was even less time until you were promoted to VP. That’s quite an impressive run! How have you grown as a leader in that time and what is it about the eSentire culture that has allowed you to flourish?
The culture at eSentire is unlike any culture I’ve ever been a part of. I have an incredible amount of support from my peers and managers. The executive team at eSentire is amazing; everyone truly understands what it means to drive a "people first" culture.
Regardless of the type of leadership role I am in, my goal is to always strive to be the type of leader that I myself would want to follow. I can say with certainty that the team I am a part of at eSentire sets the bar pretty high in terms of modeling that leadership style; I’d follow this team anywhere.
Along the lines of the people-first culture, there are a number of programs offered to employees to keep us engaged and excited about the company. One of these programs is the Executive Mentorship program. Of course, you’re aware that I am part of this program because I am lucky enough to have you as my mentor!
Having the Chief Marketing Officer as a mentor has been incredibly rewarding. In addition to you being a phenomenal human being, having the opportunity to look at the business through a different lens and ask questions that I didn’t even know I had before has been fantastic.
It’s easy to get tunnel vision in a leadership role because there’s so much responsibility. I find that the more I understand about how other functions of the company operate, the more equipped I am to drive my team outcomes in a direction that is aligned with the overall company vision; not just my team’s piece of the vision.
Thank you for those kind words! And I want to be clear that it flows both ways—your understanding of our customers and their needs contribute valuable insights which help our marketing programs. Jumping back in time a little bit, why did you choose to join eSentire in the first place?
I like to be ahead of the curve and in a position that allows me to set the standard whenever possible. I apply that logic to my career as well. When I am researching the job market and current trends, sure I’m interested in the current state, but I’m more interested in what’s next.
When a recruiter reached out to me about the role at eSentire, I was not actively looking and I was typically declining most requests for interviews. Honestly, what made me take an initial look was the fact that I hadn’t heard of eSentire at the time and wanted to learn more about what they were doing in the cybersecurity space.
The more I read about MDR, the more excited I became: I thought to myself, “This is exactly where the industry is headed.” I am still incredibly excited about the direction of the company and what we are doing for our customers and partners even today.
This has by far been the best move of my career.
We’re always looking for the best and brightest—and I’m certainly thankful you took our call! We frequently hear about the gender-imbalance broadly across the tech industry. How do you think lists like this one can help to move the industry forward?
In addition to the various programs geared toward getting more women interested and involved in tech, representation of women who are currently successful in tech plays a huge role in moving the industry forward.
In order to truly be successful, one has to believe they can be successful. In the male-dominated field of tech, confidence is as much of a necessity as technical skillset. Lists such as the Top 25 Women in Cybersecurity provide a clear example of women who have been able to “do it,” which I believe helps to instill confidence in other women that they can also be successful.
Further to that, it would take me too long to list out all your “extracurricular activities.” Plus, you’re involved in so much that I’d probably miss something! Why is it so important to you to be an active contributor to community and academic organizations?
This ties into the last question very well. If my call to action is more representation of successful women in tech, it’s only right that I lead by example.
Most of my dedication to mentoring, coaching and teaching is rooted in my desire to give back. Although I have incredible mentors available to me now, I navigated the first 15+ years of my career without one. There were a lot of false starts, a lot of missteps, disappointment, etc. It means a great deal to me to be able to help others avoid common pitfalls and overcome challenges based on my experiences.
Along those same lines, my failures are what ultimately shaped me into who I am today and paved the way to my success. Many times when I speak with mentees, they are concerned about failing or making mistakes. My hope is that my story puts them at ease a bit and helps them understand that it’s ok to make mistakes. Achieving a goal is less about how many times you fall, and more about how many times you get up.
Although my focus tends to be on empowering and mentoring women, men also play a critical role in the industry’s ability to close the gender gap. Representation of successful women in tech is powerful, but having men in tech alongside us as strong advocates tells an even more powerful and inspiring story.
I couldn’t agree more. I think too often the onus is placed just on women, which is a weighty burden and also fails to recognize the responsibility everyone has to help rectify these imbalances. Switching gears a bit, you have a reputation of being very hands-on: you’re an ethical hacker and your career is filled with roles in which you’ve actively used tools and technology. With technology evolving so quickly, what advice could you give to people who aspire to develop expertise and keep up with the pace of change?
Never stop learning.
In tech in general, but especially in cybersecurity, you must be passionate about your contribution to the safety of the organizations you protect and therefore always want to grow and learn. Attackers never take a break, so as cybersecurity professionals neither can we.
Every day I tell myself “being smart gets you noticed, being informed keeps you relevant.” Be hungry, stay ahead of the curve, build a lab and constantly challenge yourself. One of my favorite quotes is from Will Smith. He said, “When others are sleeping, I am working.” That type of passion will set you apart and take you very far in this field.
Speaking of going far…I know you were recently stranded in Honduras at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a Yahoo! Sports article telling that story, you were quoted as saying, “My philosophy in life is, the situation is as serious as you make it.” Would you mind elaborating on that and explaining a bit about how you’ve applied it to your career?
The underlying message here is control the controllables. This mindset is what allows me to remain cool and calm under pressure.
Regardless of the situation I take a step back and ask myself, “what is within my power to change, and what is not?” There is one answer to that question that will never change—my perception. My perception is 100% of the time within my power to change. That said, if my perception of the situation is that it is impossible to handle, then it is impossible to handle. However, if my perception of the situation is that it is manageable, then I believe it is, and I typically find a way through.
The situation in Honduras was surrounded by a lot of uncertainty, as is the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of focusing on all that could go wrong, I poured my energy into what I could do to have a positive impact. The same logic applies to my career. Making changes, accepting new roles, and hitting targets all come with a great deal of uncertainty. Is there an incredibly long list of things that could go wrong? Absolutely. But I pour my energy into making sure my impact is always a positive one. So far, that has served me well.
I’ve no doubt that attitude will continue to serve you well in the future, in life and work. Thanks very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your thoughts—and congratulations once again on the well-deserved recognition!
I am truly honored to be selected among this elite group of women. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
Note: To learn more about Tia’s career adventure so far, please check out How I Went from Climbing Cable Poles to High-End Threat Hunting. And for more about Tia’s broader experience, background, guiding philosophies—and to hear some powerful advice—please see this in-depth article in Authority Magazine and this feature in Move the Dial.