Welcome to the second edition of our Customer Spotlight series, where we share insights and lessons learned from security leaders. Next up is Hayley Bly, Manager of Cybersecurity Threat Defense Operations at Nielsen.

If you would have asked teenage Hayley where she’d end up after gradation, she probably would have told you “medical school.” As the daughter of a developer and a technical writer, she was always exposed to IT, but really had no plans of pursuing that path until she ended up in a computer programming class her senior year of high school. “I fell in love with it, even though I didn’t want to,” Hayley told us. “I was set on being a software developer–I knew that’s what I wanted to do, so I had to change all of my applications for college to be in computer science.”

Walk us through your career journey…what’s your story, how’d you get to where you are today?

I interned as a software developer throughout college and joined Nielsen right after graduation through their early leadership development program.​

When I showed up on day one, I found myself as a cyber security project manager…and while it wasn’t even close to what I wanted to do, it ended up being a great experience because I loved the people and the passion, and the work of cybersecurity. However, I still wanted to be technical and wasn’t being fulfilled in that capacity, so I left cyber to be a developer at Amazon Web Services (AWS) for a while. ​

What I found was that I loved being technical but missed the people and the type of work in cyber – so I made my way back, and I was fortunate to have a manager at the time who helped me mesh the two together, so I could achieve my goal of being both technical and in cyber. I’ve been on the team ever since, and while our team has evolved over time, so has my role – so when our company split, it kind of happened organically that I moved into this leadership position. ​

Tell us about that transition… what was it like moving from an individual contributor to manager? ​

I was nervous at first… not only was I the only woman on the team, but also many years younger. I would go back and forth in my head trying to guess what others were thinking – but luckily, throughout the years of working with everyone, I had earned their respect and learned that many were grateful for someone they knew and trusted and worked well with, to lead the team (as opposed to a stranger).​

So jumping into the role, I tried to have 1-on-1 conversations with everyone on the team about how they felt and what they wanted to see from me ASAP, doing what I could to make small but immediate changes along the way. But honestly, I’ve been blown away and I’ve had so much fun with this new dynamic – it’s given me new and different perspectives I didn’t have as an individual contributor, and even opened my eyes to the things my team members were doing that I didn’t have insight into before. It’s been really fun, and I’m just, super impressed by the team every day.​

So what does “a day in the life” look like for you now?​

Our team is made up of 3 towers – network, data security and endpoint. We’re the engineers of cybersecurity that implement the internal security technologies like our Anti-virus, SIEM, etc. – partnering with our business to make sure everything is securely implemented and managing all of the technologies in­volved in doing that.​

My day-to-day used to be on the SIEM and data side of things. As the architect, making sure everything was operating smoothly, but also strategizing for how we could improve all of our technologies in that category for the future of Nielsen cyber. Now, my role has expanded to cover all of the technologies on the team – everything from supporting the engineers and work that needs to get done, to being their voice and maintaining the relationships that our team has with other stakeholders in the company. From Active Directory to Network Infrastructure to Desktop Engineering…everyone that we need on our side to get work done.​

A big part of my role is helping to clear roadblocks for everyone on the team that is a subject matter expert in what they’re getting done, and just enabling them to work without obstacles. The other part of it is still strategy work, on a larger scale. Things like understanding our current capabilities and figuring out where we could improve the use of existing technologies that we have – so, getting more out of what we’re paying for and evaluating things like what technologies we need to get to our desired state in security or even deciding what technologies we need to get rid of as well, that aren’t adding value to the team. ​

And…I always stepped up and did a little bit of this kind of work, as an individual contributor on the team. I was that person our management and leadership could look to, to step up and support things like that. I think that’s why it was natural to step into the manager position of this team.​

What’s the biggest objective on your team’s plate right now? ​

Our biggest initiative really is ensuring a successful split between the previous Nielsen, to (now) Nielsen Media and Nielsen IQ. We’ve used this an an opportunity to start over in a sense – an opportunity to build a better network, implement existing technologies in a better way. ​

​One of the major challenges through the split, at least for cybersecurity or any central function of Nielsen, is that we were not an “obvious function” that had a clear designation to Media or IQ. Security supports all aspects of the business, so we essentially had to split our team in half. ​

​In splitting the company, and our resources, we’ve got double the work and half the people, which challenged us to do more work with less. We had to get creative. It’s been a lot of work and it’s not gone perfectly, but I’m extremely proud of where we are today given how much work we saw ahead of us when we first announced the split.

Not to mention this was all during a global pandemic… ​

Yes…it was very interesting for sure. And I was also taking on a new role in the middle of that, where I was previously only responsible for my technologies…to now being responsible for overseeing the work our entire team is doing to split all of our technologies. Helping to define the scope and timelines and priorities was a big chunk of work, and I never really had a problem defining priority for myself when I was doing the work, so I think it’s an area I’ve been been successful in enabling my team with as well.

What about personal challenges you’ve faced as a new manager, or even as a female within your organization? ​

​Well there’s the obvious – a little bit of imposter syndrome, where I’ve doubted my own experience and knowledge. And I know that my age and gender plays into this, but also not being taken seriously by others. For example, getting onto a meeting and I’m in a position of authority to define a requirement, yet a peer from a team outside of security makes a comment like, “I’ll believe that when your boss tells me X” or “I’ll take that to heart when the CISO tells me X” – so little things like that have been a challenge, but a challenge in the aspect that I feel challenged to combat it. ​

​I set very high standards for myself, even outside of work – if I feel like I’m not on the best of terms with anyone, it weighs on me. So I feel like I’m constantly working to prove myself and improve relationships, regardless of whether the lack of respect or trust was warranted.​

​I do this by not backing down and letting my work speak for itself. I’m fortunate that I’ve also always had the support of our Cyber team’s leadership and our CISO in particular, which gave me the confidence that I needed to work even harder to build those relationships outside of cyber. But it hasn’t been easy.

Talk to me about advocates…did you have a mentor or someone who helped coach you along the way? ​

​None of it has really been formal – but I’ve been so lucky to have had great managers within the cyber team and most have also been critical mentors to me and critical to my success at the company. ​

​I need to like the people I work with. I need to have a good relationships in order to be happy, to come to work in the morning and feel like I’m supported in doing my work. My first manager on the team, probably will always stick with me because he was my first mentor-type manager. ​

​He taught me that things like degrees, certifications – all of the things that we think we need in order to be successful – are not (needed). It doesn’t matter what’s on paper if your work can speak for itself. Given my age and gender, he was very real with me, and told me that I’d have to work that much harder to prove myself in the cybersecurity or technology industry. But as a relatively new person in the field, he always had my back as I was still working on that confidence, or any time I struggled with it.​

​And I think most importantly, he and every mentor that I’ve had, made me realize even further that it is up to me – no one else – to make my own success happen. That’s something I really took to heart and continue to think about as I make decisions about my career. ​

​Am I doing this because someone thinks I should do it? Or is this what I feel in my gut, what I want to do? Is this the right move for me?​

​So I couldn’t have done it without mentors over the last few years.​

How did you get to that point where realized what you wanted, and voice it? ​

​One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned throughout my career – I have no regrets, and I learned a lot from trying to please other people with career decisions or the work that I’m doing… but I recall the exact moment that it clicked with me… That I have to stop trying to please other people, because you know, they weren’t pleased. As I tried to do what they wanted, I was honestly not as successful.​

​It was kind of a culmination, over a 6-month period during my short time outside of cybersecurity. I felt like I had to fit a certain mold in order to receive approval or be considered for things like pay raises, promotions, even acknowledgement. I was extremely unhappy, and not getting great results or feedback because I knew that I was not doing or getting work done in a way that others wanted me to. One day, it just kind of clicked and I decided that I was so over trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be. I decided to pursue what I wanted. ​

​Again, so grateful for my manager (in cybersecurity) at the time, who literally fought by my side and helped create a role for me that didn’t even exist in the company. And that was the very beginning of real happiness in my career. I’ve been so happy that I was on the team ever since, because I was doing exactly what I wanted to do and that’s honestly where my success kicked off as well. Because I was happy, and more driven, and doing the career I knew I wanted to do.

That makes a lot of sense, and I’m sure that contributes to your management style as well – it’s the good and the bad that make you realize who you want to be for your team, and who you don’t want to be at the same time.​

Absolutely. ​

​I’ll be honest, when I took the role, I was still hesitant on whether or not I wanted to be a manager. I was pretty comfortable in the role I had before – I was a subject matter expert, I knew exactly what I was doing and everyone knew they could count on me to deliver on that. ​

​Taking on a new role, I knew I would be challenged and pushed outside of my comfort zone, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised and I’m thoroughly enjoying being a manager. I’ve had so much satisfaction out of things I never even thought of… like something as simple as going to bat for someone (to the best of my ability) for a bonus or pay raise or promotion or anything like that – and then sharing that information with them, is so exciting to me. ​