Behind the curtain: the downside of An InfoSec Life | #1

Rick McElroy Recounts The Stories That No One Is Telling.

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By Selena Templeton, host of DiverseIT

Recently, my editor-in-chief forwarded me an email asking if I’d like to interview Rick McElroy, a security strategist at Carbon Black, for ITSPmagazine’s podcast and column “An InfoSec Life.” Rick had written a blog post for us called "Cybersecurity Ain’t Easy. Let’s Talk About It!" in which he discussed his own experience with defender fatigue – an industry-wide phenomenon that not a lot of people are talking about.

At first I wondered why they thought I would be a good interviewer for An InfoSec Life, as my column and podcast is “Diverse IT” (about the lack of diversity in the tech and InfoSec industry) and then I read Rick’s article, saw the words “depression” and “anxiety” and thought, oh, now I know why they thought of me!

All kidding aside, this subject – that, as Rick put it, “the InfoSec life is killing me” – is an important one, not just for those in this industry, but for many people who are driven professionally to the exclusion and detriment of their personal life and their health. For some people, they just get hooked on doing work they love, and for others it turns into workaholism, both of which are a way to avoid dealing with uncomfortable situations or feelings.

So this podcast grew out of a desire to make this conversation public and keep it going. It’s all too easy to become so driven by your work in InfoSec that your personal life, your relationships and your mental health take a real hit – to the point of depression and anxiety, or worse. One of the big problems is that no one is talking about it: the difficulty of the job, the extreme stress that you are under every day, and the negative toll it takes on you. So Rick was gracious enough to hop on a call with me to talk about his personal experience with this topic and dig deeper into areas that deserve more attention, like the imposter syndrome and the expectation that you are “perfect” and know everything, the fear that any work failure would mean an end to your career in IT or cybersecurity, the industry expectations like working all night or being expected to perform after just 3 hours of sleep or juggling one-too-many projects at a time because “hey, you’re the expert” or keeping the caffeine and alcohol industries in business.

We wanted to have this conversation to let other people know that they are not alone, that there’s nothing wrong with them for their inability to be supermen and -women, and to inspire them to have this conversation with someone, whether that be a friend, a colleague, a manager, your family, or even a therapist. We wanted to help defenders identify that they have a problem or challenge and provide some suggestions and resources as first steps they can take to help themselves achieve a work-life balance.

As an infosec professional, as a leader, as a man, and as a former U.S. Marine, I think Rick’s talking about this will be really helpful for so many people and hopefully open the door for others to start being more open and honest about what’s going on with them.

Because Rick and I wound up chatting for over an hour, I decided to cut this podcast interview into three bite-sized segments. I encourage you to listen to all of them, in order, because it’s the story of his journey, but I also want to point out that at the end, we list a whole lot of advice, suggestions and resources for the audience to get started on their own journey to help themselves and not let the InfoSec life kill them.

So without further ado, please take a listen to my conversation with Rick McElroy for An InfoSec Life on ITSPmagazine.

Enjoyed part 1? Great! Have a listen to Part 2