The Intersection Of Diversity, STEAM And Cyber Security

Publicist, strategist and film producer Ngoc Nguyen connects entertainment with tech

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The Intersection Of Diversity, STEAM And Cyber Security

Longtime Publicist, Strategist and Producer of Google's "Power On" Film Series, Ngoc Nguyen joined episode #89 of Task Force 7 Radio to talk with host George Rettas, president and CEO of Task Force 7 Radio and Task Force 7 Technologies, about her career and her work promoting women in STEAM fields.

Nguyen currently works at the intersection of entertainment, sports, and philanthropy. She's developing original content and promotional campaigns for global brands, as well as individual influencers, to impact culture through creative storytelling. Rettas noted that there is a lot of storytelling going on in cyber security as well. “We [Rettas and Andy Bonillo, VP & CISO, Ciena] think it's a very effective way of learning and exchanging information, and going through the whole distillation and extraction of data through whether you're sitting at a briefing in a board meeting, or just at a conference,” he said.

History Of Empowering Women

Nguyen is a Texas native. She started her entertainment career at two renowned Austin-based festivals, South by Southwest, and Austin Film Festival, where she spent three years as the co-conference director. In 2001, Nguyen began working at Miramax Films, in this special role that required her to split time between Los Angeles and Austin, where she did publicity for filmmaker, Robert Rodriguez. Interestingly, in 2003, Nguyen was recruited by talent powerhouse, CAA, where she worked in corporate communications. This was very closely knitted with the CAA Foundation.

In 2006, Nguyen began her six year tenure as a publicist at Paramount Pictures, where she worked on over 75 films, including leading campaigns for the Star Trek franchise, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, The Fighter, Shutter Island, Super 8, Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, and the Oscar-winning, Rango.

Upon leaving the Paramount Pictures organization, Nguyen took on the role of head of publicity for the inaugural TEDx Austin Women event, where she led the summit to become the number one Ted Women event of the year. The TEDx Austin Women Conference then inspired the multiple award-winning feature documentary, A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, which Nguyen produced. Following its success, she re-teamed with documentaries Women Rising Productions, to serve as the producer on ProtectHer, a docu-series about sexual assault prevention among athletes.

Building The Right Skillset

Nguyen always knew she wanted to work in different business areas, but had to find a way that would help her transition from one position to the other – similar to transitioning into cyber security. “What I wanted to do strategically was build a skillset that I thought every business could benefit from,” she said.

She continued that it’s about building relationships and getting people to be aware of what's happening, how to pay attention to it, and how to make it better. Skills like persuasion, influence and negotiation are not what Nguyen considered as soft skills, but instead as necessities for life. “It's a conversation of how to negotiate in life. It's how to be strategic about everything that you do in life. On any given day, you're trying to get something from people in your life, right? Whether it's negotiating with your parents when you're a kid, about how to have a later curfew. Having those skills is a necessity.”

Rettas added that it’s similar in cyber security to talking with the Board. “One of the things that we debate all the time is how to structure your briefings to the board, what should be included, how much should you emphasize metrics. We talk a lot about storytelling, right? I've had people on here that say, ‘You know, hey, the board, they want to see the metrics.’ I don't think they do. Obviously, you're going to give them some metrics, but I would never go to the Board and show them a bunch of metrics. That would just be almost like suicide, I think. I think what they really want to hear are stories,” Rettas said.

They want you to give content to the metrics. They can have the metrics and the decks in place so they can refer to it, but what they really want to hear is what does it all mean. They want to hear a story behind it, as how does it affect our organization. Storytelling and attempting to shift cultures is something that is front and center in cyber security.

See Related: “Driving A Cyber Security Culture Into The Business

“It's one of the things that we try to do to make cyber security conversations more accessible by speaking from a common lexicon of risk often. What do you see about storytelling, and the importance of storytelling, and business?” Rettas asked.

Nguyen offered some strategies for cyber security professionals to become better storytellers in the boardroom, as she believes it is one of the quickest ways to shift culture:

  • Always work backwards. Think about what your end goal is, who your audience is and what you want those people to feel and think.
  • Cater to who you’re talking to because you’re going to talk a different way to a large corporation versus a small or intimate room.
  • Be able to adjust to your audience. Think about how to put your audience into the shoes of what you’re trying to convey.
  • In every presentation, set the tone and get people personally invested, because:
    An emotional connection + information = long-term memory that makes an impact.

Connecting Entertainment And Tech

Google was pitched an idea about how to champion young girls in computer sciences because there were many mothers of young girls who realized at some point that at a young age, they were initially interested in science, but would venture another way. That’s how the “Power On” series started.

Power On is a short film anthology directed by five actresses, who then worked with male screenwriters. All of these five short films use technology as the center piece in some way, shape, or form, but they also touch on really important issue of just bullying, and equality, and gender, and accessibility, and loss.

Nguyen explained that a lot of times when you start talking about computer sciences, there’s a stigma that it’s uncool, or too complicated. “What we try to do and what I try to do with my experience in just branding and marketing is just make it more accessible. That's why we wanted to do the series.”

See Related: “Telling The Cautionary Tales Of Cyber Crime

Inspiring girls in technology was important, but tapping into girls who were already interested was obviously also a focus. Additionally, expanding that into parents, and students, and teachers, and educators, who weren't interested in computer sciences, was also key for the series. Nguyen also noted that girls don’t realize that the STEAM fields are what creates everything that they think is cool — like Instagram and Snapchat — which starts with technology.

Nguyen then switched gears turning the question onto Rettas and Bonillo:

“In entertainment, you're constantly worried about how things are getting leaked, and how we can prevent that kind of stuff. Everything that you guys do has such an impact on the entertainment industry. I'd actually love to hear from you guys, what you experience and what would be helpful for you to tell us what we're doing wrong and what we need to be paying attention to?”

Bonillo replied, “I think first, the awareness is critical, right? Understanding that in the fast-paced environment that you're moving, you try to create an open, creative environment, which creates and introduces risk, right? Then you have the other extreme in some environments, where you're producing and directing, where they're so locked down, right? Then you have to then rely on partners and vendors that are going to outsource to. Then how do you protect that? The challenges you face in that environment aren't really different than any other company. Then there's a whole host of other things, right? In terms of pirated software: Once it gets released, how do we ... If it were to be stolen, how do we then get it back or prevent the crisis from being worse, right?”

At the end of the day, it comes back to bad people wanting to do bad things and just trying to be good human beings Bonillo said in agreeance with Nguyen.

Rettas added, “We're talking about diversity, we're talking about inclusion, and opportunity, and how you create that for women in industry, whether it's in entertainment, or whether it's in sports, or whether it's in cyber security. Some of the things that you've spoken about, I think are definitely transferrable into our space, including having women work with men on certain projects. I think you spoke about some of the producers never produced before. Sometimes we call them a reach project, or a reach goal. When we're doing goals and objectives in business and in the corporate world, to say, ‘Okay, this is something that's way outside of your comfort zone. Let's give you an opportunity to go for it.’ That doesn't go just for women, but it goes for anyone. I think those opportunities and that type of management practice, goes a long way in giving minorities and women opportunities in the space.”

Bringing More Diversity

Nguyen said that when she started out, there were only one or two other women in the room, or in the boardroom, and she was typically the only Asian American woman there. She said she would gravitate towards other people who were different in any way, shape or form. “I would gravitate toward them, and I would get to know them, and I would try to form a bond with them, and collaborate with them, and work with them. What I found is that the more you reach out to people who are different, the more you realize, A: that they want to be helpful and they feel isolated as well, and B: you're more alike than you are different, but there's strength in numbers,” she said.

Nguyen also revealed some tips that helped her along her career path, that are applicable to other professionals trying to pivot between career paths:

  • Build your network. Slowly, one by one, just start to build your tribe and your team.
  • Brainstorm with people of diverse backgrounds to gain a pool of different perspectives.
  • Be a champion for others with great ideas who may be too shy to come forward.
  • When opportunity strikes, be prepared for it with the right skillset.
  • Branding is crucial. It’s the easiest way for people to figure out what you do and who you are.

Finally, Nguyen referenced a quote that she loves which is: : "People will forget what you and people will forget what you do, but they'll never forget how you made them feel."

Bonillo added that it is so important in today’s culture, “as we go through the digital transformation and interconnecting everyone by machine, right? Man, it's amazing and it's a very powerful statement.”

The ‘Task Force 7 Radio’ recap is a weekly feature on Cyber Security Hub. To listen to this and past episodes, click here.