Last week I shared advice in my CSO “Career Catalyst” column [Teach, don’t just learn, to build your security career] from the movie We Were Soldiers and how that advice advances a security career.

Can advice from a movie actually benefit a security career?

Short answer: yes, yes it can. In fact, I applied this advice to my own career long before the movie was ever made.

Building on what I shared in the column, here are two examples of how this advice worked for me, with some insights on how it could work for you, too.

Applying it the first time: Bartending for the win

The first time I really applied this advice was while working as a server at a Ground Round restaurant while home from college on summer break. My role was to provide an exceptional dining experience — the better I did, the better my tips (on average).

As a hungry college student, I picked up as many shifts as I could. Somehow, it dawned on me that the more I knew about the restaurant, the better service I could provide, the more money I could make.

I set out to learn as much as I could.

I volunteered to learn how to host (greet and seat), prep cook, line cook and wash dishes. In turn, I taught others how to take orders, present food and the like. The more I contributed to the restaurant, the more opportunity I got.

And I was right: the more I knew about how to seat people (and set the experience), prepare the food, wash the dishes and handle the entire experience, the more I communicated effectively with everyone around me.

The best part came on what felt like a daring offer: I walked into the general managers office with what I considered a great deal: I would work shifts “off the clock” in return for being taught and certified as a bartender.  In the end, he accepted and my training – which also including training on ordering for the restaurant – began.

For the rest of the summer, I worked pretty much around the clock – waiting tables, pitching in wherever needed and got certified as a bartender before heading back to school.

When I returned to school in August, I happened to meet the owners of Johnny’s – a local bar (and one-time staple in Ithaca; it’s not there anymore). I explained that I had just been certified in bar tending — including setup, ordering, pricing, etc – and asked if they needed a hand. After explaining why they didn’t need help, they asked for my telephone number, “just in case.”

I got a call a week later – they needed help. It turned out they bought the bar without a shred of bar tending experience. My efforts to learn all aspects of the restaurant and bar business turned into a job as the head bartender, with the opportunity to teach what I knew as we worked together to setup, open and run a successful bar.

How this helps you: learning the job of others in security careers is important; but sometimes, it’s the other jobs in the organization that hold the most promise. Learning how others do their jobs — and perhaps getting an opportunity to teach them yours — is a powerful way to build bridges, improve communication and set the stage for a successful career in security.

Source code version control launched my career in information security

After graduating college (and one more brief stint in the restaurants), I landed a job working for Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) on a large software development project. My initial role was manual source code version control: developers would email me requests for code and submit code changes to me. Prior to automated tools, this was a bit of an “interesting” position.

After documenting the process – initially so I had a personal checklist to work from – I started to make improvements in speed and quality. I improved the documentation and started to teach the process to others. While I didn’t necessarily enjoy the role, turns out someone I taught LOVED it. At the same time, I lived locally, and offered to come in early, stay late and work weekends to cover others and help out. I was always learning new roles — to the point where I could backup any member of the team.

It didn’t take long before one of the people I trained was in charge of source code version control and I was moved on to bigger and better things. In fact, one of the roles I got moved to was the direct start of my career in information security (a story for another day).

How this helps you: despite an irrational fear of losing your job because you taught it to someone else, one of the best ways to advance your security career is to actively document your current role. Once documented, teach the position to others. I’ve found no better way to backfill your efforts and free up time to focus on other elements, learn from others and create a path to a new role.

More than advice, this is a mantra

My focus is clear: security awareness that works and effectively communicating the value of security. In my role, I work with organizations of all sizes and audiences of all types and experiences from around the world. As a result, I continually seek out people to learn from, and even offer to “intern” with other professionals to learn their jobs. In the process, I gain the insight of their experience, learn the language of their position and come away a more effective communicator.

This advice makes me a better catalyst, allowing me to better serve others. The more I learn, the more I am able to share what I’ve learned with those I come across… and through keynotes, seminars and consulting.


So while it made for a poignant scene in a movie about war, the observation of Lt. Col Moore is a powerful mantra for building a successful security career. Today is a great day to get started.

It works for me, and it works for you, too.

Let me know how you’re putting this advice to work or if something is holding you back. I’m here to help.


About the Author Michael Santarcangelo

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.

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