Nisha Holt is Check Point’s Head of Americas Channel Sales. She joined Check Point in 2020 and served as the Head of National Channel partners. Nisha has been in cyber security for over 20 years with a concentrated focus on helping organizations grow through partnerships, alliances and other varying routes to market.
In this dynamic interview, in honor of International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11th, Head of Americas Channel Sales, Nisha Holt, shares thoughts on working in cyber security, increasing women’s participation in tech and so much more. Don’t miss this!
Our readers would like to get to know you! Can you please tell us a bit about your story and how you grew up?
I was born in Texas to Indian parents who had recently migrated to the US. My time growing up was divided between relentless academic study and, in my teens, running our small family business. When I was accepted to college, my parents informed me that I had three options: engineering, pre-med, or to continue to live with them until they were able to arrange a marriage that was beneficial to them. When I expressed a sincere desire to enter business school, my father asked me “what are YOU going to do in business?” That question, really a statement, and the tone in which it was asked, stayed with me all these years. I enrolled in a pre-med track, majoring in biology, but then at twenty, I decided to pursue my own interests and forge my own path to become what I wanted to be.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in cyber security? We’d love to hear it.
I began my career at a technology company that outsourced sales and marketing activities to IT companies. I was exposed to and trained on myriad technologies, but ultimately honed in on the burgeoning field of cyber security. Cyber security fascinated me then and it still does today. Let’s take the concept of a virus as seen in the natural world. A specifically evolved microscopic bit of DNA is introduced into a specific host body by some sort of mechanism — a cough, a mosquito, a handshake — the virus then begins to replicate and attack the host, while the host counterattacks via T-cells, antibodies, and other mechanisms. Now, let’s compare that to a virus as seen in the cyber world. A specifically engineered bit of code is introduced to a host (a PC, a laptop, a smartphone, a network) via some sort of mechanism — an e-mail, a text, a link, a flash drive — the virus then begins to replicate and attack the host, while the host counterattacks via various forms of cyber security. One form of virus and the mechanisms that defend against them have evolved in the natural world over the millennia, while other forms of virus and the mechanisms that defend against them are purely the result of human ingenuity. Truly fascinating stuff!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am the chair for Check Point’s Women Leadership Network — F.I.R.E — Females In Roles Everywhere. Our mission is to empower women by educating, energizing, and embracing every single female Check Point employee so that they are more confident in ANY role — their current role, or in any future role. We do this by creating a support ecosystem so members can collaborate, share knowledge, and network. Our goal is to make cyber security more accessible to future female leaders through our four subcommittees: Campaign and Content, Community Outreach and Alliance, Mentorship, and Diversity & Inclusion. We have launched a number of new initiatives and programs around leadership training, mentorship, and personal development that are aimed at helping women at Check Point advance in their career. We’re also working on community programs to help further the conversation outside of Check Point with other women and with the younger generation of school aged children.
The cyber security industry seems so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? Can you explain or give an example?
One, the dangers from cyber attacks are VERY real — ranging from something as simple as having your identity stolen to something as complex as a coordinated attack that disables a power grid. The ultimate goal of cyber security to protect both people and critical assets from these crimes, making cyber security a meaningful pursuit that truly make a difference.
Two, unfortunately, the volume and the intensity of cyber attacks is steadily increasing, making cyber security a field that is more critical than at any other time. Recent research from Check Point Research found that organizations are being attacked an average of 1,130 times per week! Fortunately, the industry is responding to this uptick in cyber attacks with the creation of many exciting, and varied, job opportunities.
Third, there are more women joining the cyber security field now. Today, women still only hold roughly 25% of the positions in cyber security, but that’s up significantly from just 5 years ago. Hopefully, we’ll continue to see that trend accelerating.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in broader terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? If not, what specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
Not at all, so much more needs to be done! It’s encouraging to see that more girls are showing interest in STEM and it’s been shown that they consistently outperform boys in both math and science-related assessments. However, STEM is still often viewed as more pertinent and applicable for boys. A number of surveys and studies have shown that girls that do not have role models in STEM are highly unlikely to see STEM as either a field of study or as a career option. We have to continue to do more to educate, inspire, and empower girls to see themselves in these careers through education and outreach programs.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in the cyber security industry? Can you explain what you mean?
The prevalent myths are that you have to be technical (a recent survey shows that 23% of people in cyber started with a non-IT background), male, young, and that you’re either a hacker or a coder that spends all of his time glued to LCD screens awash in graphs and data that require constant analysis. Now, let’s be clear, there are a lot of people in cyber security that fit the aforementioned mold, but there are A LOT more people that don’t fit that mold. The cyber security sector is vast, replete with many different career paths and roles, and in need of people with diverse backgrounds and varied skillsets in order to fill all of the roles that are currently open.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in Tech” and why?
Lead by example. In order to inspire and motivate others, you have to be the leader that sets the example by being the hardest-working, most dedicated individual.
Have a vision and turn that vision into an actionable, coherent, and achievable plan that you share with your team. Show them their part in that vision and their path to success so they fully understand the value of their role and the importance of their contribution.
Expect to make mistakes, own them, and understand why you made them. From my experience, that’s the only way to truly learn from them and to prevent the same mistakes going forward.
Inspire and motivate the people on your team to be best they can be. Instill the desire for excellence and create an environment where they desire to do the best job they can. Give credit and accolades to foster positivity and encourage the right mindset.
Learn about a situation first, then provide your recommendations. I’ve seen the following mistake made repeatedly throughout the entirety of my career. A new executive of sales, or marketing, or engineering is hired, and then within days or, in some instances, even prior to their first day, she decides to implement the exact same strategy that led to success at her previous company, with very little knowledge of her new company, and more specifically and importantly, the differences between her previous company and her new company. Success with a specific strategy at company “A” does not in any way guarantee success with the same strategy at company “B”. Every company is unique and therefore different, making it imperative that you understand your company’s individual culture and value proposition, its institutional knowledge, customer base, values, people, core competencies, areas for improvement, processes, and history — both internally and externally. Failure to appreciate the uniqueness of your new company often leads to disastrous consequences both internally and externally.
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