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Survival Skills for Small Infosec Vendors

April 11, 2014

Information Security is a strange field. There are probably few professions with such a wide range of social skills and preferences as the information security profession. Personally, I think this is what’s fun. It’s pretty cool that an MC can take a shot of vodka before introducing a speaker at a conference. Unfortunately, the perceived anything goes nature of this field, leads some of us to take it too far.

If you do business in this industry, here are a few principles that you may want to adhere to:

  1. Always project an image of success. No one wants to do business with failure. If folks like you enough, a sob story might get you some overflow work, but ultimately–it’s a losing strategy. Hold on to your self-respect and carry yourself the way you want the world to perceive you.
  2. Treat everyone with respect. There are some extremely intelligent people in this field. Extremely intelligent people reading this, look around! You’re surrounded by other extremely intelligent people. Intelligence is not a right to disrespect others. People have memories. The person you disrespect today, because you’re a hacker rock star, may be the person who chooses not to refer work to your new venture.
  3. Stay open to other ideas. None of us are going to solve security single-handedly. Period. Get used to the idea that others will have ideas and work on them. Sometimes their ideas will overlap with your area. Great! Don’t feel threatened. Continue to innovate, let them innovate, and see which ideas shake out. It’s best for everyone.
  4. If you want something, ask. Unfortunately, business isn’t like a conference call for papers. Opportunities happen not because of a democratic process or merit. They happen because of hustle. If you want to get involved with something, ask. Do so politely and in private. If it’s not appropriate, you’ll receive a respectful and dignified response in return. If it is, you’ll be amazed at the doors that open up to you, all because you asked for an opportunity.
  5. Keep your promises. If you commit to do something for someone, even if it means sending an email. Do it. If you find this is hard, learn to say no. You won’t damage relationships by saying no. You will damage relationships by failing to live up to things you promised.
  6. Deal with rejection, privately. Didn’t get accepted to the conference of a lifetime? Were you slighted on twitter? Did someone blatantly and for no good reason trash your work on Twitter? Oh well. Rejection happens. It happens to everyone. If you take things personally, process it privately, and move on. Turning every perceived slight into an online slug fest will only further damage your self-esteem and cause others to lose respect for you.
  7. Never insult your audience. This is an important public speaking tip. Some folks react to certain questions with disdain. Don’t. If someone asks a question, it means they don’t know the answer and probably others don’t either. Never treat your audience or professional community with disdain. Again, you’re surrounded by extremely intelligent people.
  8. Never insult your peers. If we’re on stage together–don’t tell the audience “I did _______. There’s probably only one or two other people here who could do _________”. Some of us may disagree with your assessment of our skills and capability or the novelty of what you’re touting. These kinds of public statements rarely have positive ramifications.
  9. Set a good example. Decide what your principles are. Decide how it is you want others to treat you. Treat others this way. It’s not always easy and we all falter. But, try to do your best. That’s all anyone can ask of you.

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