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Atomic Conversations: A masterclass on IT and leadership from Aysha Khan, CIO and CISO of Treasure Data

Key takeaways on IT tech, risk management, and IT security from our conversation with Aysha Khan of Treasure Data.

For Episode 3 of this season of Atomic Conversations, I spoke to Aysha Khan, the superstar CIO and CISO of Treasure Data, and the conversation was exactly how you’d expect it to be: Deeply informative and inspiring. Our conversation delved into the complexities and rewards of juggling these dual roles, the passion behind a career in technology, risk management strategies, and advice for aspiring IT leaders.

You can listen to the full podcast here, but I also wanted to take out the most important parts of the conversation for those who’d rather read. Here you go:

The dual lens of a CIO and CSO

I was curious to know how Aysha managed the dual responsibilities of a CIO and CSO, and the answer was simple: The constant need for context-switching. She explained that holding both titles is not merely a matter of prestige but a practical approach that offers unique advantages. "Having this responsibility helps me see things from two different perspectives," she said. "As a CIO, I focus on making everything simple, while as a CSO, I ensure everything is secure."

This dual perspective has streamlined processes within her organization, enhancing efficiency and decision-making. By merging the roles, there's no longer a need to delineate where IT ends and security begins. Instead, they operate under the integrated banner of IT Security (ITS), fostering greater alignment and productivity. She mentioned, "Since I've taken on these two roles, we've seen improvements in our processes, quicker decision-making, and increased productivity. We no longer see things as separate IT and security departments but as a cohesive unit."

The passion behind her technology career, and her interest in security

Aysha attributed much of her career path to destiny and a deep-rooted passion for mathematics from a young age. She recalled, "Math was my favorite subject. I would immerse myself in solving mathematical problems all day, even in my dreams." This passion naturally led her to a career in technology. The security interest happened later, when a mentor asked her to take on that role as well, and she did.

The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) has made security even more crucial. Aysha stressed that security is not just about compliance but about building trust with customers and ensuring the safety of their products. "We have to secure our products from the beginning, not as an afterthought. This proactive approach is fundamental to our cybersecurity program," she stated. By prioritizing trust and assurance, securing products, and protecting the company, she has made sure that her organization has embedded security into its DNA.

Balancing risk management and business agility

Risk management is a critical aspect of Aysha's role, particularly when balancing the need for security with the desire of other business functions to move quickly. "It's about building relationships with stakeholders and understanding their pain points while helping them understand mine," she explained. Clear processes and a culture of security and privacy are essential.

She highlighted the implications of neglecting security, pointing out that addressing security concerns early can prevent costly breaches later. Her organization has branded itself as one where "trust is better bound, and security is a differentiator." This approach not only protects the company but also enhances its market competitiveness. "When we sell a product, we sell a secure product that customers can trust," she said, emphasizing the importance of continuous communication and security awareness training.

Advice for aspiring IT leaders

For young IT leaders and those aspiring to enter the security field, Aysha offered valuable advice. She cautioned against focusing solely on certifications and training, stressing the importance of practical experience. "We need people who know how to apply their knowledge," she said. Moreover, she emphasized the importance of emotional regulation, resilience, and grit—qualities she finds often lacking in the workforce.

"People need to be willing to have hard conversations, take personal accountability, and show consistency," she advised. She encouraged aspiring leaders to invest in others, highlighting that true growth comes from contributing to the success of those around you. "If you want to go far, go together. Help each other, learn from others, and take feedback positively."

For women in the industry, Aysha identified a common barrier: the need for permission. She urged women to recognize their own value and solve problems proactively without waiting for approval. "You don't need permission to solve problems. Show your value, and you'll be seen," she said. She also emphasized the importance of strategic thinking, advising leaders to come prepared with a clear vision, roadmap, and execution plan.

Aysha’s experience and advice offer a roadmap for navigating the complexities of these critical roles while fostering a culture of security and innovation. As technology continues to evolve, the integration of IT and security will remain pivotal, and leaders who can effectively manage these dual responsibilities will be instrumental in driving their organizations forward.

Listen to the complete podcast episode here.

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