Candice Frost_Thumbnail

Debbie Sallis, Executive Director of The Cyber Guild, recently sat down with Colonel (Ret) Candice E. Frost, Director – Integrated Department of Defense Account at Nightwing, to discuss cybersecurity as a meaningful career and her recent transition from the military to commercial business… 

Candice: Yes, I was incredibly fortunate. I feel in some ways, I was on the cutting edge of the ground floor when we look at how cybersecurity in the Department of Defense (DoD) began with signals intelligence and how my career in the intelligence field had really started to lean towards emerging technology. 

This was before cell phones were popular. So, think back to when we were initially targeting this space, whether it was electronic warfare with jamming or collecting all the way to when I worked in human resources to help stand up the cybersecurity branch for the Army. 

At that point, I started to see how the IT and intelligence sectors were combined to create the cybersecurity branch. Years later, I had the opportunity to work a great job in the Pentagon. No tongue in cheek, I really loved my job in the Pentagon.  

I then had the opportunity to work at the U.S. Cyber Command. That’s where I finally got to flex my cyber muscles and lead an organization of individuals that looked at where the threats were in the cyber world. In 2023, I retired from the Army out of the Joint Intelligence Operations Center at U.S. Cyber Command.   

Candice: I was incredibly fortunate to have great mentors who helped me in the business world. Ask questions early and try to figure out the best fit for you. That’s very helpful. I probably started this journey about three years out from when I assumed I’d retire. That’s when I really started to plan how I wanted to make that exit from the military to transition into a different career. 

I explored many different areas, going back into government, looking at an administration position in Washington, DC, and the business sector, whether it was part of the defense industrial base or the larger IT sector. And, I kept thinking about where can I apply my past skills and experiences to the mission of today, and also learn new skills.  

I really recommend, especially to transitioning military, to read the book “What Color Is Your Parachute?” by Richard Bolles. And also “Strengths Finders” by Tom Rath. This book helps you understand your strengths and apply them to business.  

For instance, I really enjoy connecting. I’m a connector. I love to see how small pieces of information can be put together to solve a problem. I’m also a lifelong learner. So those are two skills that are incredibly important in cyber because nothing’s ever stagnant in this world. Knowing myself allowed me to find a mission-focused organization that played to my personal strengths.  

Candice: I found myself saying if the pit of my stomach drops when I walk into a building, then I need to listen to that feeling. I lived in a skiff for many years, so I knew that I needed sunlight. I also wanted the ability to set my own schedule. I have teenagers, and I want to enjoy the fleeting moments left with them. I also didn’t want to work fully remotely. I really like having the option to touch base with people in person and have that personal interaction. These were all important factors for me.  

I didn’t want to go back to living in a skiff 24/7, but I knew that I could support the mission and continue to use my clearance for good. Fortunately, I found an organization where I could do that.    

Candice: To me, a positive cyber mindset is about resilience. Cyber is a field where you may be trying to find a needle in the haystack. You may be doing a repetitive task, and then you’re suddenly challenged with something new that you weren’t ready for or expecting. So, resiliency and redundancy are incredibly important.  

It’s also important to constantly be exploring and prepared for the “what if’s” and different possible scenarios. Nothing is ever “final” in cybersecurity.  

I happened to have dinner the other day with a CISO, and she had just been through a large-scale cyber-attack, but she was very calm. And I said, if this happened to most people, it would be very life-altering and disruptive. And she said to me, we had rehearsed this so many times, it was almost like we knew the inevitable would happen. And that allowed this organization to move forward quickly because they were so prepared. I think that’s the difference between understanding readiness and resiliency versus just hoping that a cyber-attack won’t happen.  

Candice: It’s important, especially The Cyber Guild’s work to bring people together. The event that you’ve built isn’t one with big rock star singers and huge auditoriums. It’s a very intimate experience where you have the chance to have conversations with people that you’ve only ever read about in the paper. You wouldn’t normally have the chance to connect with these types of people. These practical experiences are really worthwhile.  

Many resources focus on just the entry-level or executive level, but there’s a muddy middle that I think many resources don’t target. The Cyber Guild does that with the support of other women who are willing to put their hand out and help others up. That is a rarity in the cyber world. And, you know, women are only 27% of the workforce right now. We’re continuing to grow, which is awesome, but we still need to be there to support each other. And I think The Cyber Guild offers that opportunity to people. 

Candice: Yes, thank you. Unfortunately, it’s a leaky pipe. Biology doesn’t change itself. But what I love about the cyber field is technology changes so much that you can always come back. There are so many free resources out there that can help you brush up on your skills and reenter the workforce. It’s important to take those opportunities to learn and grow, and then jump back in.  

Candice: I think it happens quite often that companies ask for the impossible, which is an overarching problem in business. The real question is what do you really need to be successful? For instance, individuals who are musicians and journalists can understand foreign languages and patterns. They have the mental capacity and skills to do very well in cyber. You don’t have to have a heavy STEM background to do well. Cybersecurity is a big tent, and it must have different people who will approach big problems with different perspectives.  

You know, I have a political science background with a minor in systems engineering, so I was not the first one on keyboards. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even do well in my first computer science class. But I do have a penchant for curiosity and understanding where there are problems and how to plan to approach those problems.   

Understand yourself and what you can contribute. That’s why I recommend reading Strengths Finders. Everyone has amazing strengths that they may not recognize and relate directly to the cyber field. There are also so many non-profits out there that will help you with continuing education, so take advantage of those resources. 

Candice: What really set me up for success was the insatiable appetite to understand pivots as a routine part of life, not an exception. The more you prepare for that next step, the better off you’ll be. Life is going to throw you some curve balls. I had several that were thrown at me. I did not expect to be a single mother for as long as I was, and I realized okay, I have to pivot my life to meet myself where I am right now. There are some quick pivots like that, and others that we can prepare for like transitioning from the military. 

For those of you who are in college right now, start talking to people and thinking about what industry you want to go into your sophomore and junior years. Every field, organization, etc. has personality. When you find places where your energy is high, and you leave shaken with goodness, that’s the kind of place you should be. Listen to that feeling.  

And pay attention when you find the hair on the back of your neck creeping up – that may not be the best fit for you. The earlier and more that you experiment, the better off you’ll be. 

Candice: I would tell my younger self to savor the moment more. I was very focused, and it negates all the things I just said, but I was very focused on planning so many things out and life goes by fast. So, savoring those individual moments is important. I remember when my kids were younger, and I would just think to myself, take a mental picture so I can freeze this. I want more of those good moments.  

Even at work, I have found a passion for solving hard problems and crossing the finish line with the people around me. Those are experiences where I would say take a step back and recognize those who you’ve had the privilege to either lead or manage. Spend more time with those people on your left and right and less time always looking ahead.  

We are a culture that forces us to always look forward, and sometimes it’s the people that you have the privilege to be around daily that will give you the most purpose and meaning in your life.  

Candice: A lot of the mentors that I had in the military were people that I looked up to, and I tried to figure out what it is that makes them who they are. I would try to find out what are the schools that they went to, what do they read, how do they spend their time, and how can I bring that goodness and light into my life? Seeing my mentors overcome adversity and understanding what path they chose really inspired me. 

Even to this day, I just had coffee with one of my favorite mentors, and she was talking about her move to start her own company in South Dakota, of all places. And wow, just that she’s still in the cyber field, and building a new business model is inspiring. Watching how others have done it really inspires me to take those next steps in the future.  

Candice: Well, my bucket list every year is to embody the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” 

So, I plan something challenging every year that’s usually physically daunting. Last year, I rode The Register’s Annual Great American Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), which was an over 500-mile bike ride. This year, I am fortunate enough to hike Moab, which is a technical, skilled climb. I strive every year to do something a little crazy that keeps me motivated and allows me to see other parts of the United States, which I just love.