Cyber veterans, Leadership, Security Staff Acquisition & Development

Forescout’s Ellen Sundra: Leveraging lessons from the playground

Ellen Sundra is chief customer officer of Forescout.
Ellen Sundra is chief customer officer of Forescout.

If you live in or around Ashburn, Virginia, as I do, you’ll appreciate a few key features of the area. One, Ashburn’s branding as the datacenter capital of the world (an estimated 70% of the planet’s internet traffic flows through the region every day). Two, it’s the heart of Virginia wine country. And three, an abundance of warehouses has resulted in endless fun in the form of indoor play centers.

So what does that have to do with cybersecurity? In the case of play centers, one of the best was founded by Ellen Sundra, now chief customer officer for cyber giant Forescout. She opened Jumping Jack Sports in 2007, days before she gave birth to her daughter, as a means to expose young girls to sports — outside the intimidating standard of testosterone-filled coed teams.

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“The catalyst for Jumping Jacks sports was Girl Power, which was a class that was eight weeks, one day a week, trying a different sport every week. All girls, for girls,” Sundra said. “And everything was cooperative. Instead of having ‘you versus me,’ it was ‘how many times can we hit the ball across the net for volleyball?’”

Attracting girls to something that traditionally catered to boys by reframing the message. It doesn’t take much to see how that concept relates to cybersecurity.

Jumping Jack was all about girl power, said Ellen Sundra.

The parallel wasn’t lost on leadership at Forescout, who also recognized the management skills required to lead a business anchored in children’s entertainment. Sundra began working there in 2010 as an engineer, nearly a decade before selling Jumping Jacks. She rapidly rose the ranks, from engineer to director, to vice president, to CCO.

Of course with each promotion, she took on more management responsibilities and strategic leadership, stepping further away from the technical execution. And yet, her in-the-weeds expertise does present an advantage.

“When I want it I can grab it,” Sundra said. “When there's a deep technical issue, I can sit down and say, ‘OK, help me understand this.’ And I do find that there's a couple of customers that can appreciate it when I come back. It gives them a comfort level. But I have to be careful to then not be the one that sits on a troubleshooting call for six hours.”

Jill Aitoro

Jill Aitoro leads editorial for SC Media, and content strategy for parent company CyberRisk Alliance. She 20 years of experience editing and reporting on technology, business and policy.

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