Jennifer Leggio, Netography

Episode Transcription:

[00:00:00] Trac Bannon: 

Jennifer Leggio is a fixture in the Cybersecurity industry. She’s a no-nonsense communicator and that makes her perfect for her role in marketing, security solutions, and building communities. 

Jennifer has an honest approach to discussing security which has become her trademark. Jennifer is legendary in her push for accountability and security marketing. Building on principles of disclosing with integrity and honesty in content. It’s no surprise that she’s a Chief Marketing Officer for Netography, a startup Cybersecurity platform addressing the complex networks we use now… different devices, remote and hybrid operations.

In her own words, “we must truly care in our bones about helping others protect their companies.” This is the type of empathy that Jennifer brings to Cybersecurity domain. 

When she started her career, Jennifer was focused on writing; not technology. Her journey from writer to well known voice for Cybersecurity is filled with discovery.

[00:01:01] Jennifer Leggio: 

I have imposter syndrome from being in a highly technical space where I’m technical enough to be dangerous. 

I did discover a knack early on 

[00:01:12] 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.

 Jennifer’s knack is storytelling. In a conversation with Jennifer in early 2022, I discovered that her passion for storytelling and writing was probably sparked by the time she spent with her Grandmother. Growing up with a single mom gave Jennifer the unintentional benefit of spending a ton of time with her Grandparents and in particular, her Grandmother.

This seems to be the catalyst that sparked her passion for writing. 

[00:02:20] Jennifer Leggio: 

I always wanted to be a writer, I still want to be a writer.

I spent a lot of time with my Grandparents and my Grandmother was my best friend growing up. And she, you know, would sit with me across… I still have visions of sitting across the counter in her house, do my homework with me. And then she would either quiz me on the states and capitals or the presidents in order and who are their vice presidents and the terms and all of that.

Or we would do writing or we would read. She’d be making dinner or prepping for dinner, and I’d be sitting at the counter. And she’d throw a topic out to me and I would have to write a one to two page essay on that topic and she’d read it and I, I loved it. 

I remember just kind of leaning like across the counter because she’d sit on the other side and in anticipation when she’d read it… kind of waiting for her approval on it and she would never criticize it. She would never grade it. She would just be like… I learned something new about you today. And then she’d ask me questions about it. I think that’s where a lot of my natural curiosity that led to journalism was born.

[00:03:24] Trac Bannon: 

Jennifer spent many formative years in Riverside County, California. She describes the area as “Breaking Bad meets the Sons of Anarchy”. As she approached high school graduation, her mother gave her a choice: get a full time job and begin paying rent or go to school. Her decision was to enroll at Riverside Community College since she was paying her own way. 

Jennifer landed in a communications class taught by Leighton McLaughlin. He had previously been the editor of the Chicago Sun Times who by then, had retired and was teaching at RCC. One day, he pulled her aside and said “I think you should be on the student newspaper here at RCC”.

[00:04:03] Jennifer Leggio: 

And so I’m like, all right, I’ll do that. And then I fell in love with journalism and went on to do… that’s what took me to eventually transfer to Cal State Fullerton.

[00:04:11] Trac Bannon: 

She had been working multiple jobs to pay her tuition, the typical sorts of jobs filled by high school students and those looking to fill the gaps. Jennifer was getting by. Another student on the student newspaper staff told her that he had gotten a paying job at the local newspaper, the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

The quick conversation turned into an opportunity! The student was moving onto a reporter role so a news assistant spot opened. Jennifer saw the opportunity and applied. 

[00:04:41] Jennifer Leggio:

I was working in a little Caesar’s Pizza kitchen inside of a Kmart when I first started going to school. But I ran into another a friend on the student newspaper who had gotten a job at the Local Press-Enterprise, which was the Riverside paper there, as a news assistant.

I’m like, I want that job. It was so not glamor. This was the old days where people were literally like… you’re waxing the pages down… I’d have to take a newsroom car and drive out to the field to pick up film from a photographer and bring it back to the newsroom. And go do dinner runs for all the copy editors, the copy desk who all sat in a circle, watch the fax machine for police reports and run them to the cops desk. That was, so that was the job

[00:05:27] Trac Bannon: 

It’s a common tale, being a young adult and wanting to leave home. Jennifer wanted to spread her wings and she transferred to Cal State Fullerton. It was about an hour away in Orange County. Cal State had a good journalism program and a great student newspaper. She was able to use her experience with the Riverside Enterprise Press to land a job at Orange County Register as a news assistant. The duties for the news assistant varied based on the day and they traded duties. she recalls being on obituary duty. 

[00:05:58] Jennifer Leggio: 

It was the free obituaries, not the paid classifieds. And I’m at that age,  what, 18, 19 years old… I didn’t have the maturity then to fully understand when I was on the phone with these families, asking them a question, they’d fill out a form and then we’d, or sometimes they’d come in and fill out a form, so I’d have to go down and meet with them.

And ask information about their family members. And it was heavy, but I have to admit that we weren’t always the most mature. And we would have competitions to see who could work words like plethora and diatribe and other things into obituaries, which I think there’s probably a special place in hell for us for doing that.

But they always were very respectful. But you also had to keep it interesting in a way, otherwise you’d be very depressed all the time 

[00:06:48] Trac Bannon: 

Jennifer exudes confidence and determination: when there is a fork in the road, she generally takes the road less traveled and perhaps, less comfortable. While working at the Orange County Register, her roommate was a design editor. This sort of role was in demand nation-wide. When her roommate got a design job at the San Jose Mercury News, she asked Jennifer to join her in San Jose. 

[00:07:14] Jennifer Leggio: 

And she got a job at the San Jose Mercury News, which at the time was a big deal. Because the tech boom and was really well known for design. And she said, “I’m moving to Silicon Valley, do you wanna move with me?” You know, 2000 in retrospect wasn’t the best time to move to Silicon Valley, so there were definitely some hard times there. But I was like, “I can do that.” So I quit my job at the Reg

[00:07:38] Trac Bannon: 

She interviewed at local newspapers but did not find a job. Then it dawned on her, as a news assistant, she knew how to get news to the journalist. Why not try her hand as an actual journalist? How did she get that job? It was the fall of 2002 and Jennifer believes it was because she was a fan of a band named tool. 

[00:08:00] Jennifer Leggio: 

It was almost like flipping, going from being the person that received stuff, received the press releases on the fax machine at the time, again to being the one to write it. So I interviewed with Dovetail, which was a small boutique PR firm that specialized in cybersecurity startups and CRM companies as well. I had no experience in PR. But I talked about my writing passion, and the CEO and owner of the firm was wearing a t-shirt that had my favorite band on it. I was like, “you’re a Tool fan. Have you seen them live? I worshiped Maynard James Keenan!” And he just gave me a second look. He’s like, ” okay, you have very little experience in this, but let’s give you a shot.” 

[00:08:43] Trac Bannon: 

A new course was set for Jennifer’s journey. She was now working at a boutique agency . Specializing in high tech media and analyst relations for security startups and high-growth security companies. She stayed there for nearly four years before jumping into a business intelligence firm named Hyperion. That was short-lived though the move was pivotal. She met a woman named Michelle Culver. Michelle was interviewing with Hyperion and was thinking about leaving security. 

As luck or fate would have it. Michelle did not leave security and went on to lead corporate communications at Fortinet. Michelle and Jennifer had gotten along so well that it was no surprise in 2006 that Michelle dialed Jennifer, and asked her to join Fortnite as a PR manager. A role she took and transformed over her 5 years stay…

[00:09:35] Jennifer Leggio: 

I went to Fortinet which was my first startup. I think I was employee number 80 and, oh yeah. Michelle Culver, who has gone on to have a tremendous career, was the head of corporate communications at Fortinet. We were our power team with a few others for a long time at Fortinet.

I came in as a manager and one of the best lessons I learned… and I credit Michelle with this and is, I was there for almost 6 years as the company grew through the IPO. It was an amazing experience and I had a really push and work hard to get the promotion at senior manager and then that promotion to director. And I remember I would gotten angry at her at one point because I saw someone else get promoted to director on a totally different marketing team. And I wanted it, and she said, “the worst thing I could ever do for you in your career is promote you before you’re ready, cuz then you’ll slide backward.”

I didn’t start as a director there. I clawed my way to director there, but if it wasn’t for that experience with her and making me take that time early in my career to not go too fast, I don’t know that I would’ve gone to where I am today.

[00:10:46] Trac Bannon: 

You can see this emerging pattern with Jennifer. Go out on the ledge, take the next role, work hard as hell and grow. This is precisely how she became Vice President at SourceFire. She joined SourceFire in 2011 as a marketing director. With her usual flair, she networked, built community, and seized opportunities. Jennifer is quick to call out the mentors, the friends who pushed her, helped her, and protected her on her journey. 

[00:11:15] Jennifer Leggio: 

I’m a seeker, as one of my friends calls me. I’m always looking for what’s next? How can I learn more? I didn’t start again as a VP at Sourcefire. They were already public, they had gone public early. And so I had joined after they went public. They had just acquired a company called Immunet, which was a consumer antivirus, anti-malware protection technology.

Adam O’Donnell called me and said, “Hey, when you come over here and work on the Immunet team, we’re gonna make a consumer kind of arm of sourcefire with Immunet.” 

So I went over there. 

[00:11:48] Trac Bannon: 

While she was there, she met Martin Roesch, the co-creator of SourceFire and Oliver Friedrichs. Their vision was to work with AI and take the existing technology in a new direction: Commercial Malware Protection. When SourceFire was later purchased by Cisco, this technology became Cisco’s Advanced Malware Protection Solution. Jennifer was introduced early to these cybersecurity luminaries who all continue to define the industry today. 

Jennifer met with SourceFire Chief Marketing Officer, Mark Solomon, and pitched on her idea to create a corporate comms effort that she felt was missing. With his support, she needed to go back to her boss, Oliver Friedrichs, and say she wanted to move. 

[00:12:33] Jennifer Leggio: 

So I had to go to Oliver and say I wanna move out of this role and move over here, which was a little scary for me. I think he wanted to see if I could do that.

So I moved over to director of corporate, senior director of corporate communications, overseeing all of the SourceFire product line, which was interesting at the time, expanding. That’s how that started.

 Mark said his plan was always to bring me over into the broader SourceFire fold.

[00:12:58] Trac Bannon: 

By this time, Jennifer had made it to a senior level with SourceFire. The next pivot happened in 2013 when SourceFire was purchased by Cisco. It was interesting to be on the inside. She was involved with the deal communications. It was Jennifer and 50+ Cisco pros; they were non-traditional in how they approached the acquisition. They positioned the SourceFire team to lead all security functions for the firms.

[00:13:26] Jennifer Leggio: 

Others that were in Senior Engineering roles became Senior in Leadership. Mark Solomon, who was the CMO, took over all of security marketing for Cisco. And so that created a whole different host of challenges. And of course I can’t forget Marty himself coming in as Chief Architect overseeing all the strategy for their security growth. 

[00:13:46] Trac Bannon: 

Jennifer stayed for only 18 months, seeing herself as more of a start-up devotee. She does have one regret:

[00:13:54] Jennifer Leggio: 

I look back, I stayed there 18 months. I think if I’m being perfectly honest, my only regret is not staying till I had more SourceFire options vested than the Cisco end, because obviously that was a pretty good deal.

[00:14:06] Trac Bannon: 

Mark Solomon continued to push Jennifer. They kept in touch and he would encourage her though her next step may have surprised him:

[00:14:15] 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. 

[00:14:39] Trac Bannon: 

All this continued success in security communications and marketing looks natural from the outside. As a journalism major in a high tech arena, she suffered from imposter syndrome. In her words, she is technical enough to be dangerous. She had never finished her undergraduate degree, dropping out for a newspaper job. At each turn, she had no idea what the future would hold. Her mother was terrified that she only had an associates degree… What would happen to her? 

[00:15:08] Jennifer Leggio: 

You know, I did discover a knack early on, Michelle really helped me grow this, and Mark Kroger, who was the owner of Dovetail, helped me hone this as well.

I can’t speak Italian, but if they say something to me, I can understand it and I can tell somebody else what they said. But I can’t speak it and I feel that I feel similarly with tech. I can talk to our threat research team, I can talk to our engineering team, and I may not be able to necessarily repeat back what they said or fully understand a nuance of it. But I can take that and turn it into a story and either change a market or help build a product base.

[00:15:46] Trac Bannon: 

She does have a knack, but it’s the other side of the coin, however, where Jennifer struggles. 

[00:15:52] Jennifer Leggio: 

When I get past my own demon, I just have unrealistic expectations for myself in all areas of my life… which my therapist could tell some stories there. It’s also… our industry is not very friendly to marketers. I remember seeing a tweet the other day from someone I respect pretty much, retweeted somebody asking “what is the biggest scam that no one talks about?” And that person said, marketing.


[00:16:24] Trac Bannon: 

In 2021, a study by Statista stated that 67% of US advertisers and marketers are female. At the same time, there’s strong demand signal for more women to dive into cybersecurity. There are mixed messages, however…

[00:16:43] Jennifer Leggio: 

You’re telling us we’re not really in cybersecurity and we’re not technologists because we don’t code.

[00:16:48] Trac Bannon: 

Cybersecurity professionals come in many shapes and sizes; only a focused percentage write code. Many focus on policy, threat modeling, software bill of materials, or like Jennifer, communications and strategy. These types of biases… marketing is a scam or you’re not tech if you don’t code… these have shaped Jennifer’s actions and outreach.

Jennifer is a completely authentic human who often wears her heart on her sleeve. 

Blended with her own self-professed ability to add the ever-necessary marketing-spin, she has found herself at odds when asked to use techniques like fear and shaming. 

Jennifer remembers a situation when she was with the boutique firm, Dovetail. A security company was a client of Dovetail and asked for a campaign that essentially said “you were hacked because you didn’t use our product.”

She went straight to her boss and said “we are not doing this.” She, and eventually her company, refused to dive into victim shaming and blaming someone for a security breach. They would not stoop to using the shaming tactics. The firm backed up Jennifer and fired the client.

[00:18:00] Jennifer Leggio: 

If you are good at what you do, if you are a good marketer, even not even an amazing marketer, if you are a good marketer, you don’t need to lie. You don’t need to spin, you don’t need to scare. If you do those things, please find a different career because you’re bad and you’re making things worse for everyone. And in security, you’re creating more risk. I, and I will stand behind that for the rest of my life.

[00:18:27] Trac Bannon: 

Ever evolving and reinventing herself, Jennifer has been on the leading edge of social media for marketing. Between diving into Twitter and building her personal blog, she continued building her network. She had an idea… she would begin calling out the names of people in the security community on Twitter. This humble start gave birth to Security Twits in 2008. Industry was taking notice. She became friends with Ryan Ring, who ran security content for ZDNET. 

[00:18:57] Jennifer Leggio: 

He pitched Larry Dignan, the editor there… “Hey, this woman’s at the forefront of social media and business. We can get her to write about that because no one’s really writing about that yet. People are talking about consumer social media, but now we’re social media and business, and now our social media and business and security come together.” 

[00:19:16] Trac Bannon: 

She started blogging with ZDNET in 2017 and her online presence on cybersecurity topics expanded. Jennifer also uses her online presence as a type of outreach and enablement for others. She uses LinkedIn and Twitter to actively engage and support others using the platforms as a way to encourage them. 

[00:19:36] Jennifer Leggio: 

Those are little ways outside of the work in the community where I try to look for rising stars and push them to advocate for themselves and coach them to advocate for themselves so they can get what they deserve.

[00:19:52] Trac Bannon: 

A little over a year ago in 2022, Jennifer got a call from Marty Roesch, her boss from back in the SourceFire days. He had decided to come out of retirement and take over the CEO role of a new company: Netography. Marty dialed Jennifer. 

[00:20:09] Jennifer Leggio: 

He called me to come in and be the CMO here and, so I’m in it for the long haul with them. And I’m excited about what’s to come there. It also because, we have such a great culture. And even though we work really hard, there’s a lot of balance. I’m able to pursue some other fun things that I love.

[00:20:28] Trac Bannon: 

One of the ways she’s embracing this new corporate culture is investing in being a bigger champion for sobriety. Jennifer is on a new journey: She is 6 months sober. With the same spirit and fortitude that she brings to cybersecurity marketing, she’s using her platform to take away the shaming when somebody’s recovering.

[00:20:49] Jennifer Leggio: 

It’s a newish thing. And so I’ve been out there advocating, let’s normalize this. Let’s take the shame out of this. Hey, don’t be ashamed to say that you choose not to drink and just go out and be your amazing sober self.

 It’s a new part of my journey. I’m, just under 6 months into this journey, it’s, I’m just getting to the point where I’m comfortable. I shouldn’t say comfortable. I’m very comfortable in my sobriety, but getting to the point of being more open about it. I posted something on Twitter the other day with a t-shirt that said, normalize sobriety, and I put it like, felt cute, won’t delete later.

Because people die from these types of things. I wanna take the shame out of recovery. And I’m very fortunate. I just woke up one day and was like, I’m tired of hurting myself and others and not having the life I want because of alcohol. And so I made a change. 

[00:21:42] Trac Bannon: 

Jennifer is strong, she’s authentic, she’s a seeker. Looking back over the measure of this incredible career, Jennifer is quick to offer sage advice: 

[00:22:01] Jennifer Leggio: 

If you don’t feel like you have a voice that can make a difference, you probably do build it and build your confidence. I wish somebody had said that to me when I was younger. I found it on my own and through mentorship. If you have a voice, use it. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. And don’t be ashamed to integrate who you are in your personal life, in your professional life. And show the world a whole person, because I think people can learn from that.

[00:22:30] Trac Bannon: 

Jennifer has a painting in her office that her mother bought her in her early twenties that helps to keep her grounded. 

[00:22:37] Jennifer Leggio: 

Always remember where you came from and why you do the things you do. It’ll keep you humble and it’ll keep you grateful.

[00:22:44] Trac Bannon: 

One thing is for sure, Jennifer is genuine and her story riveting ever the seeker.

She doesn’t know what the next passion or purpose will be as she navigates our complex world. She will no doubt continue to share her true journey, giving us all something to Newlan.

 And that’s a wrap for today’s episode of Real Technologists. I want to thank my guest, Jennifer Leggio, 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:

Jennifer Leggio is a marketing, operational strategy, and communications leader, and a board and VC advisor, with over 23 years of leading high-performing, creative, and data-driven teams. She has held leadership roles at some of the world’s most impactful cybersecurity companies, notably Fortinet, Sourcefire, Flashpoint, and Claroty. She is currently Chief Marketing Officer at Netography.

Jennifer has been a frequent speaker, including DEF CON, RSA Conference, Gartner Security Summit, Hack in the Box, and SXSW Interactive, and formerly wrote for ZDNet and Forbes. In her personal time, she immerses herself in creative writing, comedy, and, of all things, horror movies. Jennifer was recognized in 2019 by SC Media as a fierce advocate of ethical marketing programs that focus on facts rather than fear to protect security researchers. She continues to speak out boldly against marketers who use fear, uncertainty, and doubt to try to advance business in the security industry. She can be found on LinkedIn or on Twitter as @mediaphyter.