Ringside: Insider Interview With Heather Hinton

Welcome back to Ringside. For this edition, we venture into the world of security with RingCentral’s CISO Heather Hinton to mark cybersecurity awareness month. 

Hinton brings more than 30 years of experience in Information Technology (IT) and cybersecurity expertise to RingCentral. She led product design and architecture, development and sales and support for several organisations. Hinton was also a crucial part of bringing ‘Privacy by Design’ thinking into IBM. 

What initially piqued your interest in engineering and cybersecurity?

I grew up in a family where if you were a woman and good at science and math, you became a medical doctor. That was it. My view has always been that medical doctors focus on memorisation, but I like problem-solving. So I wanted to be an engineer. My father said if I went into engineering, he wouldn’t be pleased about it. That’s because he was in engineering himself and was unhappy – and he didn’t want that for me. So I didn’t tell my parents that I was in engineering until I finished my first year of university. 

When I look back at how I got into this career path, it was simply my love of solving problems. 

What advice would you give to people trying to get into STEM? Whether that’s a career change or new starters?

Problem-solving is something that anyone can do, whether you’re an engineer or a librarian. Everybody problem solves, but they don’t realise how much they’re doing it. 

I’m starting to wonder if focusing on STEM is the right vocabulary to use. You do things every day that are very similar to what workers in the ‘STEM’ industries do.

It’s about helping people realise the skills they already have to get them interested and loving it, regardless of what it’s called. Once they’re in, they can grow and become more technical, managerial, even storytelling or coding focused – whatever it is they want to do.

What’s been the driving force for where you are today?

I followed interesting things. If you said to me 20 years ago that you would be a cybersecurity leader, I would have said, “Hell no!”. But as I worked on one project, solved problems, and then saw a bigger picture, I found other problems to solve. I’ve always been following things that are interesting to me. When I do something I can’t get passionate about, I don’t do as good a job.

By only working on things that I felt passionate about, I developed a reputation for delivering on what I said I was going to do. That is how I ended up getting more interesting projects and responsibilities. I grew into the situation where now I’m the CISO at RingCentral. 

You have over 100 patents. What’s your favourite, and why?

There is one, and it’s humbling; it’s for what we call runtime account creation. If you go to a website you’ve never visited before and want to purchase something, you’re prompted to register or log in. Usually, there’s that ‘Login with Facebook’ or ‘Login with Google’ button. The technology underneath that is based on one of my patents.

We had no idea how companies would end up using this. It was fun when we wrote it because we had some interesting customer problems that we were solving.

As we were creating it, we were sitting there thinking about how large companies could use it. We didn’t predict businesses using it on the internet because the internet was not what it is today back then. The growth in the last 15 years is truly mind-blowing. What made this so exciting was how people and businesses use ideas in different contexts.

Ideas and patents are living things. Some of them grow up to be amazing, and some grow up to not be.

What career advice would you pass on to aspiring security leaders?

Two pieces of advice have been repeated by some of my key mentors the whole way through. One is “Do what you say and say what you do.” You’ve got to contribute if you say you will, and you can’t just stand there on the sides.

The other one is keeping a copy of my CV nearby. If you’re having a crappy day, you can pull it out, hide the name and remind yourself of all the skills you have.

For anyone who wants to go into security, especially in a leadership position, make your experience as broad as possible and work hard not to limit yourself. Click To Tweet

October is cybersecurity awareness month; read the latest tips and RingCentral’s plans for the future:

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Samantha is RingCentral’s Content Specialist for EMEA Marketing. Before joining the business, she held various roles in content, public relations and communications. She has worked with companies across industries including education technology, marketing and advertising, connected home, telecoms and publishing.
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