There are many people who always knew it was their destiny to follow a certain career path. However, my career path has not been as straightforward. From a young farmer living in a village in India and passionate about fighter jets to Head of the ICS Cybersecurity Practice at Siemens UK, I learned a lot while traveling the world, facing new challenges, making new friends and adapting every day.
From A Fighter-Jet Dream To Cyber Range In Action, All By Chance!
There are many people who always knew it was their destiny to become a programmer, a doctor, a teacher or a scientist. However, my journey has not been as straightforward. I had passion for flying fighter jets but got rejected, I hated coding computers but ended up in a cyber range! Sometimes shattered, but enjoyed the life’s journey full of experience and learnings.
When I was little, I set my heart on becoming a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force (IAF) to defend and serve my country. That was the only goal and no fallback option. I exploited all the allowed number of chances in the IAF’s rigorous selection process but failed very time. A simple graduate among millions of unemployed youths in India, my dream of ruling the skies was shattered and my options were limited. The Information Technology (IT) boom around 2000 was the easiest option at that time but admittedly not my favorite one. I am and always was interested in adventurous activities and outdoor sports and the idea of sitting indoors in front of computers all day long doing programming was not my thing. But now, after working in the cybersecurity field for 20 years, I feel proud to be part of a cyber defense community that protects critical national infrastructures (CNI), companies, economies, and societies around the world from emerging cyber threats. And now I don’t mind sitting in front of computers every day at all – how ironic! In my cybersecurity career, I have worked with numerous organizations in India, Canada, the USA and the UK, many of them operating in the CNI sectors such as electricity, water, natural gas, transportation and communications. The best part that I enjoy is visiting the customers’ power plants (hydro dams, nuclear plants, etc.), wind farms, substations, control centers and manufacturing plants for security design and implementation, risk and vulnerabilities assessments, penetration testing, incident response and forensics. This is fun, great experience and a great pride to be part of the CNI protection community.
An Unconventional Career Opens Doors Worldwide
Following the IT career, I completed master’s degree (M.Sc.) in computer science from Kurukshetra University (near New Delhi) in India. However, coming from a village background, where we did not have access to English learning opportunities in schools, we grew up studying in Hindi. Learning English at the university level was a tough challenge. Additionally, in the early 2000s, cybersecurity was not formally taught in colleges and universities, so we learned by experience and self-study. Opportunities at leading companies, including Siemens, Algonquin Power, Cummins, IBM, PwC and HCL Technologies, helped me to gain hands on experience, opportunities to solve customers’ challenges and lead interdisciplinary teams during cyber incidents. I specifically enjoy working with industrial control systems (ICS) deployed in many CNI sectors. After working in India for about six years, I decided to explore global opportunities and moved to the USA, a completely different world compared to India at that time. The excitement from visiting the city of Chicago, my first port of entry in the USA, is still fresh and live in my memories. After several years in the USA and great experience, I seized an interesting opportunity to permanently immigrate to Canada, an amazing country to work, live and enjoy the life. I am now a proud Indian-Canadian citizen. I firmly believe that out-of-the-box thinking, problem-solving attitude, willingness to take on new challenges and being persistent always deliver personal and professional growth and satisfaction. This year (January 2020), I accepted an exciting role and decided to move to the UK to lead and expand Siemens’ ICS cybersecurity business. Living and working in different countries has helped me to explore different cultures, make new friends, learn from their challenges, be more empathetic and resilient and adapt to new environments.
An Artist Of Survival Not Only In Professional Life
I grew up in a small village in India where we used to do farming (growing crops, dairy, etc.) and had minimal access to the necessities we might call “given” or “normal” like clean drinking water, electricity and doctors, etc. Taking risks to survive and grow was a natural part of our lives. We may have cried and complained at that time but all the hardships we go through in our lives only makes us tough and innovative. Back then in our childhood days, we used to ride big bicycles with a technique called “Kainchi” in Hindi, which means “scissors” in English. As seats of the adult sized bikes were not adjustable and our parents could not afford new bikes for us, we invented our own half-pedal technique to ride these big bikes. We also learned to swim in a weird way by holding on to buffaloes’ tails in deep and large ponds which were usually used to store drinking water for buffaloes. Playing sports (cricket, kabbadi, swimming, etc.) was fun and passion that fills memories with joy even today.
A Milestone In Cybersecurity, A Company With Unlimited Opportunities
In 2017, I joined Siemens Energy Management (now Smart Infrastructure) in Canada to set up a Global Center of Cybersecurity Competency for Critical Infrastructure Protection. It was challenging but also very exciting as I was the first cybersecurity employee hired by the company to set up and drive the cyber business in Canada.
The initiative involved studying the global and Canadian ICS cybersecurity market size, growth opportunities for Siemens, customers’ cyber security challenges, evolving regulatory compliance requirements and developing a cybersecurity business case, services portfolio, revenue projections, hiring and training people, leading sales and market development, etc. The immediate and most challenging task at hand was make sense of the business case and secure head quarters/executive management buy-in. Support from the local leadership in Canada, including the Siemens Canada CEO Mr. Faisal Kazi, was instrumental and crucial for the launch of the Global Center of Cybersecurity Competency for Critical Infrastructure Protection. It was of course a team effort and the proud moment for all of us was when our global CEO Joe Kaeser came to Canada to inaugurate the Global Center of Cybersecurity Competency.
Still The Same, But Different!
Today, I am honored to lead the ICS Cybersecurity Practice for Siemens Smart Infrastructure in the UK & Ireland. However, not everything in my life has changed. I still feel connected to my roots in India and the cultures I grew up and lived in. I am fortunate be able to support great social and charity organization including “Habitat for Humanity” and “Save the Children”. And I still love playing cricket, the most popular sport in the Indian subcontinent and England. I enjoy sky diving, and I am always seeking for adventures opportunities. Do I still miss the fighter jet cockpit? Yes! It has remained an unfulfilled dream but the life moves on. I am thankful for the great opportunity to work and live in the UK, and I am glad to use our teams’ passion and experience to not only grow our cybersecurity business but also protect our national critical infrastructure. The best part about cybersecurity is that we never get bored: Cybersecurity is always evolving, and it uncovers new challenges every day that keeps our days refreshing and us motivated. The Siemens leadership team is visionary and customer focussed and provides a conducive work environment for growth, innovation, respect and encourages ownership culture. Our people make an excellent team to work with and almost every day, we encounter and solve new and unique problems. Plus, it fills our team with pride knowing that we can really make a difference to our societies and countries by protecting our critical assets and infrastructure for sustained electricity supply, uninstructed transportation, secure communication and ensure health and safety. After working in the cybersecurity field for quite some time, I firmly believe that our future lives will be greatly dependent on technological advancement and use advanced computing and communication, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. The new digitalized and hyper-connected world with Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and cloud applications will expand the cyber threats landscape and increase opportunities for our adversaries. To counter the emerging cyber threats, organizations across all critical sectors and international governments need to partner to secure their CNI without creating an environment of fear and panic. Together we can defeat our adversaries and defend our nations, economies, and civilizations !!!
Read more inspiring stories of our Digital Minds and explore career opportunities like Sanjay’s here: www.siemens.com/careers/digitalminds