“Remember Everyone’s Name — If you only do one thing, one simple thing, it’s to remember everyone’s name. I know it is easier said than done, but as a leader, these people are looking to you for guidance, and you can guarantee they know who you are. So take the time to get to know your team. Remember their names, ask them about their weekend, and follow up on conversations. These tiny details will not only get their attention, it’ll get their respect and get them motivated. Meg Whitman, the ex-HP CEO has an amazing ability to do that, even if she only met you a couple of times, she can call to your name while passing in the hallway. Can you imagine how great that makes someone feel, whether they’re a customer or employee?”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Haiyan Song, Splunk’s Senior Vice President and General Manager, Security Markets. Haiyan leads Splunk’s security business, helping customers around the world take action on their security data to detect and remediate security threats. Ms. Song is one of the leading voices in cybersecurity, being named one of the Top 50 most powerful women in Technology in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me, it’s my pleasure. When I was growing up in China, science and engineering school was the aim for many, but the pinnacle of academic achievement was going to medical school. I assumed I’d follow that path until I took my sister to a dental appointment, which sealed my fate and made me realize I was not destined for a career in medicine.
I grew up on a college campus, where my father was a professor in electronic engineering and communications. My Dad went to the U.S. as a visiting scholar in the 1980s and saw the effect that computer technology was having on his field. From there, he encouraged me to major in computer science. My college entrance exam landed me as one of the top 3 students in Beijing, and got me admitted to Tsinghua University to study computer science, one of the most prestigious majors in China’s top engineering school.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Before I joined Splunk, the company was primarily known for their IT operations use cases. But even on the outside, it was always intriguing to see how cybersecurity could benefit from what Splunk has to offer. Our entire business is driven by curiosity and drawing connections between seemingly unrelated points of data, so using that same technology to find bad actors instead of business efficiencies just made sense. One of the more eye opening lessons I had early in my time at Splunk was learning just how similar the security problems facing every organization are. Whether you work at a bank, or a telco, or a retailer- cyber threats are universal. It wasn’t until I was invited to speak at a cyber security event organized by a major government agency that I realized even though the vocabulary and language used in and around the Beltway are different from that of Silicon Valley, if the public and private sector can truly team up, we can make a real difference in winning the battle in cyber security. This visit elevated the security conversation to a level I had never seen before — instead of discussing how to build a security program for a single company or industry, they had established an entirely new set of principles around developing policies and creating systems and partnerships that can work for a nation. That was the beginning of Splunk building out a Government Affairs function! Talk about perspective!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Very early in my career I traveled to Japan for work. We had partnered with a prestigious Japanese company, and I was sent over to help with some negotiations. I was in for a culture shock! Japan is a very male dominated business scene, and here I was, a young, 20-something walking into a room of Japanese business men in their 40s and 50s, all dressed in suits. But here’s the thing — I was so junior in my career that they couldn’t afford to send me with a translator. So I immediately began controlling the meeting in English, and the rest of the room had to keep up with me. It completely changed the dynamic of the room and gave me the chance to really put my ideas into motion.
This may not be a story of funny mistakes but is certainly a story of how to find a unique angle to command a situation when you seemed to be at a disadvantage. We ended up with a winning arrangement for both companies, and it definitely gave me a confidence building experience that benefited me tremendously in a career as a business leader.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are growing oceans of ‘machine data’ that sit at the fingertips of every organization in the world. This machine data, which comes from everything from servers, to devices, to applications, to networks, is massive in scale and contains a definitive imprint of everything happening within an IT or security department. Splunk helps our customers turn that data into answers, and my team helps customers use machine data to detect and remediate cyber threats. Take for example Aflac, who uses Splunk to consume large amounts of disparate threat data and help make it actionable. With Splunk Aflac can automate their security remediation process, better protect their network and inform stronger security decisions.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
A few months ago, Splunk acquired a company in the security automation, orchestration and response (SOAR) space called Phantom Cyber. Right now, we’re focused on integrating Phantom throughout our security product suite, because the only way for companies to combat the ever evolving security threats is to leverage powerful technology such as machine learning and automation tools that can augment their team’s human capabilities.
Now I know what you’re thinking, the term ‘automation’ is seldom linked to new job opportunities. In reality, cyber threats are moving so fast security teams are struggling to keep up. That means that if we don’t respond at machine speed, we’re already too late. Detecting a threat as fast as ‘humanly’ possible simply isn’t enough anymore. By using automation to help security teams detect and remediate a threat in real time, we are allowing people to eliminate many of the tedious tasks bogging down their day, and instead focus on new opportunities that they otherwise would have missed.
What advice would you give to other female leaders?
Be comfortable in your skin and don’t let anyone else define you. While we continue to nurture and sponsor Woman in Technology programs, we also should take it beyond the “woman in tech” label, having our programs and gatherings focusing on advancing technology, business and careers by leveraging the power of our network and community.
The most empowering moments and relationships in my career have not been designed for me specifically as a woman — they have been tailored to help me grow. I am more than just one thing — more than just a woman or a minority. I am a technology and a business leader, and other women should look at themselves the same way.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Diversity, diversity, diversity — and inclusion. And no — I’m not just talking about gender or race.
As you look to build out a large team, make sure to surround yourself with people who think differently than you do. Hire people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse skill sets. Bring on people who tackle problems from different angles than you are used to, and who, in turn, push you to see challenges from new perspectives. Maybe that means building out your team with people from other ethnicities, different industries, government and veterans. However you do it, diversity without inclusion only gets you half way, just make sure you create a unique team who will continue to challenge each other and challenge you to become a better leader.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are many, but the first name that comes to mind here is Don Gavis, who worked at Informix as a special advisor to our SVP of Product Development. Don saw the potential in me, and sponsored me to take on the challenge of leading a team and building a product line in an area that was completely new to me and the company. I was very uncomfortable at the beginning, but looking back at that experience years later, I have to say that is the best career move. It taught me how to manage and lead without being the domain expert, and it taught me that taking risks and venturing into unknown territory is a necessary and integral part of growth and development. Having that willingness, confidence and courage to take on new challenges has been the cornerstone of my career progression
The other name that comes to mind here is Meg Whitman, former eBay and HP CEO. She is the very definition of an inspiring female leader! I was lucky enough to work with her during my tenure at HP and she had a strong influence in my career. She’s this really bold, powerful leader, but is also always personable — a rare and magical balance. She’s taught me so much — specifically to be the best version of yourself. You won’t get very far by just conforming to the norm. At the end of the day, you have to be confident in your specialty, and really own your role. Be strong, and most importantly, just be yourself and contribute what you uniquely bring to the table.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’d consider myself to be a pretty self-assured woman. Even from my time in school and early in my career, I’ve always been confident, always been self-motivated. “Work hard, deliver and you’ll get there.” That was always my mentality. That was until I reached my 40s.
It wasn’t until later in my career that I realized not everyone was afforded the same opportunities I was. Not everyone had a supportive family behind them, or a clear understanding of what they wanted to do so early on. Not everyone had the same professors or bosses that fostered creativity and confidence.
It was with that realization that I started to really embrace my role as a mentor. Everybody needs motivation, encouragement and a helping hand, no matter your background. So I set out to give back. I make sure to prioritize sitting down with new hires or getting coffee with fellow women leaders. I make time to talk to people who are early in their career and help them set their course. I make efforts to speak at conferences like Grace Hopper, so I can be part of a larger platform that is aimed at helping our younger generation of women. At this point in my career, developing the next generation of talent is equally important as developing next growth area for our business.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Remember Everyone’s Name — If you only do one thing, one simple thing, it’s to remember everyone’s name. I know it is easier said than done, but as a leader, these people are looking to you for guidance, and you can guarantee they know who you are. So take the time to get to know your team. Remember their names, ask them about their weekend, and follow up on conversations. These tiny details will not only get their attention, it’ll get their respect and get them motivated. Meg Whitman, the ex-HP CEO has an amazing ability to do that, even if she only met you a couple of times, she can call to your name while passing in the hallway. Can you imagine how great that makes someone feel, whether they’re a customer or employee?
- Hire People With Different Backgrounds — If the definition of insanity is continually doing the same thing and expecting a different result, then the same can be said for hiring people from the same cookie cutter mold and expecting new, innovative ideas.
- Change Industries At Least Once — People say variety is the spice of life, and a key part of understanding your interest in any pursuit is trying new things. That’s why I think that professionals should be more comfortable walking down a new path instead of focusing on climbing an individual corporate ladder.
- Create a Team with Room to Grow — While there are many different schools of thought on what truly motivates people, I am of the opinion that people are at their best when they have a clear feeling of progression while completing their tasks or working with their team. Whether that progression comes in the form of a formal promotion, changing duties or being provided the opportunity to perform old tasks better, I will always bet on teams that are built for growth.
- Lead by Example — Effective leaders are not defined by their title, tenure or talents. Leadership lies in an individual’s ability to set an aspirational standard for herself and her team, and spend every day in the pursuit of those goals. Actions speaks louder than words, and teams whose leaders share in that pursuit and truly live the values they preaches are more likely to try to better themselves each day and come on top when faced with adversity!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I love to read (and listen to audio books) — but I often find myself powering through articles or books just to get the key takeaways. I’d love to start an abridged book club. Consider it SparkNotes for learning. Rather than committing to one 300-something page (or 15 hour long audio book) a month, let’s continue to push ourselves every day with more tangible, bite-sized nuggets of intellect. One of the things I’ve really come to appreciate while working at Splunk is how our company and technology helps people to look at the same information from various angles to find new solutions. So I’d like to extend that wider understanding to places outside work. Maybe one day, you’re challenging yourself to learn more about engineering, and the next it’s an economic concept or a philosophical idea. In the same way that a diverse team can find new solutions to age old problems, I believe a cross-disciplinary background is what sparks innovation and makes one’s perspective and judgement well-rounded.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Every day I try and live my life by one guiding principle — to be a student of life. Both in and out of the office, I try and be open to new experiences and ideas. I’ve worked across verticals and industries, interacted with people from all walks of life, always pushing myself to try something new. I think that’s why working in cyber security technology was such a good fit for me — it’s an industry designed for those who are forever curious. We’re constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, and every day there’s something new to discover. The trick is, both in tech and in life, to just make sure you’re open to the new possibilities and leverage those to enrich your thinking and your life.
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Originally published at medium.com