Suzanne Vautrinot, President, Kilovolt Consulting; Wells Fargo board member, Major General and Commander, United States Air Force (retired)
Suzanne Vautrinot retired from the U.S. Air Force in Oct. 2013 as a major-general and commander of the 24th Air Force, where she’d been in charge of the USAF’s cyber war-fighting capability. During the three decades since her graduation from the Air Force Academy, Vautrinot served as special assistant to the vice chief of staff of the USAF and had senior cyber jobs, including director of plans and policy at U.S. Cyber Command.
After retirement, she dived headfirst into the private sector and joined the board of directors of several companies, leveraging her leadership skills and cyber expertise for the Wells Fargo bank, computer security firm Symantec, engineering and project management giant Parsons, water and energy services provider Ecolab and cutting-edge technology research outfit Battelle.
Each of the five companies “represents a completely different part of the nation’s economy and research infrastructure,” she said, “It’s been a wonderful opportunity to take my [cybersecurity] skills and experience and operationalize them across such different environments … [across] such a diverse set of businesses.”
What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced during your career and how did you overcome it?
There are situational, individual challenges that everyone faces, but to me the real challenge [in the cyber field] was [intellectual —] being able to join the dots, to understand how the pieces of a problem set fit together, and create solutions that are executable and understandable. To do that, you need to be able to toggle between the strategic and the operational.
What would you say to a young woman thinking about a career or starting out on a career in cybersecurity?
Continue to expand your education and experience. Seize every opportunity for learning. Become an expert in whatever it is that lights you up in the morning. If you do that, your potential is unfathomable. Persistence overcomes all.
Did any one person, event or idea inspire you to get into the cybersecurity field? What was it?
In the military, you don’t choose your job, you are assigned and my assignment was to “network warfare” — cyber, before it was called cyber — under Gen. Keith Alexander. I was unbelievably fortunate. It afforded me an epiphany — this [online warfare] would change everything about how we defend ourselves as a nation.
Why does diversity matter? Why is it important to empower women and minorities to work in cybersecurity and related fields?
It matters particularly in cybersecurity because you are operating in a human-designed and human-engineered environment, where so much can be changed. You need breadth of experience, a broad range of approaches to solving problems, a lot of different viewpoints. In such a space, diversity isn’t a strength, it’s a necessity.