A Few Minutes With Gail Coury, CISA, CISM, CISSP, Vice President and General Manager at f5 Networks
Networking is a critical aspect of any professional career. Gail Coury, CISA, CISM, CISSP, vice president and general manager at f5 Networks, provides guidance on her experience with networking and how you can and must make it a part of your professional life. Coury has more than 20 years of experience in information security infrastructure systems and network management, security technical consulting, information systems auditing, and programming. She has worked in industries including software and hardware technology, airline reservation systems, insurance, banking and retail. Coury is the former chief information security officer for PeopleSoft, former chief information security officer for J.D. Edwards and previously led the risk management function for Oracle’s Managed Cloud Services. She recently changed roles as a result of personal referrals and shares her knowledge on building a network and using it to your advantage.
Q: In your opinion, how important is networking to career development, especially for women?
A: Networking is very important for any professional career. Most new job opportunities come your way because someone has worked with you or knows someone who has, and they, ultimately, recommend you. My own recent experience is a testament to this as I was recommended for 2 opportunities by people who knew me or worked with me.
My observation is that women do not take time to network. I watch how some men fit a lunch or sports activity into their schedules. And I ask myself, “How do they have the time for this?” I usually have lunch at my desk while trying to get a couple of things done. But I have learned that it is well worth my time to take time to establish good working relationships with my colleagues, customers or partners.
Q: What is the most important thing to keep in mind when building a professional network?
A: The most important thing to keep in mind is to think broadly and to include many people in your network. Not only people who work on your team, but those across functions within your organization, with other professionals in your location by attending ISACA® meetings (as an example), by volunteering for professional organizations, etc. Take time to schedule coffee or lunch with someone who you would like to get to know better–even set a brief agenda ahead of time so that you know what you would like to discuss.
Q: What impact do you think social media sites such as LinkedIn have on building and maintaining your professional network?
A: Social media has made the task of introducing yourself to someone very easy–you send them a message via LinkedIn and voila! You have made a connection. Be sure to include a personal note indicating why you want to connect–you will have a better chance of starting a meaningful relationship that can build outside of the social media platform.
Q: What challenges do you see women face when building a professional network?
A: The biggest challenge I see for women is actually taking the time to network. We all find it easy to have conversations with people we know. But reaching out to someone we do not know well and requesting time to have a conversation can be a bit foreign. Also, when you attend a professional event where you have the opportunity to network, capitalize on that by introducing yourself to people you do not know. Women have a tendency to gravitate to those we already know, but then miss the chance to meet others. Join a table where you do not know the people already there. Once you start a conversation with someone new, most people will open up, so don’t be shy.
Q: What has a mentor of yours taught you about professional networking or career development?
A: A mentor or sponsor is so important to your career growth–it is like having your own champion who advocates on your behalf. But this does not need to be a formal relationship. It can be, but in my case, working informally with people I admire was most successful. Establishing a relationship with that individual is the first step.
It is important to find some common area around which to connect—it could be sports, or it could be getting to know about the other person’s family. Once you establish a common area of interest, you can always revisit that—get an update the next time you see each other. When you might have difficult work discussions and you have already established a personal connection, it makes those discussions easier.
Q: What sorts of activities do you find to be the best networking opportunities?
A: Belonging to professional organizations, such as ISACA, is a good place to start. You meet others in the same profession as yourself. Volunteering for these organizations or special projects at work also helps you meet new people. Getting involved with groups sponsored by your employer, such as women’s groups, helps you to get to know more of your colleagues who you might not otherwise meet.
Q: What advice would you give to a newcomer to the workforce, trying to navigate how to network for the first time?
A: Understand your organization’s structure–who are the leaders and who are on their teams. Observe fellow employees in meetings and find someone whose work ethic and style you admire. Then reach out to that person, introduce yourself, explain that you are new to the organization, new to the workforce, and ask for a time to meet. Come to that meeting prepared with some thoughtful questions and thank that person prior to ending your conversation.
This will give you a start—but again, join professional organizations, take time to reach out to your coworkers and volunteer! These are ways that people will get to know you and observe your skills.
Q: What is the number one piece of advice you would give someone interested in starting their network?
A: Do not be shy. Reach out to people you do not know with confidence. Not because you need something from them, but just to get to know them. Then, in the future, when you do need something, it will be much easier to ask for their help. And when they become aware of an opportunity, they may just think of you.