Helen Patton: Women in Technology @ OSU

As the Chief Information Security Officer of Ohio State, Helen Patton manages a Security Operations and Services team, as well as oversees information Risk and Control Governance across University units.

We had a chance to talk to Patton about her experience working in information security, how she landed in the technology field and what her favorite memory has been while working in the industry.

Can you describe your day-to-day job? 

My title is Chief Information Security Officer and that means some of my job is related to policy for information security related work and the governance of how the university is managing its information security. About half of my time is spent in meetings related to policy formulation, the implication of policy, talking to people who are influential across the university about why they should care about information security. The other half of my time is spent with IT and IT operations, because I run a team of about 45 people who offer security services to the university. While information security is a business problem, in some cases, but not all, there is a technology solution. Everyone on my team has a technology background. I spend half of my time working with them on projects, initiatives and operations.

When (and how) did you decide to work in the technology field? 

I’ve had about fifteen years in information security. Most of the last fifteen years was spent with JP Morgan in their risk and security functions. I’ve been with the university for about 2.5 years. When I grew up, it was long enough ago that there wasn’t such a thing as computer science classes that I could take. So, I had no plans to work in technology when I was in high school or even in college for that matter. My undergraduate degree is in business administration, not technology. But, when I came to the US in the early 90s, I accidentally landed a technology-based job. That was over 20 years ago and I’ve been in technology ever since.

What advice can you give young women who would like to take on a position in the technology field? 

Technology is an extremely broad field. I tend to think about it more as computer technology, but it is more broad than that. But, even in computer technology it is a really broad field. Be open to trying new things. The technology is changing so fast, too. So, you may decide you want to get into data analytics, but the things you would learn in your degree program may or may not end up being the tools you work with in your career. Be open to new technology all the time. Be open to constantly learning. Do not hold onto anything as too precious. Be able to let it go and try something different.

How do you stay up-to-date with new trends in the technology world? 

A lot of reading. Some of it is social media reading, I follow a lot of technologists blogs and Twitter posts. But, still trying to go broadly because technology is just a tool that people use to do other things. It’s important to understand what else is out there like water shortages or thinking about gender issues in technology. It isn’t about technology it’s about society. Reading and learning about things broadly will give you indications of where the jobs are, where the opportunities are and help you find something interesting to do. It takes effort.

Is there any technology that you are particularly excited about right now? Why? 

There isn’t one particular technology, but rather the connectedness of technologies is interesting to me. It links into data analytics. Think about people walking around campus with FitBits on and all that data in the cloud. Or people choosing to have a Nest thermostat in their house allowing them to moderate the temperature in their house when they aren’t even there. Then, you have all this data floating around, being used and being pulled together in new and interesting. I find that very fascinating.

What has been your favorite moment/experience from working in the technology field? 

It’s a non-technology thing. In my old job, I got to travel a lot because I had international teams. The team was made up of different cultures and different ways of looking at things, which allowed them to work together in a way that just a U.S., Swedish or Indian team wouldn’t have been able to do by themselves. That kind of long distance collaboration is exciting and it’s getting easier to do with the technology we have now.

What has been the hardest part of working in the technology? 

The pace of change. I started in the early 90s and this was at a time that PCs were just coming into play. Then, we were just adding PCs into the work place. And now, we’re going completely mobile. It’s not just that the technology is changing, but the way society changes with it is pretty turbulent. We are moving into this knowledge revolution and technology is such a critical part of that. How do you stay on top of that change all the time? You have to be constantly reinventing yourself. There are some people in technology like network admins that have been very constant with that. But, when you get in a management type of role you can’t be constant or you get left behind. You have to try to predict those things and do strategy in the environment. It is extremely difficult.

This feature blog post is part of our #OSUWomenInTech campaign. Hear more stories from female leaders involved in technology at Ohio State by following us on Twitter @TechHubOSU(link is external) and stopping in store to see our digital signage features. Are you interested in getting involved with technology? Don’t forget to check out our Student Developer Kit(link is external) and student project development grant opportunities.