Shawn Purvis is the new Sector Vice President and General Manager for the Cyber division of Northrop Grumman’s Information Systems sector and has been with the organization since 2012.
WashingtonExec interviewed Purvis on her new position, the challenges ahead and the changing landscape of cybersecurity. Purvis also discussed CyberPatriot and the importance of mentorship with WashingtonExec.
WashingtonExec: What makes you excited about your new position, and how has the first six months on the job been going?
Shawn Purvis: I continue to be energized by the opportunity, and I am always impressed by the skill and dedication of the men and women of Northrop Grumman to partner with our government customers to secure some of the most high-risk networks and infrastructures in the world.
We are an increasingly cyber-dependent society. Vulnerabilities in our information infrastructure pose significant threats to our economic stability and national security. As a leading provider of full-spectrum cyber solutions to the federal government, we know first-hand how the threats are increasing in sophistication and numbers, and we view each threat as having an impact to our national security.
The past six months has been a busy time for me and my colleagues in cyber. As a matter of fact, just last week we announced the establishment of our first ever Advanced Cyber Technology Center, our newest “center of excellence.” This game-changing approach leverages technology investments and world-class expertise from every corner of the company to offer innovative and affordable solutions to the most challenging cyber problems of the future, combining our own internal intellectual property with an array of IP from key partners across the government, industry and academic communities.
Northrop Grumman has been fighting cyber threats for more than 30 years, and the challenge is essentially the same: we are developing innovative cyber solutions for our customers to operate more efficiently without sacrificing performance or the mission.
WashingtonExec: What are your day-to-day responsibilities? What drew you to the role? What do you find most challenging about your role?
Shawn Purvis: The division is responsible for delivering full-spectrum cyber solutions to intelligence, defense, federal, state and international customers. As a sector vice president and general manager of this division, I oversee all aspects of the cyber business: strategy, growth, talent recruitment, customer relationships and program execution.
On a daily basis, I’m discussing technology and innovation with our strategy and technology leadership, meeting with customers about their business, or speaking with employees at lunchtime events … every day is different and offers a new challenge. One of the things I love about my role is that I have the privilege to work with amazing people who have dedicated their careers to delivering the highest quality of technical solutions to our customers. One thing that is consistent from day to day is the solid engagement of our employees across the business to keep our customers ahead of the threats and keep our nation safe.
WashingtonExec: What do you foresee as your largest challenge during the coming months? How will the landscape of cyber security look in five years? What is the market/landscape trending toward right now? Where do you see it going?
Shawn Purvis: Our customers don’t have the luxury of not achieving their objectives — in nearly all cases, they need to complete their missions whether they are providing government services, supporting the warfighter, or acquiring and analyzing intelligence. And they generally need to accomplish the same or more with fewer resources.
At the same time, cyberattacks are increasingly more sophisticated in terms of volume, velocity and variety — and it is critical that we help them stay ahead of these threats. Northrop Grumman has been fighting cyber threats for more than 30 years, and the challenge is essentially the same: we are developing innovative cyber solutions for our customers to operate more efficiently without sacrificing performance or the mission.
WashingtonExec: Did you have any mentors or individuals who deeply influenced who you are or your decision to stand at the head of where you are now?
Shawn Purvis: I learned the characteristics of leadership from my parents. Both my parents worked at IBM, and they encouraged me to pursue my studies in technology. I love the technical industry, our desire to find a better way and to challenge the status quo, to achieve that which was once deemed impossible.
My mother in particular provided a phenomenal role model for me and continues to have profound influence on my life. She worked her way up through leadership positions at a time when there weren’t very many women of color in the field. In fact, throughout my career, I have found there are few role models for women and minorities in information technology. It challenged me to do my best every day; there are no second chances at a first impression.
I have learned to remain flexible yet disciplined, to be accountable to my team, to lead with passion and to be a champion for diversity. I enjoy the challenge of developing technical solutions that save the lives of the men and women who have dedicated them to protecting this great country.
WashingtonExec: What would you say has changed most substantially in the business landscape since when you first began until now?
Shawn Purvis: The most significant change today is the speed and methods at which our adversaries attack our systems. Technical solutions must do more than evolve – they must be disruptive, innovative solutions to solve the most complex technical challenges that our customers are facing not just today but tomorrow. I am proud of how Northrop Grumman brings together the best-of-breed technologies to meet these challenges head-on.
In addition, the need for experienced cyber professionals and what is being done to build tomorrow’s cyber workforce is an area that Northrop Grumman embraces. There are simply not enough qualified cyber professionals to fill demand worldwide. At Northrop Grumman, we are committed to investing in and inspiring students to pursue this field and are supporting several initiatives across the globe to help build the much-needed pipeline.
We’ve partnered with the Business Higher Education Forum and the University System of Maryland (UMD) to initiate several programs, one of which we just launched last month, the Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students (ACES) laboratory, to support UMD’s ACES program, the nation’s first ever cybersecurity honors program. It is designed to build the cyber leadership of tomorrow.
We’re also working with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County on the Cyber Scholars program to advance underrepresented populations, women and minorities, to enter the profession. Related, we are working with UMBC to incubate cyber start-up companies built around emerging technologies and leveraging graduate students to help mature those technologies.
But effective education, influencing the academic and career path for cyber professionals, really starts earlier. We have also partnered with the Air Force Association on the high school and even middle school level to get students involved in CyberPatriot, the national youth cyber education program. This is a program I am really proud of: the CyberPatriot competition has grown by 137 percent since we signed on in 2010, reaching more than 250,000 students, with more than 1,500 teams competing nationwide this past school year. Also, just this year, we partnered with Cyber Security Challenge UK to launch a first-ever “CyberCenturion” high school competition in the United Kingdom.
WashingtonExec: What are your thoughts on the collection of data through almost everything we do, from frequent shoppers cards to healthcare and education technology, combined with the public’s desire to maintain their privacy? Will the two be able to strike a balance?
Shawn Purvis: As I’ve said, we are an increasingly cyber-dependent society. Vulnerabilities in our information infrastructure can pose significant threats. Everything we do, the way we learn, the way we communicate, how we transact business and how we operate on the battlefield, produces and depends on digital information. Ensuring trust and resilience is critical, now more than ever.
Looking ahead to 2020, society will employ even more devices that connect to systems and to each other, as the “Internet of Things” brings many benefits, but also creates unknown vulnerabilities. Threats can occur at any point along the chain, so the message, and what is driving “the next big thing” in cyber is all about being predictive, proactive and resilient.
WashingtonExec: What is something most people don’t know about you?
Shawn Purvis: I am the mother to three amazing young men. They are brilliant, if I do say so my myself! They were born into a world where technology was a part their everyday lives from the time they were young children. Creating cyber resilient solutions that protect our government, our IT infrastructures and our way of life is a goal I am passionate about so that my boys will have the power of technology with the assurance of cyber resiliency built in to their everyday networks.