The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 11, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place live, in-person Nov. 30.
Next is Cybersecurity Industry Executive of the Year (Private Company) finalist Wen Masters, who’s vice president of cyber technologies at MITRE. Here, she talks key achievements, career advice and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2021 / 2022?
I joined MITRE in the spring of 2021 to direct our corporate cyber strategy and serve as a champion for MITRE-wide cybersecurity capabilities. And, while MITRE has been a leader in cybersecurity for 50-plus years, the tech industry mainly knew us for our threat-informed defense and supplying the government with the vital information to thwart network intruders.
In the past year, I’ve redirected our cyber efforts, established our Cyber Infrastructure Protection Innovation Center, strengthened our focus on cyber protection of critical infrastructure, and expanded into four key cyber areas:
- Integrate threat-informed defense and risk-informed defense.
- Empower dynamic resiliency at scale.
- Protect mission and critical infrastructure from cyber-attacks.
- Enable coordinated kinetic and cyber operations.
Each of those areas now has its own innovation center and can harness the power and knowledge of more than 1,200 cyber experts. Working together, these centers address the most difficult cyber threats facing the nation. They are helping government and private industry secure critical infrastructure and defend against online theft and exploits by hostile adversaries.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
At MITRE, we have STEM and internship programs that reach from freshmen in high school through college graduates, providing enriching experiences for students and getting them interested not only in cybersecurity careers and but working for the public good.
One of our programs, Cyber Futures, partners with historically Black and minority-serving colleges and universities to attract top students who express an interest in cybersecurity. The internship includes education about cybersecurity work at MITRE and technical skill building and allows students to work with MITRE teams on cyber projects that support national security. We launched the program last summer at MITRE and doubled the size to 150 Cyber Futures interns this past summer.
For cyber professionals just starting their careers, we have a 2-year intensive track. At MITRE, mastery comes through collaboration with a diverse team of cyber professionals who mentor and challenge you in your own pursuit of excellence.
Solving different kinds of problems for different government agencies helps these new cyber professionals understand how their solutions fit in context of real-world scenarios with a breadth of capability areas. They rotate through projects working with multiple government agencies on a diverse set of cybersecurity problems, take classes in our cybersecurity learning path, collaborate with a cohort of other early-career cyber experts and are mentored by world-class cyber experts.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
When innovating in technology, the path to success often entails many failed trials. An effective way to overcome such challenges is by applying scientific methods. Question conventional wisdom while taking risks. Form new hypotheses or approaches and try them out.
Like all scientific endeavors, seldom does the first set of new hypotheses or approaches work out as planned. Objectively analyzing what assumptions were used often sheds light to possible causes of the failure and leads to improved hypotheses and approaches. Timely, persistent applications of such scientific methods eventually lead to success.
But note, not all failure is due to technology. Timing for introducing a technology is very important for its successful adoption. In those cases, building a coalition of the willing helps to create a community of early implementers.