Sasha: Welcome back to our Women in Tech Leadership Series. I spent some time with Ellen Sundra, our VP of Systems Engineering for the Public Sector team, discussing her approach to mentorship, balance and hiring for culture.
Ellen, you’ve been getting more involved in mentorship programs. What’s been driving that?
Ellen: It started with needing more women in cyber and having a daughter and nieces. I recently attended the AFCEA Women’s Conference in San Diego. There was a fantastic Chief Master Sergeant, Diane Slazinik, an award recipient who said we need more female mentors that are imperfect, that are willing to show how they got to the top, but that they have vulnerabilities and they’re human. And I thought, you know I’m good at being imperfect – this is a job for me! It inspired me to get more into mentorship and show that normal people can make their way up the ladder and really give back.
Sasha: You travel all the time. How do you balance it all?
Ellen: I’ve learned that balance is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s just no way you can achieve balance on a daily basis, especially when you’re on the road as much as I am. So I look at balance as a long-term plan. When I’m home, I make quality time with my kids, with my family and for myself (important to toss that into the mix). But it’s long-term balance across the board, not just on a daily basis.
Sasha: That’s important. When people try to balance on a day-to-day basis, it can feel really overwhelming. Did you say you spent eight days sleeping in your own bed over the last three months?
Ellen: Ha, yes. There was some vacation in there, but it’s tough. And it’s why when I am home, I am 100% there, electronics off. The family is spending quality time together and we try to do things outside of the home. It’s a good opportunity for the kids to get the real me, instead of just a quick hour of mom before they go to bed.
Sasha: You’re obviously a great mentor, but also an amazing leader. I understand it’s been four years since anyone has left your team?
Ellen: I’m really fortunate, I have a fantastic team across the board. We’ve built more of a team atmosphere with family as an underlying message. We really do feel like we’re a family and we have each other’s back. Just recently, for the eclipse, one of the engineers on my team who lives out in Nashville, which is part of the path of totality, invited all of us out, everyone on the team plus our families. We got to spend quality time, not just with work, but also with our family members. Our kids got to play together. It really builds this great culture that we have each other’s back. It’s a work family that we all really cherish.
Sasha: That’s beautiful and it seems like when you guys need help at work or to take some personal time, you can share that burden with each other. I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine. It’s rare, but seems like an important key.
Is it possible to scale that kind of camaraderie across a growing organization?
Ellen: It is difficult as we grow, especially in the last year, ForeScout’s really boomed. My philosophy is: start with the hiring process. The qualities my team looks for in hiring focuses more on personality and culture fit. Obviously as an engineer we want to make sure there’s a baseline technical knowledge. But for me, coming from a training background, I truly believe I can teach the technical data, but I can’t necessarily teach the personality. So we start with culture when we’re hiring, making sure we have the right person for the spot. And as a team, we help them grow and learn from a technical perspective. It creates that bond amongst the team.
Sasha: Wonderful, awesome advice. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.