FTG 0063 – From Technical Expert to Executive Leader with Cybersecurity Executive and CEO Atif Ghauri ’00

Episode 5 March 26, 2024 00:59:54
FTG 0063 – From Technical Expert to Executive Leader with Cybersecurity Executive and CEO Atif Ghauri ’00
Following the Gong, a Podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
FTG 0063 – From Technical Expert to Executive Leader with Cybersecurity Executive and CEO Atif Ghauri ’00

Mar 26 2024 | 00:59:54


Hosted By

Sean Goheen

Show Notes



Cybersecurity executive Atif Ghauri ’00 Business joins Following the Gong to discuss his career and advice for Scholars interested in both technical and relational leadership roles. Atif currently serves as the President of Ultraviolet Cyber after a career of increasingly senior roles in cyber security. Atif discusses his experience reluctantly coming to Penn State and then having an incredible experience in the Smeal College of Business and the Schreyer Honors College. Atif also shares insights from his career at companies like Comcast and the Herjeavec Group – led by Shark Tank investor Robert Herjavec and taking control of your life and career. An overarching theme is making the shift from technical roles to the executive leadership in a business. Any Scholar can gain wisdom from this episode, and especially any interested in roles in technology and/or business. Atif’s bio is available below along with chapter markers detailing the topics discussed.


Guest Bio:


Atif Ghauri ’00 Bus is currently the President of UltraViolet Cyber. He is an established C-Level Executive with 20+ years of experience in Cybersecurity, serving roles as CTO, CPO, COO, and Managing Partner. He is an energetic leader, skilled team builder, strategic thinker, and adept negotiator possessing a rare combination of both high business acumen with deep technological expertise.  He is an industry recognized expert in cybersecurity, sought after for speaking engagements and regularly quoted in media. He is an adjunct professor teaching at the University of Michigan, Drexel, Yeshiva, Rutgers, and Wharton School. Atif holds a patent for security analytics algorithms on embedded consumer devices monitoring user anomalies.


Prior to UltraViolet Cyber, Atif led Cyderes (formerly known as Herjavec Group) as COO. Atif was responsible for all go-to-market activities related to sales and product management. Reporting directly to CEO Robert Herjavec, he served multiple leadership roles in his tenure as CTO, CPO as well running revenue operations, marketing, human resources, M&A, legal, and product management. Prior to Cyderes, Atif was a Managing Partner at Mazars. He was the Global Cybersecurity Practice Leader, responsible for all aspects of the business from sales to service delivery.


Atif has held leadership roles for both business and technology organizations at Comcast. He was head of Business Operations for Xfinity Home. He also served as Chief Product Security Officer for the technology engineering group, where he directed all security work streams to launch next generation X1 Platform, including invention and deployment of his patented fraud detection technology operational on millions of subscriber devices. Prior to Comcast, Atif was Director of Security at Unisys, where he launched a global security practice focused in Application Security. He started his career as a Managing Consultant at IBM Global Services advising and implementing security to Fortune 100 companies. Atif received a Masters in Technology Management from the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Science in Management Information Systems with Honors from Penn State’s Smeal College of Business and Schreyer Honors College.


Episode Topics & Chapters:


00:00       Introductions

00:13       Choosing Penn State and the SHC

02:50       Starting a Business as a Student

05:09       Using Campus Leadership Roles in Your Career

06:55       The Honors Thesis

08:56       Job Searching as a Scholar and Being the "Strongest Athlete"

12:26       Communicating technical "jargon" to different audiences and deciding on technical vs business paths

16:22       Developing the skills and strategies to move from "techie" to leader

19:43       Making connections that lead to the Shark Tank

24:11       Parlaying connections into opportunities

26:27       Transitioning from technical to strategy and leadership roles

29:44       The importance of cyber security and the chief IT security officer role

32:16       Balancing strategy and the day-to-day

35:48       Continuing education outside of formal programs

37:35       Making challenging decisions as a leader

42:12       Developing leadership skills as a Scholar

44:33       Making the time for commitments

46:36       Work life balance as a CEO

50:14       Questions the host didn't think to ask

51:55       Reflecting on Atif's successes and mistakes

53:33       Thoughts on mentorship

55:18       Shoutouts

56:39       Atif's final advice

57:52       How to connect with Atif

58:18       Which Creamery flavor Atif would be

59:16       Wrap up and final thoughts


Schreyer Honors College Links: 





Upcoming Events 

Scholars – Need Assistance? Book an Appointment! 

Alumni – Learn Why and How to Volunteer 

Make a Gift to Benefit Schreyer Scholars 

Join the Penn State Alumni Association 


Credits & Notes:

This show is hosted, produced, and edited by Sean Goheen '11 Lib (Schreyer), '23g Bus.

The artwork was created by Tom Harrington, the College’s Web Developer. 

The sound effect is “Chinese Gong,” accessed via SoundBible used under Creative Commons License. 

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Sean: Here on following the gong. Joining me is it and cybersecurity leader Atif Gari. And I'm very excited for this chat today. I think this is a really important topic for any scholar to hear. But Atif, I always like to start really, you know, setting the stage for our scholars. How did you first come to Penn State? Back in the. [00:00:30] Atif: Good, good question. Where did it all begin? Right. And for me, if there's one thing you get out of this conversation with me is life is always happening for you, not to you. And so therefore, when I applied, Penn State was not my first choice. I wanted to go to Penn and I wanted to be in Ivy League. I was one of those students in high school where I did real well from a grade standpoint, but I didn't do well in the SATs. And so therefore, I didn't get into many schools. And so I was like, all right, fine, I'll go to Penn State. A lot of my friends from high school are going there, and it'll be all right. Turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. [00:01:07] Sean: Right. [00:01:07] Atif: And it's foundation for my path forward, which I'll talk to you more about. But again, life is happening for you, not to you. And yeah, by the way, I did end up going to Penn, too, for grad school, but that's a different story. I mean, I would never change another way than to go to Penn State. [00:01:22] Sean: Yeah. [00:01:22] Sean: If you're listening to the audio version of this, you'll hear or you won't see it, but in the video, I can see that you've got your upenn degree back behind you. So we'll get to that in a minute. But most importantly for this podcast, how did you end up being a Schreyer scholar? [00:01:38] Atif: Yes, so the Schreyer story, I wasn't good enough to get in as a freshman. However, the scholar program also has a junior gate program, which know if you do well your first year, your second year, and happen to be the top of your major, then based off a recommendation from the dean of the school, for me, it was a school of business. There was Camille College. You can get nominated, and then you write an essay and do a couple of things accordingly. Some service and you may get selected. And I was fortunate enough to get selected, and that took my already strong Penn State experience to a whole new level. Being a striker scholar, which many of the students listening to this know it's a privilege. So you have a privileged group of people that get to go to Penn State and then you get the scholars that you have the first dibs at everything. And I joke with my friends that go to other top schools that Schreyer is better than your school because we do this and we have this. I'm very fortunate to be selected into Schreyer, but I didn't get in as a freshman. So if you didn't get in as a freshman, look at my example. Right? You could get in after that, and. [00:02:47] Sean: Yours truly as well. So definitely can vouch for the validity of that option there. And many of our past guests have also come in as current Penn State students. Now, tiff, you shared, if you're a regular listener, I give every guest a questionnaire. And thank you for filling that out. I know you're very busy. You started a business when you were a student. I wasn't sure if it was either in high school or here at Penn State, but I wanted you to talk about that experience and what you got out of that early entrepreneurial experience at such a young age. [00:03:18] Atif: Yeah. [00:03:18] Atif: So coming in as a high school senior and going into Penn State, I started a business, and I'll tell you about it in a second. But the headline is passion behind an idea. [00:03:30] Sean: Right? [00:03:30] Atif: So if you're passionate about something and you have an idea, go for it. [00:03:33] Sean: Right? [00:03:34] Atif: A lot of people get stuck into, oh, well, how am I going to do it? The big how. You're passionate, you find the how. You finally figure out the how. So for me, I was passionate about computers. A buddy of mine at the time, this is back in, I'm going to date myself a little bit. Back in the early 2000s, right? Right around when Michael Dell was making news, we started to put together those computers. We love to do that, package them up and sell them, kind of like what Best buy does today and what Dell did at the time. And so we started friends and family. For a 1617 year old, that's kind of a big deal to have. The amount of $1,000 was like, wow, I got $1,000, right? And so we started to sell companies. And then, unlike Michael Dell, we didn't quit our quick college, and we did. Michael Dell went to commercial, went to customers that were businesses, not friends and family. Instead, I went to college focused only on that. The business slowly faded away. But it taught me about initiative, it taught me about following your passion. And then later in my career, that picked back up when I went to several entrepreneurial type of pursuits. [00:04:42] Sean: Well, he was pretty successful. You're pretty successful yourself. So I think your path definitely played out. Pretty well for you, Tiff. But one of the things, know, you stayed at Penn State and graduated, and obviously you found time to be involved on campus, as pretty much most Schreyer scholars do. And I wanted you to talk about your experience in different clubs, starting different programs, and what you learned at the time and how you've deployed that in your career, especially as a senior executive. [00:05:14] Atif: Now, it sounds really simple, but the concept that most of you learn when you learn leadership is vision. [00:05:20] Sean: Right. [00:05:21] Atif: Patent the vision. For me. I realized immediately that getting good grades in classes was great, but to really separate yourself from the rest, you need to be involved with student organizations and not just involved with student organizations. I started off as a freshman participating, but then quickly jumping into leadership roles and, yeah, that's more work. [00:05:43] Sean: Right. [00:05:43] Atif: And that's more responsibility, but that's how you do it. And then back to the vision thing. So once you get into an organization and I end up being president of multiple organizations and people look at you. Oh, you're the president. Especially as a freshman or sophomore. Ask me who ran against me. No one. [00:05:59] Sean: Right. [00:06:00] Atif: So you'll be surprised that you could just become the president of the multicultural culture, business society and the business student council, because nobody else ran and maybe somebody else runs. That's too cool, too. And then you give it your best shot and you get into it. [00:06:14] Atif: But then when you get in, one. [00:06:16] Atif: Thing I try to do, I focused on was, what's the vision? Why are we here? What's the purpose, and what do we want to do as a team? And that fast forward 20 years now, later, I'm still doing that stuff. [00:06:28] Sean: Right. [00:06:29] Atif: So it's taking the initiative, stepping up for the role, getting selected. That's sometimes if there's election and then establishing a vision and, you know, foundational things that you start now and you'll be doing for the rest of your life. [00:06:42] Sean: Awesome. Yeah. It's really funny how often guests on the show talk about know, I learned things running a club here at University park or another campus at Penn State, and they're using it today in their career, so excellent to see that even at the C suite, you can draw on those. [00:06:58] Atif: Yeah, yeah. Very important. [00:07:00] Sean: Now, another thing you probably draw on, I would hope so, is your thesis experience. So can you talk about both what you research, but more importantly, what did you ultimately take out of that process and, again, using in your career? [00:07:14] Atif: Yeah. So the thesis piece. Right. I got to tell you, my fancy title. The challenges organizations face implementing public key cryptology. Right? Yeah, it's fancy title. But basically what it means is the little digital lock that you see when you go browse a website it uses. I helped. That was my research was on a version of that called PKI, public interoperability. And really, really, though, Sean, no one really read it except for my thesis advisor and some of my friends. However, it was a really strong experience for me that was shaping for me because it involved studying cybersecurity. So at the time, cybersecurity wasn't really a thing back when I graduated in 2000, and I noticed because of with some friends that also had similar interests as I did, that security is kind of a big deal, like this thing called e commerce and things that are going on online. Security is going to be an important thing. And so that was my excuse to dive deep and then diving deep in that, to Dr. Chu from the ISD school, who was my thesis advisor, he coached me through it, and we developed thesis, and ultimately that led me to my first job at IBM out of college. I went to IBM, and I was talking about PKI, which no one really at that level as a college kid coming into the workforce knew anything about. And looking back, I really didn't know anything, but I kind of did, I guess. But IBM trained me after that, and that was just the beginning of my launchpad. But the thesis was the cornerstone for that, for me to do so. [00:08:58] Sean: Excellent. And I was hoping you would talk a little bit more about that, actually. Is your strategy that you used then for internships in that first role at IBM? And then also from your current perspective of what are you seeing successful candidates for the companies that you've been leading are using for those entry level roles? [00:09:18] Atif: Yeah. Especially for students now that are coming through the freshman sophomore, then getting to the junior senior. The important thing to realize is no matter how much expertise, technical expertise, you get, in my case, I study PKI, public interoperability. [00:09:36] Atif: And no matter how much you get. [00:09:38] Atif: You're going to learn a lot of it on the job. [00:09:40] Atif: So then you say, oh, then why am I studying? Well, you need to study it so that you could get competent enough to understand once you get the training. [00:09:48] Sean: Right. [00:09:48] Atif: So you do still need to study it. But don't discount what you're going to learn on the job. But to get the job, you got to have. One thing that sticks with me from college is you learn how to learn. So you learn how to learn. So taking the econ classes, the English classes, even the language landscape and architecture classes, the sonic classes, every one of those classes teaches you how to learn something, whether it's through the book, whether it's through the lecture notes, whether it's through the professor, you're going to learn different ways to take in information. And so back to the point, hiring now and also what I hire interns now. It's all about can this candidate pick it up or not? [00:10:26] Sean: Right? [00:10:27] Atif: And whether they're an art major or whether they're a comp sci major or whether they're a security major, it really doesn't matter. I look for talent. I look for a strong athlete, someone that can pick it up, someone that's going to work at it and then gives me examples of how they did that. And all of you can do that. [00:10:43] Sean: Right? [00:10:44] Atif: Takes work. There's no shortcut to work, but it takes the work. But you don't have to have a fancier degree or deep knowledge of an idea. Honestly, there's some rare exceptions, but generally speaking, any undergraduate, how much can they actually learn about real world business applications of something, right. You're going to learn that on the job. [00:11:07] Sean: I think that probably applies to a lot of different industries, not just cybersecurity, where you're going to learn a lot once you get out in the workforce, right? [00:11:16] Atif: Absolutely. I mean, you could litmus test me on that statement by just looking at who the best companies in the world hire, right? [00:11:24] Atif: And their majors, it's all over the place. They're looking for the strongest athlete. You can look at Apple or Google, et cetera. They're looking for the best candidates overall that can learn, that know how to learn, that know how to ask questions and then know how to admit when they don't know. Which is another challenge, especially for folks that are really smart, really talented, is that they feel like they have to know everything. [00:11:48] Atif: And that's not necessarily the case. [00:11:50] Atif: It's okay to say you don't know. And I'll find. So that's one of the things that IBM that I did often was when I didn't know. I said, I don't know that, but. [00:12:00] Atif: I'm gong to go find out. [00:12:01] Atif: And then I come back and maybe still be wrong, and then they'll say, okay, well, all right, I'm going to go look at that. And then after a few iterations, it's like this new thing that not only did I learn, but actually made the company better. [00:12:12] Sean: Right? [00:12:12] Atif: And then as your leader, whoever you're working with or working for sees that this person has that acumen to just continue to grow because no one's just going to know everything right? [00:12:22] Sean: Absolutely. And humility, I think, is an underrated skill. [00:12:26] Sean: Right. [00:12:26] Sean: Like knowing what you don't know. That is crucial. Speaking of kind of maybe not knowing what you don't know, though you're fairly charismatic, I think is a fair adjective to use for you. Atif, looking at your resume, your early roles were in sales and product management. Can you talk about how you learned the communication skills to take all of your technical acumen and background and be able to speak to different audiences that have probably very different levels of technical understanding, especially for really nuanced or niche topics in things like cybersecurity. And what you talked about with PKI, which is something I just learned, was a thing I know, the little lock on chrome. That's about the extent of what I know. So how do you translate that to different audiences? [00:13:17] Atif: Yeah, I think the seed of that started Sean in the shrine scholar. Maybe they still do that today, but the Schreyer leadership symposium, and it's funny, I still have the t shirt that I got from that. I actually wear it still, like, it's still around my wardrobes. The SLS, the Schreyer leadership symposium, I. [00:13:35] Atif: Wanted to be a student of leadership. [00:13:37] Atif: A student of leadership, lifelong student of leadership. And to this day, and if you follow me on LinkedIn and stuff, you'll find that I'm attracted to gravitate towards learning how to influence people and motivate people and move people. [00:13:51] Sean: Right. [00:13:51] Atif: And so I became a student of that back in college and followed along the way. So, accordingly, with that, you get a lot of practice. You get a lot of practice of speaking in front of groups, convincing teams by being attracted to that and focusing on leadership and trying to be a better leader. [00:14:10] Sean: Right. [00:14:11] Atif: That helped me with my communication skills as well as my ability to influence. [00:14:18] Sean: Right. [00:14:18] Atif: And today, I have four kids. You got to influence them to do things, too. Everything's a negotiation. [00:14:24] Sean: Right. [00:14:24] Atif: And so getting those skills. Yeah, you could relate to that. Probably shot. Everything's a negotiation. And so, for me, I started off really on the technical side and being the guy that hangs on the keyboard, that made it happen, whether it's with cryptology or whether it's identity and access management and other cybersecurity things. And then I realized at the point, and this is when I got to. [00:14:46] Atif: Comcast, and this was one of the. [00:14:49] Atif: Biggest realization moments that I had in my career, was that I kind of had to decide, do I want to continue? And this is a little bit ahead for the students right now, but, like, five years, ten years out, I had to decide, do I want to go deep and be an engineer, or do I want to get on the business side? So, the way I like to explain it is, in cybersecurity, it's all about risk and risk management. And no matter how much analysis you do, it comes down to, okay, when you cross the street, you got to look left, you got to look right, and then you could cross the street. [00:15:20] Atif: You got to know what your risks are. [00:15:22] Sean: Right? [00:15:22] Atif: That's what the chief information security officer, the highest level of a cybersecurity professional, does. And I was in that path at Comcast to be that person. And I realized, and it was a hard decision, but it was a real decision, that I wanted to be the guy that crossed the street. [00:15:40] Sean: Right. [00:15:41] Atif: So I didn't want to be the guy that was advising the guy that crossed the street. I wanted to be the business leader that crossed the street. And so at that moment, that's when I pivoted my career to become a business leader with cybersecurity expertise, cybersecurity background for cybersecurity companies, but not necessarily the person that's on the technical side, but more on the business side, because I was a lot more passionate about it. And it goes back to the passion about AJ connections, my company I started when I was coming out of high school. I wanted to be on the business side, and so setting goals and things cascaded from there. But, yeah, I started off as a techie, got into, followed leadership along the way, learning about leadership along the way, and then understood where I need to pivot to where I am now. [00:16:27] Sean: So what were the strategies that you use? So you make this decision that, okay, I want to go on more of the leadership track than the technical track. What are the actions that you took to start preparing yourself and making sure that you would be the viable candidate? Going back to talking about student awards and getting elected and jobs, you have applications and interviews. How did you start setting yourself up? Obviously, you have a degree from smeel, so that's a rock solid foundation. But how did you build on that? [00:16:55] Atif: Yeah, so I was deliberate about, especially my first ten years, like, the first part of my career, I was very deliberate about I wanted to live at the intersection of tech and business. So living at the intersection, so you got to know a little bit about both. So that meant I need to know both. I got to learn both. That's more work. And so for my IBM experience, I got the tech side, and then I also started to get the business side, because I started to get into practice leadership roles, know, working on how we built the business that IBM had for cybersecurity. And then also I complemented it with my education. So that's one of my reasons why I went to Wharton and Penn. I did a hybrid degree on tech and business. [00:17:40] Sean: Right? [00:17:40] Atif: So I took classes, business classes at Wharton and tech classes in the engineering school. So when you read my resume and you got to talk to me about my experiences, I'll tell you about the person that can translate the fancy stuff that the engineers are doing to my mom. [00:17:54] Sean: Right. [00:17:55] Atif: Or to someone else that in a very lay terms. So simplifying complex ideas in cybersecurity became my area. But that didn't happen by accident, guys. That happened because that's what I wanted to do. I set that goal. And you ask, well, how did you know that? Well, I knew that because over the course of the. As you get into your role and you take on opportunities, and I always advise folks to start in consulting, because you get all different types of projects in consulting versus going to one company and working for that one company. That's good, too, for different reasons. But consulting lets you try things out. And so when you try things out, you learn about, where's your sweet spot? [00:18:38] Atif: What's your unique ability? [00:18:40] Sean: Right. [00:18:40] Atif: And then you try to hone in on that unique ability, which for me was translating complex things to inordinary terms, which really helped me that first stage of my career, getting into the next stage. [00:18:52] Atif: Absolutely. [00:18:53] Sean: I think it's really good to lean into your strengths is essentially what you're saying, right? [00:18:57] Atif: Absolutely. And then knowing self awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, and that comes from just experience. You can't substitute that. There's no jump start to that. In fact, if you think you know exactly what it is, you're probably off. [00:19:09] Sean: Right? [00:19:10] Atif: It's kind of like when you were a freshman and you were like, oh, I'm going to be a major. I'm going to be premed. And then six weeks later, you're like, I want to be. There's a stat that used to be out there that every undergraduate changes their major at least one and a half times. [00:19:25] Sean: Right. [00:19:27] Atif: Holds true for me. I don't know about you, Sean, but I was pre med, and I went to, you know, people change their mind because experiences teach you things, and then you teach you about yourself, and that's know helps know shape that story for you individually. [00:19:40] Sean: It's not for me, but I did add a double major. So I guess there is that. I stuck with the first one. But I added, I was looking at your resume, and prior to your current role with ultraviolet, you worked for. I'm going to butcher this. But either Sedari's hopefully got that right. Formerly the Herzvek group, and that is one of the shark tank sharks, Robert Herzvek. Can you talk about how you got connected with him and the pivot that, that had for your career? [00:20:16] Atif: Yeah, absolutely. I love telling that story. I get that question. All the know, friends and family. One thing. Oh, the shark tank guy. And I think it goes back to the first thing I said, which is life is happening for you, not to you. [00:20:29] Atif: And so one day I was sitting. [00:20:32] Atif: At Comcast doing my job there. I was running a security program there, and I spent a lot of money for security software from a company called Splunk. And they're a vendor, they provide security software. And at the. So I got a phone call one day, and the guy from Splunk, this company that I buy a lot of stuff from, says, hey, the guy from Yahoo canceled, so I'm calling you now. And we need somebody to cancel because he got sick. We need somebody to come into the Granite club, which is a luxury country club in Toronto, to speak to Robert Herjevac from Shark Tank and a small group of 20 chief information security officers. [00:21:18] Atif: About how they use block. [00:21:19] Sean: Right. [00:21:20] Atif: And we thought you'd be a great. [00:21:21] Atif: Person to do it. First question was, who's Robert Herd? [00:21:25] Atif: And he's like, oh, he's the guy on Shark Tank, they said. And I was like, oh. [00:21:29] Atif: So in my head, I'm thinking shark tank. [00:21:33] Atif: I know shark tank because Mark Cuban is on shark Tank. And Mark, I'm a big Mark Cuban fan, huge Dallas Mavericks fan. And so I'm thinking, okay, if I. [00:21:41] Atif: Do this thing, then I might meet Mark. [00:21:47] Atif: Forget about Robert. I might be Robert. And maybe that's somehow I can meet know. But then I had a big problem because at the time, my management would never let me talk about cybersecurity because I was Comcast. And people hate Comcast and have opinions about Comcast and what they do with privacy and security. So very tight lipped about public speaking. And so I was like, okay, I. [00:22:11] Atif: Got to take a nap back. [00:22:13] Atif: So I go to the boss's office, and I said, just this one time, it's a small group. And he looks at me and he's. [00:22:18] Atif: Like, just this one time. [00:22:20] Sean: Right? [00:22:21] Atif: So again, life has happened for you. So the guy got sick. My boss, who never let me do anything like that, let me do it. And so I end up at Toronto at the Granite country Club, and I'm shaking hands with Robert Herjevik. [00:22:33] Sean: Great. [00:22:34] Atif: Nice to meet you, Robert. I didn't get to Mark Cuban at that point, but I knew that in order to get the goal of meeting Mark Cuban, I got to really do well in this meeting. [00:22:47] Atif: So of course, I prepped. [00:22:48] Atif: I prepped and I prepped and I prepped and prepared my material, rehearsed the material. I bought Robert Herjevik's book, and I read the whole book, his autobiography, so I could learn about him, so I could have talk tracks and I could relate to him or not relate to him, but at least understand him better. [00:23:05] Sean: Right? [00:23:06] Atif: So I did a bunch of homework, I showed up, and things went really well. And then one thing led to another. I ended up leaving my boss, who was like, what, shark tank guy? And joining the Herdjevic group at the time to work for Robert to help him build out the, you know, fast forward. I met, and when I first met him, funny story, I was literally, and Sean, you commented already, I'm kind of articulate, but when I met him, I was, like, lost for words. I was like. Like, I didn't know what to. Was caught in it. And to this day, Robert still makes fun of me about that. [00:23:46] Sean: I was a little bit the same way, I'll admit, when we had. I had Stefan Wisneski on the podcast back in the day as one of our earlier episodes. And I'm a big Eagles fan, and I was a little, like, fanboyed a little bit when he was on. So I can appreciate that. A tiff when you get to meet somebody, like, really cool, like, so that you look up to, you're like, you brought us a know. In your case, you're like the huge Mavs fan. And obviously he's like a celebrity owner for that. You know, it's know you meet him, Robert Herzevic, not Mark Cuban, but you meet Robert first. And how did you parlay that experience speaking to that group into a job with them? And a pretty significant one, too, based on your resume. [00:24:30] Sean: Yeah. [00:24:31] Atif: So a great learning I had when I was at Penn State. As I mentioned, I was a student leader, and I tried to do more than just go to class and try to get good grades and keep up with the shriek honors mandate of GPA. I got involved, and one of the dinners I went to was with alumni, and the alumni, Greg Natt, who was an IBM executive at the time, alumni. I got to sit next to him and I was picking his brain as we were talking during the dinner. And one of the things he said always stuck with me, which is success is when preparation meets opportunity. Success isn't when laziness meets opportunity. Success isn't like getting by meets opportunity. It's when preparation meets opportunity. And so to your question, Sean, when dealing with that meeting, I was prepared. I read his book. I did my deck. I had fancy charts. [00:25:21] Atif: I had talk tracks. [00:25:22] Atif: I rehearsed it. It didn't happen by accident, right? Absolutely. There's some of the outside will involved, like what's meant to be, what's meant to be. And that absolutely was part of it. I think, again, life is always happening for you, not to you. And so that was meant to be. And I did my part, which was being ready, being prepared, and that attracted, based on the skill set I was. I mentioned earlier on I wanted to. [00:25:46] Atif: Be a business leader, and I decided that by then, I didn't want to. [00:25:49] Atif: Be a know technical leader. [00:25:52] Atif: I wanted to be a business leader. [00:25:54] Atif: Of a cybersecurity company. So that also got into the decision because Robert and I, we ran a security business. It was a cybersecurity business that later on, we changed the name to sidearis as cyber defense response. But that was a security business. And so since mean, now I'm at that part of my stage in my career where I knew I wanted to run a security business. I focused on that. Where your focus goes, energy flows. [00:26:19] Sean: Right. [00:26:20] Atif: And that's, you know, through learning from Robert, then, now in this role, I have now as the president of Ultraviolet, I'm living that goal, that dream that I had set forth for myself. [00:26:32] Sean: So as you transitioned from the engineer and the cybersecurity professional to the C suite leader, how did that go for you, that transition to business leader? What advice do you have for students who to maybe pocket away for future, as they think, or maybe young alumni listening as well, who want to transition from an engineering role or a practicing physician role into the leadership and business side of any organization? [00:27:01] Atif: Yeah, I think that when it comes to the specifics of whether it's in cybersecurity or whether it's in medicine or whether it's in engineering or landscape architecture, it doesn't really matter. Whatever the domain is, is the domain, but then it's your command of the domain. So when I say the command of the domain, I mean it's, how do you approach whatever that content is? And so you got to have your perspective. [00:27:23] Atif: So, again, you got to do your work. [00:27:24] Atif: You got to do your homework. You got to understand it. You got to read it, you got to talk to people about it, and then you get a perspective. And so then when you have a perspective on the content that you're in, in my case, it's cybersecurity. [00:27:35] Atif: Then you express that perspective, and then. [00:27:38] Atif: You get feedback on that perspective, and people gravitate towards that, and then you become a leader. [00:27:45] Sean: Right. [00:27:45] Atif: And so C suite is really just people that know an area really well because maybe they're smart, but also they have a lot of experience. They've been in that environment for a long time, and then they have a perspective about where that, in our case, cybersecurity is now, where the market is going. What are the forces that are driving that growth? And then being able to communicate that to your customers, to your audiences, and to become. And so how do I get to the sweet suite? It's become a domain expert. Like, you're going to graduate. You're going to take a role somewhere, whether it's in business or whether it's outside of it, it doesn't matter. Whatever you end up doing, start becoming a subject matter expert. That's going to take you five years. [00:28:30] Sean: Right. [00:28:30] Atif: Three to five years to become some level of command over whatever that is. And then from there, you start to think about, okay, well, you get known for that. And then the positions to lead start to surface themselves to you. Another advice that I like to give my mentees is sometimes people think that leadership, if I had a whiteboard, I'd draw. [00:28:51] Atif: It is a straight line like this. [00:28:53] Atif: It's like a line up. Like, you take this job, and then you take this job, and you take this job. It doesn't work like that. Very rare time sometimes. Sure, it's like a straight line, and that straight line could be titles. That straight line could be comp. [00:29:07] Sean: Right. [00:29:08] Atif: But really, really, it's like this. It's like this. It's like a zigzag of a line going up, but it's a zigzag. [00:29:16] Sean: Right. [00:29:16] Atif: And so the important thing is that you continue to go up. You may zig up or zag up, but you keep going up, and that takes years. It doesn't take months, it doesn't take weeks. [00:29:25] Sean: Right. [00:29:26] Atif: So you got to be patient. You got to be committed to whatever that goal is for you. And for me, it was to be a sea level, and for me, it was to run a cybersecurity company, and it did not happen overnight. And I took a lot of wrong turns. I made a lot of dumb mistakes. But I was convicted. I was convicted to my goal that. [00:29:44] Atif: I'm going to meet my goal. [00:29:46] Atif: And so that's what would help drive that direction. [00:29:49] Sean: So, speaking of being a subject matter expert, this is a very loaded question and could be the subject of entire podcasts or books, but give it your best shot here to simplify it, which sounds like you've admitted one of your things, just can you give us a brief overview of why cybersecurity is so important for any organization and why companies are adding roles like chief information security officer or something equivalent to that, and elevating that specific function to the C suite? [00:30:18] Atif: Oh, yeah. There's a very simple way to explain this you could think about. So the importance, the relevance of security to the business overall or to society. [00:30:26] Atif: Overall is as simple as a car, right? [00:30:29] Atif: So car. [00:30:29] Atif: Would you drive a car that didn't. [00:30:32] Atif: Have any safety procedures? [00:30:34] Sean: Right? [00:30:34] Atif: It didn't have a safety bag or didn't have windows or didn't have brake tests. [00:30:39] Atif: Security is the new safety. [00:30:42] Atif: Security is the new safety. You can't do anything with your business anymore without tech, and you're not going. [00:30:48] Atif: To use tech that isn't secure because overnight you lose your business. [00:30:53] Atif: Overnight you could lose your business if you're not secure. So because of that, that's the biggest case for cybersecurity, is risk. Security is the new safety. Now, with that, what makes it even more exciting and the reason why cybersecurity market, the business side of it, is growing so fast is the concept of more so more data, more users, more devices. All of that gives a digital exhaust. Like, my mom has five devices now, right? And each one of those devices is. [00:31:25] Atif: Given off data, and that data can. [00:31:28] Atif: Be used in all different ways against you, right? So being able to secure that data, secure access to things, it just keeps getting harder and harder and harder. And so number one advice is get into cybersecurity because you will always have a job. And there's tons of opportunities within cybersecurity because of that. And it's only the start, right? Like, the amount of data out there and the amount of things that need to be protected continues to grow. We call that the attack landscape. The attack landscape continues to grow, and that drives the economies of why the cybersecurity business is growing so fast. How's that? To try to summarize, I think that makes sense. [00:32:08] Sean: I like the idea that things exponentially growth. You had a cell phone and a laptop, and now there's tablets, you've got smartwatches, and other devices that are being invented and things. So that makes a lot of sense. [00:32:20] Atif: Yeah. [00:32:21] Sean: On the business side, though, I have a question for you here. As first you were a CEO and a chief product officer. Now you are the CEO and president. How do you balance on a day to day basis the strategic vision like you talked about for an organization, whether that's a club here on campus or major business or something in between, with the day to day operational tasks and challenges of just executing on that vision? [00:32:49] Atif: Yeah, I would advise, advice I like to give on that is, obviously you have goals and you have teams that either you're leading or that you're a part of. You have your responsibilities, let's call it. But what I would advise you can start now as a college grad or even as an undergrad. You can start immediately. [00:33:11] Atif: Is breaking up how you attack your day. [00:33:14] Sean: Right. [00:33:14] Atif: And it starts with win the morning. You win the day. So getting the day started with some sort of exercise, some sort of energy boosting activity, right. But then I got this from somewhere, some book that I read was around. [00:33:28] Atif: In the morning, do your hardest work, do your thinking. [00:33:32] Sean: Right? [00:33:32] Atif: Thinking in the morning, in the afternoon, do your talking. So do your meetings, do your interactions that you have with your teams or interactions with other people, do your talking. [00:33:44] Atif: And then in the evenings, do your reading. So think, talk, read. [00:33:49] Atif: And the reading is to get more information, to relax, to decompress. And that cycle with the different tasks that you have. Take advantage of your human body. Of the most important think hard tasks you do with when you have the most amount of energy, which is in the morning, and then the engagement and the interaction is almost like a destressor for the afternoon. And so approaching that to, for us right now, it's end of the year and it's budgets, it's like, okay, well, what are we gong to make next year? What do we did this year? How are we going to take care of our employees? All of those things get break down into smaller projects, smaller tasks, which break. [00:34:27] Atif: Down into your day. [00:34:28] Sean: Right. [00:34:29] Atif: And so the days tasks that are think, the days tasks that are talk, that helps me keep going and keep moving and have a structured way to. [00:34:37] Atif: Approach the day versus just doing whatever. [00:34:42] Atif: That can burn you out, that can lead to a lot of anxiety. One thing I'm big on, and I have a lot of different anecdotes around this is energy, right? Energy is everything. And energy controls your decisions, right? So energy controls your decisions. Your decisions control your destiny. So you can make one bad decision. [00:35:04] Atif: And not get screwed up. [00:35:06] Atif: But if you make the same bad decision over and over again, directionally, you're headed the wrong direction. But if you make a good decision and over and over again, directionally, you're in a good place. So it's all about making good decisions. And it's hard to make good decisions if you're in a bad mental state. [00:35:20] Sean: Right. [00:35:20] Atif: So it all starts with the energy levels in your mental state. And look, I'm saying this to you, but it's a work in progress. [00:35:28] Sean: Right? [00:35:28] Atif: We're all trying every day to get better at that, especially emotional intelligence and controlling stress. It's an ongoing battle, but you want to be conscious of it every day. [00:35:40] Sean: Absolutely. And it's not surprising then, that you booked a time to record late in the afternoon, definitely with the talking. Right. Kind of leading into the evening here. When we're wrapped up, how do you stay current with the constantly evolving technologies and trends that, either directly with the tech or in geopolitics, that can influence your work? [00:36:06] Atif: Yeah. I'll give you some feedback for the listeners that are into cybersecurity, especially Cyberwire. Cyberwire.com. We can put it in the notes is a great short 15 minutes read. And or there's a podcast, which I listen to, which gives you the headlines for insider security for the week. And first time you listen. Second time listen, you're like, oh, I don't know what he's talking about. I know that. [00:36:31] Atif: But guess what? Then you start to dig into it. [00:36:34] Atif: Okay, what do they mean by that? Nation state actor called panda. And then you start googling that and start reading about that. And before I have mentees that I told this to six months later, they get the trends. They start to understand because they do it regularly. Again, you got to do the work. You got to put in the time. But over time, you start to see the trends, and you start to ask better questions, and it helps you. It's not a one day thing. So that's one way is Cyberwire for me, for my profession, but then also, I'm a big user of LinkedIn. And then within the circles of LinkedIn, diving deeper into different topics. But as you get more senior in your role, the data comes to you, information comes to you, and it's a matter of you selecting in and selecting out of how much you learn. I mean, I learned from my teammates. I learned from my vendors. I learned from my customers. [00:37:25] Sean: Right. [00:37:25] Atif: And that's what drives my learning at this level. [00:37:29] Sean: I like that you said that you learn from the vendors and your customers, your clients. That's really cool because you can learn from anybody around you. Right. So I think that's really exciting. Going back to your answer two questions back, you talked about decisions and energy. Can you share, and obviously nothing, you don't need to share proprietary or anything HR. But can you talk about a challenging decision that you've had to make as either the COO or CEO and how your thought process and what you learned from that experience? [00:38:03] Atif: Yeah, talking about. So one decision I already mentioned, which was a big, pivotal decision in my life, was the decision that I am going to be a business leader, not a technical leader. And I explained a little bit about that. So let me pivot to a different type of decision, which is around the type of role. Well, let me get more tactical. Let's do a decision made around people. So in the people leadership role, especially as the president of a company or CEO of a company, when your business doesn't do what it's supposed to do, you don't get the earnings you get. [00:38:44] Atif: You got to reduce your force, you got to reduce labor. [00:38:48] Atif: And so the laying off people is probably one of the hardest decisions any leader has to make, because here you are building your team, investing in people, investing in their times, them investing in their careers with you, and now you. [00:39:02] Atif: Got to let them go. [00:39:04] Atif: Now you got to call it in. And so I've been in this situation a few times, and most recently, I was a part of this type of decision process. And what I learned from that, what I take away from that and what I would pass along to others that are in that decision process is give. [00:39:21] Atif: It to them straight. [00:39:22] Atif: Give them all the data and give them all the information. Don't sugarcoat anything. Tell them what it is, why it happened, and what it means to them. And then, of course, you try to take care of them the best you can with the packages. [00:39:37] Atif: That's one part of it. [00:39:39] Atif: So it's the actual communication and do it yourself, right. Don't necessarily send someone else. I mean, you're the person that hired them. They trust in you with their career. You tell them the news, and it's daunting. You don't sleep the night before. [00:39:54] Atif: It's really hard, but you got to do it. [00:39:57] Atif: And then after you do it, the. [00:39:58] Atif: Person respects you for it because you. [00:40:01] Atif: Told them exactly what's happening and you did it yourself. Then there's a big second part of it, especially as a leader, is that you got to communicate why to the. [00:40:10] Atif: Rest of the company, too. [00:40:12] Atif: And you got to do that in a methodical way. So more recently when we did that, we do it as a blast to. [00:40:20] Atif: Everyone and then each department, because people. [00:40:23] Atif: Aren'T going to say their concerns in a large group, they'll say it in a smaller group. And that takes a lot more work. There's a lot more meetings. There's a lot more time, but that's on you as a leader. You got to do that. And so I learned a lot from that experience, and I often talk back. [00:40:39] Atif: To, if I was in that situation. [00:40:41] Atif: What I want, and I want it straight. I want to know why, and I want to know straight. Everyone understands that business conditions change, but what people don't understand is why are you lying or why are you blaming other things or why are you not telling me directly? And why do I got to learn about it from somebody else? To me, that's basic what I want. And if I pass that, one thing I pass along on that point is that's a Schreyer value, by the way. [00:41:05] Sean: Right. [00:41:05] Atif: Is around honesty and humility, being steadfast with who you are as an individual moving forward. [00:41:14] Sean: I really like that Tiff, and especially I saw something recently on LinkedIn about that second part is really important because the folks who are still the employees who are still at that organization can have survivors guilt, and that can really damage morale. So explaining and being forthright with them and in addition to those who've been laid off or whatever kind of term you want to use, there is really good advice for anybody who's in a position to have to make those tough. [00:41:40] Atif: Sean, if I got one last thing there. It's so easy to be like, yeah, my admin, go tell them. And then, yeah, let's go work on. [00:41:49] Atif: Moving forward, which is bad, right? [00:41:52] Atif: No, you do it and you tell everyone about it and you explain all the details. Yes, it's more time for you, and yes, you're going to be more uncomfortable, but you're going to be a better. [00:42:02] Atif: Human for it and you're going to be a better leader for it. [00:42:04] Sean: Absolutely. And there's a reason change management is an entire course than an MBA program because it is a tough skill to learn. But it's important for anybody in a leadership role, whether you're growing your company or downsizing it. And speaking of skills and qualities in a leader, we've talked a lot about different things that are helpful to be an executive, to be a leader. Are there any other skills or qualities that either natural or learned that is important for those roles that scholars can start developing now if they haven't already. [00:42:37] Atif: Yeah. One advice I like to give, especially the folks early in their career, is around saying yes versus saying no. [00:42:44] Sean: Right? [00:42:46] Atif: Oftentimes for people earlier in their career, you want to say yes to almost everything because yes means you're going to learn something. And it may be something completely irrelevant, but you'll still learn something and you'll learn that off. I don't want to do that thing anymore. That's not for me. You learned something, right? And you continue to say yes. You get out of your comfort zone, you find your passion. It's out of your comfort zone sometimes is when you find your passion, right? So say a lot of yes early in your career. Earlier, meaning your 1st, 510 years of your career, then the trick is the turn. And this is for listeners that are. [00:43:25] Atif: Past that, you want to say no more. So once you hit a point where. [00:43:30] Atif: You'Re like ten years, 15 years, where you're in a spot, you know your core capabilities, you know what your unique abilities are, that's when you start to say no. Because if you keep saying yes, then you don't get to focus on what. [00:43:42] Atif: You'Re world class at, right? [00:43:45] Atif: And that gives you fulfillment as a professional, and it also gives you more focus in your life because as you get older and you get more experience, you have all these other new responsibilities. Maybe by then you're married and you have kids or you started, you're with a nonprofit as well, or you're doing all different types of work. Saying no more lets you dig deeper into the things that you have and you're going to add more value, which then would give you more fulfillment moving forward. And so that's one piece of advice that I picked up from. I'm an avid podcast listener myself. I think it was Derek Severs. Yeah, Derek Severs. He's the one who talked about saying yes and then starting to say no. [00:44:24] Sean: And that's definitely good advice for shrier scholars because I think many scholar, no matter what your age, if you're 18 or 58, you're likely to say yes to a lot of things if you're one of us. So good advice there, too. Now, speaking of being a subject matter expert, diving deep into things, you've had a lot of opportunities to be an industry speaker, blogger, writer, doing TV hits and teaching appointments. Why and how do you make time for that? [00:44:57] Atif: If it's important, it's a priority. If it's not important, it's not a priority. So coming back to what are my goals? I'm a new, big New Year's resolution guy. So as far as what are my goals for the year, which helps me give focus and the goals, I guess it's right around New Year's time now. So you got to have something for your mind, something for your soul, something for your body, something for your career. It's not all career, right? Because you could be all career, but then you don't have the wheel to run your career. So you got to have the other points as well. So then it comes down to okay, for the decisions that come up around. What do I do with my time? There's always time. [00:45:35] Atif: If you make it, and if it's. [00:45:37] Atif: A priority, you make it. And then that's when part of saying no, too, at the stage of the career I'm at now, where I'm saying no more, I say no. When that gives me more time to be more committed to things I'm already engaged in. And then it just comes down to something tactical that you guys could take. Whoever's listening in. If it's on the calendar, it's going to happen. If it's not on the calendar, it doesn't happen. So instead of having a to do list that you kind of keep. Sean, you like that? So instead of having a to do list that you kind of keep on a file or what have you that you look at and feel guilty every time because you don't feel like you did it all, it's not on your calendar. If it makes it off your to do list into a actionable task on your calendar, it's going to happen, right? Because you're going to make it happen because you're going to be loyal to your calendar. And so that's one way to tactically take these concepts that I'm talking about and put them into your day to day. [00:46:29] Sean: I was clapping at that because that's, I think, really, you know, Tiff, I'm really glad that you said yes to doing this podcast. You said you're an avid podcaster. I'm glad that you were joining us here on ours, and I liked your comment about the mind, body, soul. So outside of your career, what are things that you do to restore those? And you've got a full plate with your career, but how do you find that balance, or at least strive to find it, given all the demands that you have as a corporate exec? [00:47:01] Atif: Well, two things there. First is I won't go further into it, other than I have a strong sense of religion in my life and my connection with the universe is very strong and I support that through my religious practices. But number two is actually, I wanted to comment further on. You didn't ask me, Sean. The best job I ever got in. [00:47:23] Atif: My life was the day my son. [00:47:26] Atif: Ibrahim was born back in 2008 when I became a dad. And so talking about renewing yourself and. [00:47:35] Atif: Getting real fulfillment, that's what it's all about, right? [00:47:40] Atif: Being a father was the best thing that ever happened to me. And I'm blessed to have four kids, ages from 15 down to seven. So a nice spectrum of fun going on in my life right now, but. [00:47:50] Atif: It'S watching them grow up, right? It sounds so simple. [00:47:55] Atif: But I heard an amazing podcast, a couple TEd talk actually a couple of weeks ago where this guy's gong, know, we can put it even in the show notes, it's someone that was in the plane that crashed on the that crashed, but he survived over the Hudson river in New York City a couple of years ago. And in that podcast, one of the things he said is that when he was coming down, I'm not going to watch my kids grow, you know, that stuck with me because that's the day to day, right? You asked about passion and renewing yourself. Like renewing yourself is just being there for your kids, being around them, supporting them, and then just watching them. It's just so fun, right? And so I think that's my release is my family. Play some basketball, play some tennis as well, but try to live that with the balance. And on that point, Sean, just a message to the team or to folks listening is one way to do that is having boundaries in your life. And so even as an executive, you could absolutely have boundaries. And so for me, between 06:00 p.m. [00:49:01] Atif: And 09:00 p.m. Is 100% family time. [00:49:05] Atif: If you're traveling, it's something else. But generally speaking, it's a firewall. Nothing can get you that unless there's some major, major thing, right? [00:49:15] Atif: Boundaries. [00:49:16] Atif: And what that does is people aren't really looking for you, by the way, at that time, even as a senior executive, because they know you're at dinner or that you're there. It's a kind of a zone time that no one really is going to bother you or going to ask you, why didn't you pick up my call at 730? And so by doing that, it's really. [00:49:33] Atif: Helped me personally by having those boundaries. [00:49:36] Atif: And they have to be self imposed because by the way, no boss or anyone is asking me, I'm the one that is looking at my email or who's making the call or it's us. [00:49:45] Atif: That's the problem. [00:49:46] Sean: Right. [00:49:47] Atif: And so if we set those boundaries, then it opens it up to whether it's your kids or whether it's your hobby or whether it's your sport. It just gives you that daily refresh time. And then what you find out by 09:00, 10:00 you really don't need to log back in because you just do. [00:50:01] Atif: It tomorrow, tomorrow morning. [00:50:03] Sean: Right. [00:50:04] Atif: And so it turns into this, okay, now all of a sudden, I have some time to decompress and get re energized for the next day. [00:50:11] Sean: Right? [00:50:12] Atif: Absolutely. [00:50:12] Sean: It is very rare something has to be addressed then, right? [00:50:17] Atif: Yeah. [00:50:19] Sean: So last question for you here. Before we do a couple of wrap up ones, are there any questions or topics before we get to those reflective summary questions that I should have asked you, but I'm not a cybersecurity expert that I didn't think to ask. Or put it another way, questions that you get from interns, mentees, junior employees at your firm. [00:50:40] Atif: Yeah. One question you asked me is my favorite book or a book that I recommend. So I'll say that. So what I recommend is by Cal Newport. [00:50:50] Atif: Deep work. [00:50:52] Atif: So Cal is a minimalist, social minimalist, like him. I don't have an Instagram account. Don't judge me. I don't have an Instagram account. I don't have a Twitter account or X. I don't even know what X. I didn't know what X was because I don't have a Twitter account. I don't really get involved with social media. And Cal, in his book Deep work, talks about focus and a lot of things I'm talking about. I basically learned from Cal around having boundaries. And he does this really cool thing that he says at the end of each day before you shut down, is schedule a shutdown complete, like, have a ritual account that you say before you close down for the day and start the new day. So it's a good one for you to learn how to plan your day. Time block planning is a concept that he teaches that I apply across my life, not just my work, across my life. So I strongly recommend deep work as a starter. And Cal has podcasts, and he has different other learning tools that are really helpful for me. [00:51:47] Sean: Well, it sounds like you have some things to check out if you're listening to this, if you've stuck with us to this point, after you've caught up with other episodes of following the gong, if you have a backlog go listen to those and then go check out the ones tiff recommended. So in a quick, rapid fire summary kind of questions here, what would you say, though? I think I know what you're going to say because you kind of already answered it with your past answers. What would you say, though, is your biggest success to date, though, maybe other than family, in terms of your career? [00:52:15] Atif: Number one was being a common father. [00:52:17] Atif: Number two was finding my wife. [00:52:20] Atif: Absolutely. My partner, my best friend. Nothing works without her in my life. And that was a whole other story. But finding that person to share your life for me was really important. [00:52:33] Sean: Amen to that. On the flip side, though, what would you say is the biggest transformational learning moment or mistake that you've made in your career and what you took from that to grow from it? [00:52:43] Atif: Yeah. Well, there's no mistake because life is happening for you. Not to you, but at the. [00:52:50] Atif: You. [00:52:50] Atif: Know, what are you doing to me higher? Like, why are you putting me to this? When I got rejected from getting into, when I had to go to Penn State, basically by safety was at the time. It's a big deal when you're trying to apply to college and everybody else is getting in who has a high class rank like you did, but you're not getting in because your SAT score is too low. And personally, it really impacted me at that time, the age I was and the maturity level I was at. But no, that wouldn't change. [00:53:21] Sean: A. [00:53:21] Atif: Like, that was the best thing that ever happened to me. Life is always happening for me. So, yeah, I would. I. When I didn't get into the Ivy. [00:53:29] Sean: League schools I applied to, well, you ended up here. So just as good, right? [00:53:33] Atif: Better. [00:53:34] Sean: Better, even excellent. So we alluded to this a little bit. You talked about the dinner that you went to with your mentor. I'm sorry, from IBM. But how do you approach mentorship, both as a mentor, because you are in a senior leadership role, but everybody needs mentorship. So how do you also approach it as a mentee who is in the C suite? [00:53:56] Atif: From a mentor standpoint? [00:53:58] Atif: Mentors made me. [00:53:59] Atif: I wouldn't be anywhere I am today without my mentors. So you have to pay it forward. And that's one of the reasons why I started the mentoring with honors program. We talked a little bit about that, John, before back for Shriya honors College. Mentoring with honors. So you got to pay it forward because, again, I wouldn't be here as a mentee. [00:54:19] Atif: Come prepared. [00:54:21] Atif: Do your homework. Ask them with questions. Don't waste the time that your mentor is giving you and you don't need to impress them with anything that you know. But just do your homework right. Learn who the person is, learn what they're doing, and have some questions prepared before you talk to them. And they will love you for it, because why are they doing it? They want to pay it forward. They want to make an impact. And the worst thing is you don't do any of that. And it's like, what's your favorite basketball team? Which is fine to some level, but I think just respecting your mentor's time is the only thing, really, you need to do in preparation and by preparing and having a dialogue or talk tracks. [00:55:08] Sean: Absolutely. And I think going back to one of your previous answers early in this chat about knowing, being open about what you don't know as well, to come into that conversation, I think kind of fits in with what you were saying there, too. So, tying our whole conversation full circle now, Tiff, are there any professors or friends from your days on campus that you want to give a shout out to? [00:55:29] Atif: Yeah, sadly. I mean, some of the professors I had are no longer here. Like, rest in peace, Bob Kohler, accounting department. Dr. Restrait, who was my mentor for Ed, my professor for IST, but I think Richard Torque is still there. My statistic teacher shout out to torque, as well as Savanbn, who's in the engineering school. He's a great professor as well. And I will say Dr. Vastray, who's no longer with us, rest in peace, he came into class one day, mis 204. I don't know if you guys still have that. It's an introductory class for data systems. [00:56:05] Atif: And he wrote on the board, Amazon and 2000. [00:56:10] Atif: The class was. Or 1999 or so. And he's like, yeah, this company is going to run the world with ecommerce. And I was the kind of reason I was like, aren't they trying to sell books? Right? Like, they're selling books, right? [00:56:25] Atif: And he was, no, just books you start with, but they're going to be. [00:56:29] Atif: Selling everything on Amazon. That's why it's called Amazon. And I was like, no way. [00:56:37] Sean: I mean, the logo is literally, it goes a to Z in the logo if you ever noticed it and know, look at the app on your phone. Now, Tiff, as we're wrapping up our time, what is a final piece of advice that you want to leave scholars with that hasn't come up in our conversation? [00:56:52] Atif: I thought about this, and I'll say one word, resourceful. [00:56:57] Atif: Be resourceful. [00:56:59] Atif: If there's one thing that you do out of your Penn State career especially is learn how to be resourceful. Penn State is a vast place with so many people, so many great things that only 10% 20% of the students actually use, which is crazy. It blows my mind. But as far as the things like the faculty, of course, the courses, then the facilities. I took golf class as elective as my senior year to learn how to play golf and I had the coach of the golf team as my instructor. That's incredible. We are never gong to get that opportunity again. So be resourceful. You have resources. Learn how to use them. Learn how to use them to help yourself advance your career because they're there for a reason. [00:57:43] Sean: And if you goheen to this point, you're clearly resourceful to listen to this. You mentioned mentoring with honors. If you haven't applied for that, check with us to see when the next window for matching is. That program is still ongoing and it's a great opportunity and resource for you. Now, you mentioned LinkedIn. That's somewhere that you spend some time connecting with others. Is that the best place for a scholar to reach out to you if they want to keep this conversation going and get to know you better? [00:58:06] Atif: Probably the best way. My email and stuff is there, but LinkedIn, I'm regularly checked in. I also do a Monday motivation thing on LinkedIn. It's a little pursuit I have, so you could subscribe or you could friend me and you could get part of the Monday motivations that I send out and I love to interact. [00:58:23] Sean: Awesome. Now for the most challenging question in this entire podcast, all about cybersecurity and leadership. If you were a flavor of Berkeley Creamery ICE cream in order to get through this and pass the firewall to the end of the episode, which would you be? And most importantly, a tiff as a scholar alum, why would you be that flavor? [00:58:43] Atif: So I prepared for this, Sean, and I think I figured I prepared wrong, but so I will say that I would be the BJC jams. [00:58:51] Atif: So the BJC jams is vanilla, but it has a swirl of flavor, right? [00:58:57] Atif: This, as I've been saying throughout this. [00:58:59] Atif: Podcast, is master the fundamentals and then have something to say, have some perspective. [00:59:05] Atif: On something and that will help you advance, get noticed, and more importantly, live a fulfilling life and getting fulfillment out of your days. [00:59:14] Sean: I think that's a great reason for picking that flavor. I haven't tried it yet, but that is an awesome explanation. So thank you. Tiff Gari, you are an awesome cybersecurity expert and corporate executive. I appreciate all of your insight not only on that industry and that topic, but more importantly on leadership, which is one of our core tenets here here at the Schreyer Honors College. So thank you for all of your great insight and advice today. I really appreciate it. [00:59:41] Atif: My pleasure.

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