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What Does an Identity Professional Look Like?

What does an identity professional look like to you? This is the question I asked the audience during the Building Your Identity Toolset: Best Practices to Become an Identity Pro session at this year’s Navigate in Austin. The response and level of engagement I received were incredible, and from what I can tell, this is a question many of them were asking each other and themselves. Being an identity professional in today’s digital transformation atmosphere can be overwhelming as we struggle to keep everything secure. And add to the fact that most of today’s identity professionals have not been in their roles very long (based on my non-scientific “show of hands” survey in my session) it can seem almost impossible.

So, where does a new or mostly new identity pro start? What skills do they need to be successful? To answer these questions, we will look at a quote from Frank Downs, director of cybersecurity practices at ISACA that gives us a starting point.

“The most prized hire within a cybersecurity organization is a skilled professional, who not only understands the business operation and how cybersecurity fits into the greater needs of the organization but also knows how to communicate well.”

Looking at this quote and reviewing the actual survey it was tied to, and we can come up with three tenants that identity pros should focus on.

Skilled Professional

When I hear the term ‘skilled professional,’ I think of someone who has the technical understanding to get the job done.  Most identity pros have a technical background, so basic technical knowledge is something they already have.  However, because identity touches so many aspects of an organization’s environment, the amount of technical understanding an identity pros needs can be quite large.  An identity pro should not only understand identity specific technologies like SSO, access management, and compliance, but they should understand how that fits into the broader technical environment of their organization.

Understands Business Operation and How Cybersecurity Fits

Technical solutions become company solutions when you add business value.” I do not remember where I read this, but it has been something that has stuck with me throughout my career because I have seen it come true every time. As an identity pro, we must have a clear view of our organization’s business and how identity fits. Also, we must communicate the value an identity governance solution provides beyond making certifications easier and faster. This is done by partnering with your business and understanding their goals, struggles, and how they get stuff done.

Knows How to Communicate

I look at this last part about communication as more than just being able to communicate well. With most professions, being able to communicate well is essential. However, how you talk can be just as important. As an identity pro, sometimes we are asked to present in front of executives, other times we are asked to be the project manager and lead a diverse team, and there are even times we are asked to train co-workers on how to use the tools being delivered. Each one of these asks requires that we communicate effectively, but each is different in how we communicate. Having a diverse set of communication skills is critical.

Next Steps for Identity Pros

As you can see, there are a lot of areas for an identity pro to focus on…and yes it can be daunting. However, here are some best practices that can help.

  • It is a journey. Just because you are starting in one area today, does not mean you cannot grow into others tomorrow.
  • Ask questions. Always ask questions, whether it is trying to understand your business, a new technology, or workflows in your organization, always keep asking questions for understanding.
  • Keep learning. This one seems obvious, however many times we get into our work and never take the time to grow new skills. Make sure to include non-technical skills such as project management and presentation skills.
  • Find community. Sometimes the best learning is talking to someone who has already gone through what you are going through. Whether that is at a conference like Navigate or smaller user groups, seek out other identity pros.  You will be surprised how we are all going through the same things.