The VP for Cyber Defense at Fidelity on what matters for building a successful career

December 4, 2023 | Emilia Chiscop-Head, PhD

Stephen McOwen, VP of Cyber Defense at Fidelity Investments met with the students in the Duke Cybersecurity program

A big supporter of the Duke Cybersecurity master’s program, Steve McOwen, was a guest speaker of the weekly seminar.

Stephen McOwen

Stephen McOwen, VP of Cyber Defense at Fidelity Investments, one of the largest asset management companies in the world advised the students in the Duke Cybersecurity Master of Engineering program to open their mind to opportunities which do not seem to fit their plans.  Asked what was most important in his journey from a young attorney to the successful executive who he is today, Mr. McOwen said that flexibility and openness to opportunities that did not match his professional plans made the biggest difference. “By taking on additional responsibilities in several of my early positions, I gained exposure to technology even though I was not an engineer. My willingness to learn about technology by taking responsibility for technical projects opened doors to opportunities I never expected,” he said. A guest speaker for the weekly Cybersecurity Seminar which were designed to expose students to industry careers to which they aspire, Steve McOwen talked about his early career as an attorney and about his next career move to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, where he served as special agent. From there, Mr. McOwen advanced as Director of Cisco Systems, a role he had prior to joining Fidelity Investments where he is today. He hopes that students would take away from his talk at least two lessons: “First one is that regardless of your educational background, there are a variety of roles in cybersecurity that could meet your skills and interests. Second, keep in mind that the field of cybersecurity is evolving and requires continuing learning to stay abreast of technology and threat actors.”

 Skills like openness, flexibility, and a life-long learning mindset are often listed as key skills by industry executives who lectured this fall for Cybersecurity students. Not that professional skills are not as important: on the contrary – the presence of soft skills creates a competitive advantage that recruiters consider for differentiating between highly trained candidates. Steve McOwen advised students to stay open and receptive to opportunities that seem not to match their career plans. “There were times when I thought I was not moving forward in my career plans. There are opportunities to grow and learn in most roles. The best path forward is not a straight line,” said Stephen McOwen.

 We asked the VP of Cyber Defense at Fidelity to name some other key skills that people in the cyber field must have to be successful. In addition to an inquisitive mind – useful to identify adversaries in the incident response space – data analytics is a key hard skill for identifying key issues and supporting decisions. Another key skill is understanding and managing risk, also the ability to speak to many audiences. To be successful, cybersecurity experts need to keep in mind the client: “Security is often a cost center, you need to understand your organization’s mission and strategy; you need to support what the organization is trying to achieve, to be an enabler and not a roadblock.” Stephen McOwen added that the Duke ME in Cybersecurity Program can impact “how the security industry addresses some of the new and substantial challenges facing the future of the cyber landscape, most notably the appropriate use of Artificial Intelligence. Technical and policy direction is needed to reduce the potential negative outcomes of the rush to deploy AI,” he concluded.