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11/10/2014
03:55 PM
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How I Became A CISO: Jennings Aske, Nuance Communications

With the training of an attorney, the curiosity of an academic, and some fortuitous timing, Aske rode the compliance wave straight through to the CISO role.

The regulatory compliance wave of the late 90s and early 2000s carried unsuspecting people from a variety of professions into a career in information security. Jennings Aske, CISO of Nuance Communications, was one of those who caught the wave -- but not just because he had the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time.

Like many chief information security officers, Aske did not set out for a career in security or even technology.

"I really did stumble into something good for me," he says.

Aske was an English major who just happened to build PCs and crystal radio sets for fun in his spare time. Yet, his next career maneuver didn't proceed along either the English or technology tinkering paths.

Instead, Aske became an attorney. While editing law journals and working for the Chief Privacy Officer in the Massachusetts office of health and human services, Aske became intimately familiar with the hefty text of the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act. While studying HIPAA, something became clear to him.

"There was a need for people who understood law to get into data security issues," says Aske. Although he was not a technologist by education, that old interest in technology combined with his new experience made him a good fit.

Yet perhaps most importantly, he was simply curious, and willing to educate himself about the tools and techniques of the trade, whether it be business operations or Ruby on Rails development.

"It's definitely a very academic approach that I've taken," says Aske. "I liken it to a lawyer preparing for a case."

He points out that even those people who enter the information security field with a formal education in IT have to continue their studies while on the job, because in such a quickly evolving field, what you learned in school will be largely outdated a mere five or 10 years after graduation.

"Security doesn't seem to [invest as much] in training as other parts of IT," says Aske. "You really have to invest in yourself and your knowledge."

Aske rose up to become CISO for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, overseeing information security for 16 state agencies. He moved on to other CISO positions within healthcare before taking the job at Nuance Communications in January.

"I don't have to be a subject matter expert in everything," says Aske. However, he cautions, "I've seen some security leaders who are so divided from technology that they aren't able to lead the operational staff."

Aske's main advice to aspiring CISOs is to always be learning -- not only from peers, but from staff and from those outside IT entirely.

"Don't come into the organization as King Security," he says. "Come in and listen. Come across as humble. Because eventually you'll need to tell people 'no' " -- they'll be more likely to cooperate with you then, if you cooperated with them first.

This is part four of Dark Reading's How To Become a CISO series. Read the previous segments to learn what employers are looking for in a CISO, and to hear how Janet Levesque, CISO of RSA, and Quinn Shamblin, CISO of Boston University made their way to the top job.

Sara Peters is Senior Editor at Dark Reading and formerly the editor-in-chief of Enterprise Efficiency. Prior that she was senior editor for the Computer Security Institute, writing and speaking about virtualization, identity management, cybersecurity law, and a myriad ... View Full Bio

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RoxanneCYounger
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RoxanneCYounger,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2014 | 5:47:40 AM
Re: English majors
good one.
ClassC
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ClassC,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/13/2014 | 6:03:17 PM
Re: English majors

@Kelly  Jackson Higgins    I agree.  There is something to majoring in English as it relates to tech.   CEO's and other execs  love nothing better than have a well written report as to the status of the department or what is or is not getting done.    

So the ability to communicate in both forms will set you apart, sometimes I think it is best for those entering the field to major is something other than the traditional tech majors, even want to be something else - if it doesn't work out you always can go into tech and excel.

Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
11/11/2014 | 3:31:48 PM
Re: English majors
Or make sure comp sci majors get a solid foundation in the liberal arts..
Kelly Jackson Higgins
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Kelly Jackson Higgins,
User Rank: Strategist
11/11/2014 | 2:57:00 PM
Re: English majors
White-hat hackers are usually quite creative, so maybe we should start recruiting liberal arts majors for the field rather than just comp sci majors. 
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
11/11/2014 | 2:54:39 PM
Re: English majors
"... It makes me wonder if our system of higher education does enough to entice people ..."

Good point. I mentioned in my other post. We do not really educate students on security, the classes focus on threats and vulnerabilities, it is like a reactive approach to whole security problems
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
11/11/2014 | 2:52:30 PM
Re: English majors
"... There's something about literary analysis, creativity ... "

I agree. Creativity would make a critical difference in responding to threats in today's environment. We need to me more creative than a person who poses the tread to end the cycle of security issues
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
11/11/2014 | 2:49:49 PM
How to be CISO
 

We do not really teach CISO major in universities today we just simply give information around threats and vulnerabilities and possible countermeasures in security classes. As we consider Security is a journey and the leaning is part of that journey too. You would never know what comes tomorrow and you do not know what your course of action would be.
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
11/11/2014 | 8:17:23 AM
Re: English majors
I found it particularly illuminating that "Aske was an English major who just happened to build PCs and crystal radio sets for fun in his spare time." It makes me wonder if our system of higher education does enough to entice people with highly developed left and right brains to pursue careers in infosec, rather than just fall into it like Jennings. 

 
Kelly Jackson Higgins
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Kelly Jackson Higgins,
User Rank: Strategist
11/10/2014 | 5:02:18 PM
English majors
As a fellow English major, I was intrigued to hear about Aske's background. More and more, I'm seeing security folks with liberal arts backgrounds in what used to be considered fairly technical roles. There's something about literary analysis, creativity and strong writing and communications skills that dovetails nicely into security. Not what any of us thought we would be doing, but it worked out very nicely. 
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