DaMon Ross: Being Black in Cybersecurity
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My name is DaMon Ross, I'm the founder of Cyber Defense International. Um, What we are is we're a boutique cybersecurity consulting firm.
During the course of my career, I definitely carried the torch of being first, in a lot of situations that I wasn't even aware of at the time. And, you know, a lot of things I went through at the time, I didn't realize how now I look at it like that was kind of like not right. This is America and we all know our history here. And you know, when I started this, it was like back in like 99 when I started, what do you call cyber back then? There was, you didn't find Black people in cyber. I was really used to being the only Black face in the room for a long time. Unfortunately the further up into management executive ranks I got, the more that was the case. You know, you get some of your comments or some of the things that happened and you kind of wonder would this have happened if I wasn't Black, but you know, I just don't feel like it's something that you can really focus on. You gotta just keep, just keep pushing forward and figuring out how to just get to that next step. And then, you know, I would like to say that again, that's my view of what the American dream should be. It doesn't play out like that, all the time for everyone, but, I'm just trying to make it a habit of not to focus on things like that. I mean, I'm not stupid. I know it exists.
I was born and raised in Alabama, really small rural area, dirt road, very segregated, when I grew up, there weren't signs anywhere, but you know, Black people stick with Black people, white people stuff. So I get that whole deal. When I left Alabama joined the Marine Corps, I traveled all over the world. I was gone for about 13 years. When I got out of the military up in DC, there's issues there too, but it's from my view, it's a little different than it was growing up in the South it wasn't until I moved back down to Atlanta, to the South, to Atlanta as an executive at a major bank, when I really realized that yeah, mentality wise, I didn't feel like a lot had changed. And I was kinda sad about that Um, Um, because it was such a shock when I came into the role I did as a Senior Vice President and Security, apparently I was the first one to ever be in that role as a Black person.
And I could tell because people were like, it was the weirdest thing in the world, right? So that was kind eye opening to see that that was still kind of weird. And there was still the first, the first Black, you know, all of that stuff and then when the situation happened that I mentioned about with the whole merger and selection processes of who will go where, I was the only Black person on the leadership team or the cybersecurity leadership team at Suntrust before the merger, I was the one that they, that offered a lesser role in my role with too. So there's a lot of ways I could interpret that, I could draw my own conclusions. But at the time I felt like, you know what? I got a family. I don't have time to focus on that. I gotta focus on what's next and just being able to do that and push for it, so to me that is the American dream that, you're rewarded by your hard work and what you're able to accomplish by, your own brain power and resilience and all of that.
Cyber is such a niche field. Only thing that really matters are the skills, right? Like for me, it was always, do you have the skills to do what I need you to do when I, you know, that was it white, black, male, female? I really never, never cared. However, now as an entrepreneur kind of seeing how things are, a lot of the progress I've made was due to, you know, know, other black professionals that had reached some level where they had some control over, at least it would be to give my company the opportunity to, you know, apply or have being on a certain certain work. Well, I know for a fact that certain situations, if I didn't have a relationship with someone, didn't give me a chance as a Black entrepreneur, I would not have had it. I'm working now to do the same with minorities it's a weird situation to talk about because I don't, I don't advocate only say I'm only going to hire blacks or I'm only going to hire women. I don't really like that, but I feel that I know some of the things that will disqualify some minorities based on bias. And I try to make sure I look past all of that and not necessarily looking at what corporate America has as the stereotype for, a cyber security professional, really look at the person for who they are and try to make sure I'm giving them give as many young, you know, minorities, a chance.
Everybody's not going to make it. I never believed in like, just carrying someone just to carry them. And if they're not picking it up, and not giving their all. I can't afford to do that, but as long as they do, I want to make sure I give them all the opportunities to do that. So that's my way of trying to ensure I give back, um, um, especially our young, younger parties, now coming out of college.
it's such a unique field that if you don't have someone to give you kind of guidance as to which way to go or where, what do you want to focus on and kind of know the right questions to ask you to help you reach a goal, it won't happen. I was just fortunate enough. I feel that I was kind of, I came up through when the whole profession was being formed. So, you know, I was able to navigate it a little better. But if I can help, some of our younger, cyber professionals get into the field and navigate the field and give them that mentorship and help them, avoid some of the situations that I ran into. That's something I always look for the opportunity to do.