Chief Information Security Officer, State of Delaware
William Pelgrin: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career path... how did you get where you are?
Elayne Starkey: My career path has been a mix of positions in the public and private sector, with the first half of it in the private sector. I graduated with a degree in computer science and started as a software developer at the Xerox Research Center, in Rochester, New York. Then I took a position with Perdue Farms as a software developer and team leader.
My public sector career started as the CIO for the Department of Public Safety for the State of Delaware. From there, I moved to the central IT agency. As I think about the transition from private to public sector, I recall hearing in my interview with the cabinet secretary that working in government was a "call to public service." At the time, I didn't quite grasp that, but as I continued through my career, I realized there is a different level of job satisfaction; I get it now. When I think about the people I am serving every day, I am so proud to be able to help make a difference. My ultimate goal is to help connect members to each other, and build a community.
WP: What or who influenced you to chose your path, both in your past, and currently?
ES: I've always known that the only person in charge of my career is me, and so I've been pretty independent in my choices. I have had some important mentors, however, including my high school guidance counselor. He provided me with a lot of positive feedback, and because I had strong math skills, he encouraged me to take computer-programming courses at a local college. That helped me shape my college major and ultimately my career. While I was working at Xerox they encouraged professional development. I am a strong believer in mentoring and providing positive influence.
WP: What would you say most motivates you to do what you do? What are you most excited or passionate about? What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your work?
ES: I am very passionate about the US Cyber Challenge program (a national computer security competition) and encouraging more young women to get involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers. I believe it opens doors for women, encourages them to give the field a chance and exposes them to something that they may not have thought about.
WP: What is the most interesting or surprising change you have seen in the technology/security field since you started?
ES: I am most surprised about the ebb and flow of technological changes and the circular nature of IT which was once centralized, moved to decentralized and now back to portions being centralized.
The most interesting recent change is the mobility factor and the evaporation of the network perimeter. As new devices decrease in size and increase in power, it brings new risks we need to defend against.
WP: What is the most challenging part of what you do?
ES: The challenge every day is to keep up with the constant change in technology and the advancement of the "bad guys" and their capabilities.
WP: What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
ES: It is extremely satisfying to protect state data and shut down risks. If I can say we are more secure today than we were yesterday, it's been a good day.
WP: What do you like to do in your spare time?
ES: What spare time?! Although there is not a lot of it, my husband and I like to travel as much as possible. I enjoy sports and fitness. I play in a women's tennis league, I also enjoy sewing, crafts and scrapbooking.
WP: How do you keep a healthy work/life balance?
ES: That's the ultimate challenge. For me knowing my priorities and at the end of the day remembering that it is family first. There will always be one more email to be answered or meeting to be scheduled, so I have to really focus on keeping a balance.
ES: My "bucket list" always included earning my CISSP Certification, which I achieved this past November.
WP: Name one thing about yourself that most people don't know.
ES: Most people who meet me think I am an extrovert, since I am extremely comfortable speaking in front of large audiences. The truth is I am a natural introvert, and it is much harder for me to speak in front of a small group of people, than a large, more "anonymous" one.
WP: What advice can you give people about achieving their goals?
ES: The best advice I can give anyone, especially women, is to figure out what it is that you truly want, focus on it and work hard. Remind yourself that if you are competent and capable, you can do whatever you set your mind to. Have a laser focus on your goals and be confident that you are capable of reaching them.
WP: What are your best quote(s) about cyber security?
ES: I actually have two quotes, the first is from the late David Kearns, former CEO at Xerox, who said: "Quality is a race with no finish line" and I believe that to be true about information security too.
The second is "Cut through the technobabble." The most successful people can explain the technology and the risks in plain English.
WP: When you hear the term "MS-ISAC" what comes to mind?
ES: When I hear MS-ISAC, I think collaboration, intelligence, leadership and team [there is no I in team]. Collectively, we as states would not be where we are without the MS-ISAC. It is a great resource for all of us.