Alyssa Miller, Epiq Global 

Episode Transcription:

Trac Bannon: 

You would think that as a software architect that focuses on DevSecOps and being secure by design, that I would’ve attended an RSA conference before 2022. What is RSAC? It’s the preeminent cybersecurity conference in the world. 2022 was my first, and I was hooked from the time I landed. This conference is known for its sense of community and inclusion and the willingness of industry cybersecurity experts to share their experienced stories.

In looking over the schedule, a few talks caught my eye, and one in particular stood out: A talk by somebody named Alyssa Miller that included ideas on how to use threat modeling exercises as a way to build team culture. This is a technique that I had been using. Time to listen. 

As I snuck in the back a little late and trying to make my lemon yellow blazer slightly less visible, Alyssa Miller took the stage in what I can only describe as the most high powered thigh-high pink boots I have ever seen. Now, THIS was a woman I had to know. 

She dove into her content and I found myself nodding along and being that person that takes pictures of the slides. I gobbled up the content and more. 

Alyssa exudes an energy that is hard to describe and one that I was clearly benefiting from. This is a powerful voice for transparency and authenticity in cybersecurity who started out as that hacker kid and continues to be a lifelong hacker. 

Her “I’m just going to be who I am” mentality has made her a rising star in the cybersecurity world. Perhaps that stems from that no nonsense culture from being brought up in the Midwest. 

Alyssa was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her father was a Comptroller for a small HVAC company called Iron Fireman. It was founded in 1917. Applying that Midwest practical mindset for him meant utilizing the most accessible technology available. He seemed to love it and was up to the challenge of supporting his company’s upgrade of their computer systems. It was the early 1980s, and as his colleagues took their winter holiday, Alyssa’s father brought home that new computer system and a precocious four-year-old got her first taste of the world of tech.

Alyssa Miller: 

He brought the computer home and was doing work on it at home, but when he wasn’t working on it, he had honestly bootleg games that… one was like a bootleg of space invaders. I can’t remember what they called it, it was a couple different like common games.

And he let me play the games on it and that’s what started it. I mean, that right there, that was, you know, my interest in computers. 

Trac Bannon: 

You are listening to Real Technologists. I’m your host, Trac Bannon, coming to you from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Each week we choose a unique guest behind leading Edge Tech innovation to explore their genuine stories, their true journeys. Technology touches nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s being driven by diverse perspectives and experiences of real humans.

You’re in the right spot to hear about the real technologists reshaping our world. Stay tuned for stories that will give you something to noodle on.

After that first exposure, Alyssa was fortunate enough to have computers in her elementary school. A well-intentioned administrator independently visited Radio Shack and purchased 12 TRS-80 computers to create the school’s first computer lab. For many of us of a certain age, Radio Shack was where we were introduced to electronics and components. Texas instrument calculators, radios, and eventually computers. 

TRS stands for Tandy Radio Shack and was one of the earliest mass-produced home and hobbyist computers introduced in 1977. When you purchased a TRS-80, you selected the different components you wanted like a keyboard and a monitor.

In the case of Alyssa’s Elementary School lab, there was a hitch: none of the computers had any sort of storage, no floppy drive, no hard drive, not even a cassette tape. 

Alyssa Miller: 

So the only thing you could, there There were two things you could use them for typing practice and basic programming… because when you turn it on, there’s no drives. It went to a basic programming interface. Now, of course you couldn’t save anything that you wrote. So we like wrote down in notebooks, our programs as we were writing them so that we, next time you come back and type it all in and continue. It was ridiculous, but it worked. I think it was around fourth or fifth grade.

Trac Bannon: 

You can get a sense of Alyssa’s persistence and stick-to-it-ness… how many youngsters would write code on paper then type it in? When the Trash 80s, that’s right, TRS-80s at school were not powerful enough for what she wanted to do, 12 year old Alyssa saved up all of her money she earned as a paper carrier and bought herself her own computer. $1,000 and a ton of persistence later, Alyssa had upgraded and was ready to continue hacking and learning.

By high school, Alyssa was running track and cross country. But when she wasn’t racing, she was a self-professed “geek” gobbling up every computer class available at her high school, despite the fact that her coding skills were already starting to surpass challenges that were available with her school.

After graduating high school, she entered university intending on a pre-med path. It took 3 agonizing semesters to realize that this was not the right fit. 

Alyssa Miller: 

Three semesters of college level chemistry will tell you really fast if you want to be a doctor or not… and I did not. I went to Marquette University three semesters before I finally oped out of that whole mess and said I’m not doing pre-med. 

Trac Bannon: 

After leaving her pre-med major, Alyssa scrambled to figure out what she should major in next. Remember that kid who is playing games on her dad’s work computer over Christmas break? The one that saved money from a paper route to buy a computer? A sweet and sometimes troublesome young person who she admitted could be found taking apart her parents VCR and trying to put it back together correctly just to, well, figure out how it works.

She took the plunge and changed to computer science as her major. 

Alyssa Miller: 

I’m like, oh, it’s programming. I can do this. This will be an easy A… And then I found out that it meant lots of calculus. I was great at math until I met calculus, and that was the first class in my entire life I ever failed. So I’m in college, but I need a full-time job so I can provide insurance and all those things that you need when you have a family.

Trac Bannon: 

A family? Alyssa shared that she had become a parent at 17 years old. While navigating college and parenting. Alyssa had a new nemesis named Calculus that kicked her butt. With a young wife and baby, a college degree would be tough to complete. Alyssa bounced a bit, transferring from Marquette to the University of Wisconsin and taking a side job with a small financial services firm As a programmer. The strain of being a young parent, of being a breadwinner, and of being a college student grew to be too much. With the dot com era in full swing, career opportunities were pouring out from new technology companies. It was time to put education on hold; a degree was not in the cards, at least not yet. 

The first stop was with US Cellular as a technician. It was 1995. She stayed a year until moving to Frontier Tech in 1996. It was a decision that she now looks back on as formative but also negative… finding herself under the supervision of a toxic boss.

Alyssa Miller: 

She loved to scream and yell at people, which by the way, if you have a boss like that… get out. There’s no reason a boss should ever be hollering at you.

Trac Bannon: 

It would take more than a decade after leaving that toxic boss for Alyssa to develop the no nonsense voice for authenticity that she’s known for now. In the cybersecurity world, she now fosters authenticity in younger professionals through her writing and public speaking. 

When I ask her what she would say to her younger self, “boy that’s a hard one”, were the first words out of her mouth. But then the advice began to flow… 

Alyssa Miller: 

I think that’s probably the biggest thing would be just to reassure myself that… hey you know what? You always wanted to do really good things. You’re going to do really good things and you’re going to meet a lot of people… you’re going to have the opportunity to impact a lot of good people and help make life better for a lot of people. And that to me, I think if I had known that as a kid, that would’ve just relaxed in me. Just knowing that, all right… that’s what I want to do is be a good influence in the world. 

Trac Bannon: 

Leaving that toxic work situation, Alyssa landed at Metavante a company that would become her “work home” for nearly 15 years. Metavante was a financial corporation headquartered in Wisconsin, where Alyssa made her way into management, rising as an IT security manager. Even with learning the ins and outs of the financial business, there was no breaking out past that middle management level. Over the course of her time at Metavante, her roles had continued to move farther and farther away from the coding she loved.

Seeking more challenges in a way to take the next step in her career. Alyssa decided to go back to school. It was 2003 she had a full-time job, a wife, and now three kids at home. The “brief break” she thought she was taking from education had lasted seven long years. She found an accelerated Bachelors and Masters program in information technology. That was the solution that she needed. 

Alyssa Miller: 

One class at a time, just knock ’em out. And that’s what I did. I got done with that and just kept right on going… got my master’s in information systems management, which got me a little bit more aligned with where I ultimately have ended up.

Trac Bannon: 

It took her just three years to earn both degrees. After earning her Masters in Information Systems Management, Alyssa found that her career trajectory had shifted. She continued growing her security and tech chops adding her CISM, Certified Information Security Manager credentials from ISACA. All of her education came while she was working with financial services. 

She wanted to see more of the tech world, so to speak. After 15 years, it was time for a change and she left Metavante not long after they were required by FIS. Why not manage and lead delivery of ethical hacking as a service? She took the plunge with BT group and started a new pattern: changing jobs and roles every two years or so.

She is always seeking three qualities: technical challenge, broad impact, and a compatible culture.

Alyssa Miller: 

I went to Fishnet Security and Fishnet was cool. Like I loved Fishnet Security. I was a practice manager there… I built from zero, a team of consultants that were just kick butt application security consultants. I mean, just a monster team. I see a lot of them around today and what they’re doing still… and it’s just like, wow. Unfortunately, Fishnet became part of Optiv… and that’s not anything against Optiv, but optiv happened when Accuvant PE bought Fishnet and decided we’re gonna combine these two companies. And the cultures were completely different, right? I mean, it just, it, it was not a good mesh at all.

Trac Bannon: 

But something was still amiss. Her entire life, Alyssa had been walking around with what she calls “background noise,” never quite able to be her authentic self. With a loving family, a good job in a growing field of technology, everything should have seemed rosy. She wasn’t content. There was something hanging over her head… something that she would occasionally let herself think about then tuck the idea deep, deep away. That idea, tucked far away was never silent. 

The constant background noise took energy and bandwidth… perhaps the extra energy spent trying to not hear the noise was part of her stalling at Metavante.

Alyssa Miller: 

A lot of people, a lot of trans people, it was their looking back on it… I can remember five years old in kindergarten… things that were just… and the best way to describe it is it was always like this background noise. Like just this, this background noise in my head of, you know, everything I did, it was always, it just, it always came up in some way. Like I was always thinking about it, you’d be going to school. And I went to a Catholic school, so there were uniforms and I didn’t wanna be wearing the corduroy blue pants. I wanted to be wearing one of the jumpers. You know?

Trac Bannon: 

Alyssa would not claim her identity until she was nearly 40. The catalyst for letting her background noise come to the surface? Her eldest child. Often, new parents will talk about how their lives were forever changed when the baby entered the world. For Alyssa, there was a second entering of the world for her eldest: they entered the world as non-binary. 

She was at a crossroads of emotion: pride for the bravery and strength of her non-binary child, and exhaustion from tamping down the background noise, her own feelings. 

Alyssa decided it was time to own her life though she had anxiety about public perception. Growing up during an era of Daytime talk show hosts who often sensationalized the transgender community, she had fought her inner dialogue. She would see a transgender guest and both identify and empathize only to have the host making them out to be freaks. 

Alyssa Miller: 

Oh God. I was almost 40… that’s the thing because you get so conditioned, you deny everything, right. And that’s the hardest thing when you come out, especially if you’re married… because you come out and of course everybody accuses you of being a liar your entire life.

And it’s like, well, yeah, I was, but I was also lying to myself. And I believed the lies that essentially I was telling everybody else, if you want to look at them as lies… yeah, I didn’t know this was what was going on. I grew up in the era of daytime talk shows

And so again, that just drives you to, like you watch those and you’re like, hey, I’m kind of, sort of identifying what’s going on here, but No, no, no, no, no… that, that’s a whole freaky thing. I don’t want to, no… You look at how they’re getting treated. You just… immediately put that possibility out of your head. No, that’s not what I am. You know, because who the hell wants to sign on for that?

Trac Bannon: 

For Alyssa, it was time to accept and nurture her identity. It was 2018 and Alyssa was head of Program Services at Aspect Security. She had joined this small firm of around 50 people in 2015 and it was time to be authentic at work. In her Midwestern common sense mentality, she would take a head on approach meeting with Aspect’s leadership, and making a coordinated announcement about her transition.

Alyssa Miller: 

I transitioned on the job.It was announced to the entire organization because I worked with everybody… everybody knew me. I mean other people do it differently. Other people will actually quit their employer and transition and go work somewhere else just as their authentic identity. Um, I was like, no, I’m not… I’m not letting this, you know, I’m just gonna be who I am. And the reality is, honestly, you say, how did it impact my career? My career took off. After I finally did this. 

Trac Bannon: 

With the background noise gone, she gained energy. Self-acceptance was a newfound superpower. It completely changed Alyssa’s perspective of her own work, as well as the realm of what was possibly ahead of her. 2018 was the turning point, both personally and professionally Aspect, the 50 person strong security firm was acquired by Ernst and Young and suddenly, Alyssa found herself among 250,000 others.

Alyssa Miller: 

So imagine going from the culture of a 50 person consultancy where everybody knows everybody to 250,000 where you are just a number on a spreadsheet somewhere. That was awful, right? And again, that’s not saying EY is awful. That’s saying the culture shock of going from… one culture, just something completely and wholly and entirely different was not for me.

Trac Bannon: To make things even more complicated, at the same time, Alyssa’s family was changing. She was going through an amicable divorce, all while trying to find a new work environment that would allow her to take the next step professionally. Following her newish pattern, it had been well over the 2 year mark and time to change employers. She spent the next 2 years as the Head of Information Security Solutions at CDW before landing a dream role with Snyk. 

After years of trying to chase her way up the corporate ladder and hitting ceiling after ceiling at manager level roles, Alyssa had landed the role that was the security equivalent of a DevRel, a developer relations champion. The role included community involvement, travel to international conferences. She was stepping into her dream role. 

Alyssa Miller: 

And so it was gonna be lots of traveling to international conferences and speaking, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah… well, I started there January 6th, 2020. You can imagine what happened to those plans. 

Trac Bannon: 

Along with the rest of the world, the Covid 19 lockdowns put a dead stop to all of Alyssa’s best laid plans. A week before she was supposed to leave for speaking engagements in Singapore and Australia, the world shut down. With it when everything that had been exciting and shiny about Alyssa’s role. But as my own daughter constantly reminds me, the universe is a friendly one. While settling into the “new normal” of her role, an exciting opportunity came through a colleague for Alyssa to become a global Business Information Security Officer for S&P.

Alyssa Miller: 

So it was like, all of a sudden now I find myself like, wow, this is what I wanted. And I knew when I took that job. This is my step up. The only place I go from here is a CISO.

Trac Bannon: 

But the universe wasn’t done meddling in Alyssa’s career trajectory. Alyssa is amazing at building strong professional connections, and friendships through LinkedIn, conferences, as well as her work as a consultant. 

It should be no surprise that only a year and a half into her role as BISO, a colleague reached out to her through LinkedIn. His organization was about to start a search for a new CISO. He was wondering if Alyssa was interested in applying. She wasn’t looking to leave S&P, in fact, she really liked the job. 

But this was a CISO role. 

Alyssa followed her gut. When she sat down and talked with her CEO she was very honest about her career experience and her job history.

Alyssa Miller: 

Honestly, my answer was, look, dude, this is my goal. Like this was the job I’ve been working to get to… where am I gonna go from here? Right? Like… This is my opportunity to build something, to do something really cool. It’s the role I’ve been chasing for a long time that I’ve really wanted to take on. 

Trac Bannon: 

That honesty paid off, landing Alyssa her dream job as the Chief Information Security officer at Epic. She is now a highly visible woman CISO, role modeling authenticity and inclusivity in tech leadership. She’s the first to acknowledge the impact of her role:

Alyssa Miller: 

It’s important because there are other people out there who need to see someone like me succeeding because they identify with being like me… and it’s cool to see somebody else who can do it.

I’ve also learned throughout my entire year that when you have an opportunity come to you like that, you at least investigate it. Doesn’t mean you’re gonna move, doesn’t mean you’re gonna do anything. But if it’s something that would interest you, don’t put artificial constraints on yourself to hold you back.

Trac Bannon: 

In less than five years, Alyssa has learned to fly… figuratively and literally. She has her private pilot license, serves on the board for two corporations and has been accepted into the influential women’s group for the C-suite: Chief as well as publishing her first book: “Cybersecurity Career Guide”. 

Clearly she has found a found of energy! 

I’ve already signed up for my spot on an Alyssa Miller flight. And one of these days we’ve got a plan in the works for her to zip on over from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania so we can have a real cup of coffee together.

Every conversation with a Real Technologist stretches me and enriches my life… learning the ups and downs and the unique journey of the guest. Alyssa is a genuine person who cares deeply about others and is fiercely protective of the right for each and every one of us to be our true and authentic self. Alyssa quotes, a friend and colleague, Phil Gerbyshak, who once asked her “what’s your weird?” 

Alyssa Miller: 

Like you look at when I started, when I first came out to where I am now, and the acceleration in terms of job titles for sure, but being active in the security community, public speaking, all the things I do… when you suddenly remove that whole veil and all that background noise in your head and you can just be you… when you embrace that, that thing that makes you who you are, rather than like trying to hide it, but actually embrace it and lead with it, the power behind that and what that enables you to do and to be and… honestly how it enables other people to connect and appreciate you.

Trac Bannon: 

Alyssa is now at a point in her career where she doesn’t know “what’s next.” And, that’s actually a good thing. For the first time in her life, Alyssa can live authentically in the moment and chase some lifelong dreams.

Alyssa Miller: 

Every time I get into my aircraft and I’m floating above with rural areas of Wisconsin, I’m like… they actually let me do this. I get to do this. It is such a massive, massive blessing to, to be so fortunate to be able to do that, right… and so I think now I’m just, I’m trying, I’m actually, what I’m doing is I’m looking for ways to share that with other people.

Trac Bannon: 

And that’s a wrap for today’s episode of Real Technologists. I want to thank my guest, Alyssa Miller for sharing her story. Your insights and experiences are truly inspiring. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share them with the audience. This podcast is a Sourced Network production and updates are available weekly on your favorite audio streaming platform. Just search for real technologists and consider subscribing. Special thanks to our executive producer, Mark Miller, for making this show possible. Our editor and sound engineer, Pokie Huang has done an amazing job bringing this story to life. Thank you both. The music for today’s episode was provided by Blue Dot Sessions, and we use Descript for spoken text editing and audacity for the soundscaping. The show distribution platform is provided by CaptivateFM making it easy for our listeners to find and enjoy the show. 

That’s all for today, folks. This is Trac Bannon. Don’t forget to tune in next week for another intriguing episode of Real Technologists and something new to noodle on.

Episode Guest:

Alyssa Miller is a life-long hacker, security advocate, and executive leader. She is the Senior Vice-President and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) for Epiq Global and has over 15 years experience in security and leadership roles. She is heavily involved in the cyber security community as an internationally recognized speaker, author, content creator, and researcher. Alyssa serves on the boards of Epiphany Solutions Group and Blue Team Con.  She’s a strong proponent for making the path into security careers easier and improving equity and diversity within the cyber security community.

Episode Transcription:

[00:00:00] Trac Bannon:

In our world today, technology plays an increasingly significant role in shaping our lives. The way we communicate, work, and even entertain ourselves is being revolutionized by tech. Behind every innovation, there’s a person, a human being with unique experiences, perspectives and challenges. Understanding what shaped their perspective is a real goal.

From The Sourced Network remote offices in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, welcome to Real Technologists. Each week we explore the genuine stories and true journeys of folks shaping our digital future. How did they navigate this complex world of ours? What challenges did they face? What are the innovative ideas that continue to propel them forward?

Each episode is crafted to broaden your perspective, spark innovation, and help you make better decisions by showcasing the diversity of thought and experiences within the tech industry.

Today, we’ve included some short excerpts to give you a taste of what’s to come.

Let’s start out with Jennifer Leggio, Chief Marketing Officer for Netography and cybersecurity strategist. She’s also luminary for the accountability and responsibility and security marketing. Just who helped her along the way?

[00:01:17] Jennifer Leggio:

” He would push me and say, I see more in you. I see more in you. And so because of that, Cisco wasn’t enough for me anymore, and it wasn’t Cisco. It was the role because it’s such a huge org. My role was very finite there, focusing on security strategy and communications and messaging and such. I’m like, you know what? I’m gonna quit.”

[00:01:41] Trac Bannon:

Caroline Wong, Chief Strategy Officer at Cobalt got her start with eBay as an intern. Her experience and exposure to eBay said in motion a series of domino events transforming her into a leading voice in cybersecurity. Funny to think it all started with dating a Stanford student.

[00:02:02] Caroling Wong:

” For my summer internship between my junior and senior year, I wanted to live at his house with his parents in Silicon Valley and not my house with my parents in San Francisco. And so when I applied to internships that summer, and I must have applied to 50 different internships, I only applied to companies located in Silicon Valley. And I got an internship in IT at eBay.”

[00:02:31] Trac Bannon:

Katy Craig is a cybersecurity expert who has spent her career focused on the US Navy. She’s a retired veteran, educating the next generation of ethical hackers.

[00:02:43] Katy Craig:

” It’s very special to build a ship, to be part of the pre-com crew, to be a quote unquote plank owner is a very special, privilege. I am a plank owner of Bonham Rashard. We went through a lot on that ship. I was there on 9-11 when the planes hit the towers. we deployed early to go hunt for Osama Bin Laden.”

[00:03:06] Trac Bannon:

Lonya Ford grew up on the south side of Chicago and joined the military as a way to put a roof over her head and maybe give her an education. When she started out, she found herself believing that she could not be her authentic self.

[00:03:19] Lonye Forde:

” It was scary joining the military because I was transported to a land where no one spoke like me. No one really looked like me. And so that was, a tough environment for me. And, you know, for a while I think what I started to do was conform a little, right?

[00:03:39] Trac Bannon:

Rosalind Radcliffe is an esteemed IBM fellow driving big blue to drink their own champagne, so to speak, in their adoption of modern software practices and DevSecOps. As a self-proclaimed high school dropout, she is leading the way for the DevOps-ing of IBM’s z/OS.

[00:03:58] Rosalind Radcliffe:

” So I went to school in Wisconsin for two years and then my dad was moving to Florida to teach at the University of Florida via England for a year. And so they sent me to the university and the university said, would you like to show up in August? I said, no, I’m going to England for a year. So let me go to England for a year and I’ll come back and then I’ll go to the university. And so technically I’m a high school dropout.”

[00:04:22] Trac Bannon:

That’s what Real Technologist is all about. I delve into the lives of innovators to discover their journeys, their passions, and their motivations.

This is Trac Bannon, the host and storyteller for the Real Technologist Podcast. I’ve been in the tech industry since the 1990s. Along the way, I’ve worked with scientists, researchers, consultants, educators, military and hardcore technologists driving digital innovation.

I’m an active member in many technical communities ranging from digital transformation to software architecture, to DevSecOps. With a vibrant network of professionals who are constantly monitoring what’s going on, I’ve developed a passion for uncovering unique stories and perspectives.

I believe that behind every technological innovation, there’s a unique individual with a captivating story to tell. Our goal, my goal, is to bring you face-to-face with the real technologists behind the latest tech trends, and to give you a glimpse into their lives, their passions, their motivations.

Real technologists is more than a podcast about diversity. It’s about amplifying the goodness that comes from our diverse spectrum of voices and experiences. It’s about genuine stories, true journeys, our complex world. Whether you’re a tech enthusiast, an entrepreneur, or just curious about the world of technology insights, the interviews are sure to inspire and educate. Consider joining me weekly at Real Technologists. Each episode will leave you with something to noodle on.

Episode Guest:

Alyssa Miller is a life-long hacker, security advocate, and executive leader. She is the Senior Vice-President and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) for Epiq Global and has over 15 years experience in security and leadership roles. She is heavily involved in the cyber security community as an internationally recognized speaker, author, content creator, and researcher. Alyssa serves on the boards of Epiphany Solutions Group and Blue Team Con.  She’s a strong proponent for making the path into security careers easier and improving equity and diversity within the cyber security community.