In the weeks leading up to re:Inforce, we’ll share conversations we’ve had with people at AWS who will be presenting at the event so you can learn more about them and some of the interesting work that they’re doing.
How long have you been at AWS, and what do you do in your current role?
I’ve been here for three years. My job is Security Transformation, which is a technical role in AWS Professional Services. It’s a fancy way of saying that I help customers build the confidence and technical capability to run their most sensitive workloads in the AWS Cloud. Much of my work lives at the intersection of DevOps and information security.
Broadly, how does the role of Consultant differ from positions like “Solutions Architect”?
Depth of engagement is one of the main differences. On many customer engagements, I’m involved for three months, or six months, or nine months. I have one customer now that I’ve been working with for more than a year. Consultants are also more integrated—I’m often embedded in the customer’s team, working side-by-side with their employees, which helps me learn about their culture and needs.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
There’s a lot I like about working at Amazon, but a couple of things stand out. First, the people I work with. Amazon culture—and the people who comprise that culture—are amazing. I’m constantly interacting with really smart people who are willing to go out of their way to make good things happen for customers. At companies I’ve worked for in the past, I’ve encountered individuals like this. But being surrounded by so many people who behave like this day in and day out is something special.
The customers that we have the privilege of working with at AWS also represent some very large brands. They serve many, many consumers all over the world. When I help these customers achieve their security and privacy goals, I’m doing something that has an impact on the world at large. I’ve worked in tech my entire career, in roles ranging from executive to coder, but I’ve never had a job that lets me make such a broad impact before. It’s really cool.
What does cloud security mean to you, personally?
I work in Global Financial Services, so my customers are the world’s biggest banks, investment firms, and independent software vendors. These are companies that we all rely on every day, and they put enormous effort into protecting their customers’ data and finances. As I work to support their efforts, I think about it in terms of my wife, kids, parents, siblings—really, my entire extended family. I’m working to protect us, to ensure that the online world we live in is a safer one.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest cloud security challenge facing the Financial Services industry right now?
How to transform the way they do security. It’s not only a technical challenge—it’s a human challenge. For FinServe customers to get the most value out of the cloud, a lot of people need to be willing to change their minds.
Highly regulated customers like financial services firms tend to have sophisticated security organizations already in place. They’ve been doing things effectively in a particular way for quite a while. It takes a lot of evidence to convince them to change their processes—and to convince them that those changes can drive increased value and performance while reducing risk. Security leaders tend to be a skeptical lot, and that has its place, but I think that we should strive to always be the most optimistic people in the room. The cloud lets people experiment with big ideas that may lead to big innovation, and security needs to enable that. If the security leader in the room is always saying no, then who’s going to say yes? That’s the essence of security transformation – developing capabilities that enable your organization to say yes.
What’s a trend you see currently happening in the Financial Services space that you’re excited about?
AWS has been working hard alongside some of our financial services customers for several years. Moving to the cloud is a big transition, and there’s been some FUD—some fear, uncertainty, and doubt—to work through, so not everyone has been able to adopt the cloud as quickly as they might’ve liked. But I feel we’re approaching an inflection point. I’m seeing increasing comfort, increasing awareness, and an increasingly trained workforce among my customers.
These changes, in conjunction with executive recognition that “the cloud” is not only worthwhile, but strategically significant to the business, may signal that we’re close to a breakthrough. These are firms that have the resources to make things happen when they’re ready. I’m optimistic that even the more conservative of our financial services customers will soon be taking advantage of AWS in a big way.
Five years from now, what changes do you think we’ll see across the Financial Services/Cloud Security landscape?
I think cloud adoption will continue to accelerate on the business side. I also expect to see the security orgs within these firms leverage the cloud more for their own workloads – in particular, to integrate AI and machine learning into security operations, and further left in the systems development lifecycle. Security teams still do a lot of manual work to analyze code, policies, logs, and so on. This is critical stuff, but it’s also very time consuming and much of it is ripe for automation. Skilled security practitioners are in high demand. They should be focused on high-value tasks that enable the business. Amazon GuardDuty is just one example of how security teams can use the cloud toward that end.
What’s one thing that people outside of Financial Services can learn from what’s happening in this industry?
As more and more Financial Services customers adopt AWS, I think that it becomes increasingly hard for leaders in other sectors to suggest that the cloud isn’t secure, reliable, or capable enough for any given use case. I love the quote from Capital One’s CIO about why they chose AWS.
You’re leading a re:Inforce session that focuses on “IAM strategy for financial services.” What are some of the unique considerations that the financial services industry faces when it comes to IAM?
Financial services firms and other highly regulated customers tend to invest much more into tools and processes to enforce least privilege and separation of duties, due to regulatory and compliance requirements. Traditional, centralized approaches to implementing those two principles don’t always work well in the cloud, where resources can be ephemeral. If your goal is to enable builders to experiment and fail fast, then it shouldn’t take weeks to get the approvals and access required for a proof-of-concept than can be built in two days.
AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) capabilities have changed significantly in the past year. Those changes make it easier and safer than ever to do things like delegate administrative access to developers. But they aren’t the sort of high-profile announcement that you’d hear a keynote speaker talk about at re:Invent. So I think a lot of customers aren’t fully aware of them, or of what you can accomplish by combining them with automation and CI/CD techniques.
My talk will offer a strategy and examples for using those capabilities to provide the same level of security—if not a better level of security—without so many of the human reviews and approvals that often become bottlenecks.
What are you hoping that your audience will do differently as a result of attending your session?
I’d like them to investigate and holistically implement the handful of IAM capabilities that we’ll discuss during the session. I also hope that they’ll start working to delegate IAM responsibilities to developers and automate low-value human reviews of policy code. Finally, I think it’s critical to have CI/CD or other capabilities that enable rapid, reliable delivery of updates to IAM policies across many AWS accounts.
Can you talk about some of the recent enhancements to IAM that you’re excited about?
Permissions boundaries and IAM resource tagging are two features that are really powerful and that I don’t see widely used today. In some cases, customers may not even be aware of them. Another powerful and even more recent development is the introduction of conditional support to the service control policy mechanism provided by AWS Organizations.
You’re an avid photographer: What’s appealing to you about photography? What’s your favorite photo you’ve ever taken?
I’ve always struggled to express myself artistically. I take a very technical, analytical approach to life. I started programming computers when I was six. That’s how I think. Photography is sufficiently technical for me to wrap my brain around, which is how I got started. It took me a long time to begin to get comfortable with the creative aspects. But it fits well with my personality, while enabling expression that I’d never be able to find, say, as a painter.
I won’t claim to be an amazing photographer, but I’ve managed a few really good shots. The photo that comes to mind is one I captured in Bora Bora. There was a guy swimming through a picturesque, sheltered part of the ocean, where a reef stopped the big waves from coming in. This swimmer was towing a surfboard with his dog standing on it, and the sun was going down in the background. The colors were so vibrant it felt like a Disneyland attraction, and from a distance, you could just see a dog on a surfboard. Everything about that moment – where I was, how I was feeling, how surreal it all was, and the fact that I was on a honeymoon with my wife – made for a poignant photo.
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