Sam King is Executive Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development at Veracode. In this role, Ms. King oversees product management, pre-sales engineering, corporate development, M&A activities and building strategic technology partnerships. Ms. King is a recognized speaker at industry events including RSA, Gartner and InfoSecurity. She was recognized by Mass High Tech as a Woman to Watch, an award that honors contributions of women in technology and life sciences.
She joined Veracode from VeriSign, formerly Guardent, where she led the development of security as a service offerings and held product management, product marketing, professional services and customer relationship management responsibilities. Prior to VeriSign, Ms. King served as program manager for i-cube/Razorfish.
Ms. King received her Masters of Science and Engineering in Computer and Information Science from University of Pennsylvania. She received her BS in Computer Science from University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, where she earned the prestigious Charles Babbage Award, awarded to the student with the highest academic achievement in the graduating class.
Ms. King serves as a mentor for the Boston Product Management Association and is an executive member of the working mothers group in her town. She loves to travel and enjoys rock climbing and yoga.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Change has been a constant in my life. I grew up in India with my parents' jobs requiring them to move frequently. I found myself in a new school every couple of years with a different social and academic environment to adjust to. Later, I earned my undergraduate degree in Scotland and then, moved to Philadelphia for my post-graduate studies and moved again for my first job to Cambridge, MA. Early in my career I was a consultant and worked with customers in different industry sectors, different countries, each looking to solve a different set of problems. I learned to embrace change in all its richness. It taught me to value diversity. It continuously pushed me out of my comfort zone. I realized that if you can deal with change in a way that helps you grow, then you can lead others through it. It also gave me the self-confidence to be a change agent and disrupt the status quo when that is what is needed. I believe this is an important quality for a leader particularly in today's fast paced environment. I also realized that regardless of where you live, what company you work for, or your rank in an organization, there are a few factors that matter universally. People want to be listened to, have both their problems and their aspirations understood and ultimately they want to achieve. By recognizing this in those that work for us and those that we serve we can create an environment for them to fully realize their potential.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Veracode?
Veracode helps enterprises go further faster by securing the software that all businesses increasingly rely on for strategic differentiation and competitive advantage. We are at the intersection of the world of software and the world of cybersecurity. I started my career on the enterprise software side which gave me visibility into how software comes into being, what drives software developers and the forces that shape the enterprise software sector. I transitioned to enterprise security in 2000 and was exposed to the wonderful and intriguing world of cybersecurity. I learned the differences and the similarities between enterprise software and enterprise security. This shared understanding of these two technology areas, has been very helpful in my tenure at Veracode because we seek to bring a higher level of security to the software that runs businesses.
Another important lesson I learned, early in my career is that great technology alone does not ensure market success. I saw innovative products suffer from a language barrier of sorts and fail to gain adoption amongst their user base. Technology fulfills on its potential only when it is utilized by those it is intended for. In order to ensure success, technologists must emerge from the jargon and complexities that are their comfort zone and connect with users in more accessible ways. I look to provide this translation between the brilliant minds inventing our technology and those that need to solve a business problem with it.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Veracode?
The first few years of my tenure at Veracode were perhaps the most challenging. I joined the company in 2006 soon after our Series A funding. We were pre-revenue and didn't even have trial customers to speak of. It was clear that we were early to market and there wasn't a general understanding, let alone a sense of urgency, associated with our chosen area of software security. I learned that shaping a market and finding a buyer when no one was ready is really hard. There was a lot of trial and error in the early days and we got things wrong before we got them right. This was frustrating but taught us the value of sticking together as a team, not being afraid to experiment and learning from our mistakes as well as our accomplishments. I was further tested when about two years into my tenure at Veracode I gave birth to my second child and returned from maternity leave. I was taking on a new role which required me to be more market facing, and further develop our strategy working with the executive team and industry analysts. I was simultaneously excited and nervous. Being a mom to two young kids while trying to establish Veracode's credentials as a serious contender in the security market was a challenging undertaking.
One of the most exhilarating moments for me was when the industry analyst firm Gartner released their Magic Quadrant report and placed Veracode alongside industry giants like IBM and HP, in the leader's quadrant for the very first time in 2010. I had been responsible for making our case and it was such a validation of the vision and perseverance of the team. It made all the sleepless nights, juggling kids and work (oftentimes inelegantly) seem worth it. In general, one of the most gratifying things for me has been to witness the mainstreaming of cybersecurity and software security in recent years. Cocktail party conversations about my line of work have become easier and Washington, Hollywood and my parents finally all understand what Veracode does and that feels good.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Don't be deterred by the jargon and complexity that the technology and cybersecurity sectors seem mired in. I was a novice in security in 2000 and found myself immediately thrown into customer facing situations. What I didn't have by way of domain expertise I made up for with good listening, communication and collaboration skills. I carved out a role as a security program manager where my job wasn't to be the expert but rather to make sure that the smart people in the organization delivered what customers needed. Over time, I developed the appropriate expertise and was able to transition into a strategy role and more directly influence the offerings of the company. You don't have to be an engineer or a technologist to excel in the technology industry. Ask yourself what you enjoy doing and what are your core strengths, then think of a role that fits those and pursue it with vigor.
Last but by no means least, don't be deterred by what unfortunately is a gender gap in the tech sector. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women made up only 26% of the computing workforce in 2013. While this can be attributed to many factors, what it really means is that your decision counts - don't let this small percentage become a self-reinforcing prophecy by not giving serious consideration to a career in this industry. We need you!
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
I have learned that there is no magic formula. Work hard and focus on outcomes. There is no substitute for perseverance but that alone doesn't ensure success. Have clarity of goal in mind and provide it to others. Routinely check to see whether you are moving in the right direction and course correct accordingly so you get to the desired outcome. Start with a high degree of personal accountability so that gives you the credibility and confidence to hold others accountable. Don't try to be perfect though - no one and nothing is. Don't fear failure - if you are doing something worth doing, the odds are it will take longer than you think and you won't get it right the first time. So be open to learning and changing and keep at it. Also, don't be afraid to ask for what you want.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I don't try to measure work/life balance over the course of every single day but rather over a period of time. Having awareness of when you are running a deficit particularly on the personal side is key so you can rebalance. I try to focus on the quality of time spent with my family rather than just the quantity. I think about simple ways to reconnect (a good game of Uno, a hike in the woods, sharing the worst knock/knock jokes ever) instead of waiting for the next big family vacation. I also make it a point to talk to my kids about what I am focused on at work, what kept me late in the office or why and where I traveled. I want them to know the 'working' part of the 'working mom' too. If I can convey to them the passion I have for what I do, hopefully it encourages them to pursue a line of work that they can get a high level of fulfillment from and make us feel connected even when we are not physically together.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I have had the opportunity to work with many talented women and men over the years. One observation I have made, generally more with respect to women is that there is a gap between their degree of competence and their self-confidence and assertiveness. So often I come across women who are better than their own image of themselves. This is related to what some experts have described as the 'imposter syndrome' - feeling inadequate and worrying that soon you will be found out. This is a big issue because it affects how women carry themselves at work, what they feel they are entitled to and consequently what they ask for. Sometimes I also sense a conflict in their mind between being a team player and personal ambition. Asking for a management position or a lead role is not contradictory to being a team player. If you have what it takes then by just playing along and not asking for that leadership role or agitating for change when it is needed you are actually holding the organization and yourself back.
My coaching to women is to make their self-confidence and assertiveness catch up to their competence and then increase their level of expertise and rinse and repeat. Also, no change worth talking about ever happened without the talking part so have a voice.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have had some fantastic mentors both in my personal life and professionally. Starting with my parents, my dad taught me how to dream and my mom taught me how to execute. I learned that it takes both those elements in good measure to make progress. Professionally, I have been fortunate to work alongside people with impressive credentials who also recognized the importance of developing other people as a way to grow and strengthen the organization. The critical difference they made was to address the issue of self-doubt - when I thought I could not do something they made me see why I could and served as a catalyst (basically, they helped me get past 'imposter syndrome' when I was experiencing it).
I also think that mentorship can be derived from the incidental contact we have every day with the people we work with if we are open to feedback and new ways of thinking about problems. One other suggestion I would have is to try and serve as a mentor to someone else. I have done this for the last few years and feel I have learned more from my mentees than I might have delivered to them.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many remarkable women on the world stage as well as in my own life and professional circle that this list is quite long. Let me narrow it down a little by starting with the one closest to home - my mother. She had an illustrious career in her chosen field of civil services, which was quite male dominated, and she broke through many glass ceilings. Having such a strong and positive role model made the concept of women in leadership and achieving outstanding results, seem totally normal and therefore a more accessible path for me to follow personally. On the world stage, I admire women who pursue their own ambitions while making a difference in the world around them even when it comes with some degree of controversy associated with it. Without regard to the politics, Hillary Clinton is one such example for me. When I see women who put themselves out there, push past the narrative that is woven on them and make their own story that inspires me.
What do you want Veracode to accomplish in the next year?
I would like to see Veracode build on the market momentum we have by expanding the benefits of our technology to new customers and new geographies, all while pushing the bounds of innovation in web and mobile application security.
I would also like to see us increase the mindshare and urgency associated with application security as compared to other areas of cybersecurity. Software applications present companies with unbounded opportunity but also present an immense area of risk if left unaddressed or under-addressed from a security perspective. The pace of application security must keep pace with the exponential growth of software. Traditional ways in which companies have defended themselves in the past, by focusing on securing their network infrastructures rather than their web and mobile applications, are no longer sufficient to address this new world order. I would like to see Veracode lead the market and our customers on this journey.