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First Female White House CIO On Cybersecurity Talent

First Female White House CIO On Cybersecurity Talent

Julie Kantor

This week we caught up with Theresa Payton for our thought leadership series on Women in STEM, Mentoring, and Sponsorship. Theresa served as the first female Chief Information Officer at the White House, overseeing IT operations for President George W. Bush and the 3,000+ members of the Executive Office of the President. Currently, Theresa is CEO of Fortalice Solutions, an industry-leading security consulting company, and co-founder of Dark Cubed, a cybersecurity product company. Most recently, she served as Head of Intelligence on the CBS show, Hunted

Julie Kantor @ Twomentor: Can you first share your fascinating journey as CIO of the Bush White House to Cybersecurity Entrepreneur?

Theresa Payton: I truly believe that this career chose me. After graduate school, I worked at Barnett Bank, Inc., which is now part of Bank of America, and then worked in technology roles supporting customers at First Union, now Wells Fargo, and Bank of America. And then the White House called.

I had recently returned from maternity leave, and my assistant said I needed to return a call to the White House because they were interested in including me in a list of candidates for the CIO position. I didn’t have any connections at the White House, so I assumed this was a social engineering attack. After a little convincing, I called them back, and in a joking manner, I said, “I heard President Bush is looking for a CIO and I somehow ended up on the list, even though I don’t know anyone there. I need you to validate that this is legitimate.”

The person on the other end instructed me to visit WhiteHouse. gov, call the main number and ask for John. Thinking this was a joke, I was completely surprised when John actually answered the phone and

I ended up apologizing profusely. From there, I went through the entire process and ended up becoming the first female CIO for the White House, which was an incredible honor to be able to serve the country. This call is something we both look back on and laugh about to this day.

Julie: What is the message you’d like to leave with our female readers about being a woman in cybersecurity?

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November/December 2017