Neurodiversity and cybersecurity leadership positions

Today's guest is Anthony Pacilio, VP Neurodiverse Solutions at CAI. I met Pacilio at this year’s ISACA Digital Trust World event in Boston, and I was immediately fascinated with his insights on hiring and attracting neurodiverse professionals in security, IT, engineering and related industries, all of which suffer a skills gap and all of which are in need of new insights and working methods. Pacilio and I have a substantive conversation about changing the structure of the “6-hour marathon” interview process, the difference between an employee who stays in one job role vs. an employee who stays in but re-imagines that one job role, and why this new way of hiring and recruitment can lead to nothing less than an entire transformation of a company’s work culture.

0:00 - Neurodiversity and cybersecurity leadership
4:18 - Pacilio's early years with tech
7:40 - Shifting roles in cybersecurity
12:55 - VP of neurodiverse solutions
16:10 - CAI's dedication to neurodiversity
19:27 - Neurodiverse solutions in cybersecurity and IT
23:50 - Rethinking the cybersecurity role interview
26:32 - Adopting new interview strategies
33:03 - Examples and success stories
35:30 - Where neurodiverse workers succeed in cybersecurity
42:04 - Tips for neurodiverse learners in cybersecurity
45:58 - Advice for new cybersecurity professionals
52:30 - Learn more about CAI
53:05 - Outro

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Chris SienkoHost00:00

Today on CyberWork, my guest is Anthony Picilio, vp NeuroDiverse Solutions at CAI. I met Anthony at this year's Isaka Digital Trust World event in Boston and I was immediately fascinated with his insights on hiring and attracting neurodiverse professionals in IT security, engineering and related industries, all of which are, as you know, suffering a skills gap and all of which are in need of new insights and working methods. Anthony and I have a substantive conversation about changing the structure of the six hour marathon interview process, the difference between an employee who stays in one job role versus an employee who stays in but reimagines that one job role, and why this new way of hiring and recruitment can lead to nothing less than an entire transformation of a company's work culture. Any ideas to take you into the new year? That's all today on CyberWork.


Welcome to this week's episode of the CyberWork with InfoSec podcast. Each week, we talk with a different industry thought leader about cybersecurity trends, the way those trends affect the work of InfoSec professionals, while offering tips for breaking in or moving up the ladder in the cybersecurity industry. Anthony Picilio is recognized domestically and internationally as an expert in neurodiverse employment and currently serves as Vice President of CAI NeuroDiverse Solutions. Picilio specializes in advancing neurodiversity programs and leads the global expansion efforts of neurodiverse solutions at CAI. Anthony is someone that I met at this year's ISACA conference in Boston. We immediately hit it off after his presentation and I wanted to have him on the show talk about the work he does and how it intersects with cybersecurity positions, cybersecurity jobs, cybersecurity leadership and the role that neurodiverse people can play in that. Anthony, thank you so much for joining me today and welcome to CyberWork.

Anthony PicilioGuest01:51

Yeah, thank you, chris. I appreciate it. It was a good time at ISACA, way back when we did indeed hit it off there. I'm glad it's. All the things that we talked about came to fruition.

Chris SienkoHost02:03

It's all coming together here Even at the end of the year. We got it to work. To help our listeners get to know you, I want to get a sense of your career journey. Before working with CAI, you spent years working in product management, software engineering and mortgage banking QA. Your career is now strongly intersects with tech and cybersecurity, but I wanted to ask about your relationship to tech growing up and in your educational year. So was software engineering a role that you sought out or did the opportunity reveal itself at the right time? Were you moving towards tech at that point or did that just opportunity open?

Anthony PicilioGuest02:39

Yeah, I think my quick answer is I didn't seek it out, it sought me out. But I can give you a sense of the love of technology from when I was a young kid. My dad used to bring home these crazy things like a disc player way back in the day. Then we were the first ones on the block to have the Commodore 64 with the Dot Matrix printer and the Floppy drive. That's awesome. So we had a lot of. I was the remote control as a kid and then remote controls, so I've always loved how it intersects with what people are doing in the world and how it actually connects everybody in the world. That pretty much led me into. Throughout elementary school and in high school I was in love with radio intelligence and it just blossomed from there. I went to college and I have my radio intelligence degree, my mass media degree, so I was behind the camera, in front of the camera, using all of the technology way back in the early 1990s when we were one of the first colleges that had a remote truck.


So if you see TV, program today they have these big trucks and they can do all the cuts from the cameras and the sound. But way back when in 1991, it was unheard of that, a community college, no less, had its own truck, so that got the juices flowing and did a good stint in that. Then I thought I was going to be on ESPN. So I graduated, went to Florida and that obviously didn't work out. And then I came into banking and so my very first job was collecting, but over the years it kind of morphed. And then, jeez 2008 probably I left one financial institution, went to a healthcare institution and that's where the whole kind of QA and UAD and all that stuff started to come together, fast forward a little bit more and then I became the administrator of AOLM Quality Center for Passfail all that good stuff, defects, and then it just came into mortgage banking. So it honestly it really did come at the right time for me and I didn't go look for it. It just kind of that's how the evolution came from.

Chris SienkoHost05:33

That's awesome. Thank you, that's a great answer. So the biggest shift in your career track, anthony, appears to be in 2017, at least in terms of our story here. When you were employed with JPMorgan Chase and Co, your job role transitioned from vice president mortgage banking quality assurance, which you just told us about, to vice president autism at work, so that's obviously a very formative year for you. So can I ask you more about this shift in role within the company? Was this something that you created for yourself? Was this an opportunity that again made itself known and came to you and you were raised your right hand to grab it? And what were the aspects of your work life to that point that made this switch feel like aha? Now this feels right.

Anthony PicilioGuest06:15

Yeah, well, the opportunity arose when I was in the QA area because we needed more talent, right, and we couldn't get QA analysts to come in to do that manual testing, and so we had to find an alternative pipeline. So we looked outside of the quote, unquote, normal or traditional ways of finding talent to find that particular pipeline. And the governor of Delaware at the time and JPMorgan Chase were on the same path. Folks who are on the spectrum autism. They wanted to see if we could pilot something that would work in JPMorgan Chase. So we started developing the program and my boss at the time was leading that effort. I was his chief of staff.


It really again hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew we developed that program. I did raise my hand and said, hey, listen, I need to be involved with this, chris. And what we haven't talked about is that neurodiversity, like that term. Neurodiversity, it's a different way of thinking. The brain processes things different and includes autism, adhd, dyslexia, dyspraxia, anxiety, depression, ptsd, all of those things. I always knew, chris, it was a little quirky, a little different until my diagnosis a lot of years later. But I felt at home when that program started. It obviously blossomed to where it is today. I've left. A couple of years ago as the global head. There, we had 300 people in 10 different countries doing 40 different job roles. People are always thinking that folks who are on the spectrum they can only do this or that. We blew that out of the water. That was the aha. Now this feels right moment.

Chris SienkoHost08:31

I don't want to stay too long on past jobs, but can you talk about what your role was in terms of VP autism at work? Were you managing the folks here or was it an ERG? Or was it what was actually involved in creating this JPMorgan Chase group within a group?

Anthony PicilioGuest08:53

Part of my job was to find different areas within JPMorgan Chase that wanted to pilot programs. Once we had four individuals in there, but we were looking at what's the environment like that they're walking into, what's the noise level? Where are they going to be sitting? Who is their manager? How does that manager give feedback? Those are the things that we had to go out and bet. Then we said, well, if they're going to be in a certain department, do we need to place them separate from everybody else because of whatever noise concerns or just anxiety and gemmulation yes right


right. Of course, I think that was a large part of the job at first is putting it on its feet. It was really about relationship building within the financial firm, but it's also understanding the people that are coming in now. What it takes to sustain and retain a program like that. We started seeing cultural shifts and we had to do training and education. Part of my job which is going to translate nicely right here and segue nicely is that we had to find vendors who could supply the candidates, who could supply that education and training, supply that support, because we didn't have that initially. Cai was actually the very first vendor that we chose for JPMorgan Chase. It was extremely successful. Hence, two years later, a couple of years ago, cai came calling.

Chris SienkoHost10:43

That's great. Okay, perfect. I didn't need to do any sort of transition at all, because that's where question three goes here. Obviously, your main role and the focus of today's episode is as VP NeuroDiverse Solutions for CAI. For listeners who don't know your organization, could you walk our listeners through the day-to-day work you do as VP NeuroDiverse Solutions for CAI? Are there certain buckets of tasks that are consistent from week to week? Are there certain things that occupy most of your focus and time?

Anthony PicilioGuest11:14

Yeah, I think and I'll give you the backstory. I think our founder, tony Silvaggio. He's passionate about helping people with disabilities and neurodiversity in general. In fact, we've been a collaborative partner with several organizations for 30-plus years who benefit people with disabilities and their caretakers. Like Easter Seals Disability Inn, we have CAI Cares. When this neurodiversity program first started in 2013, the very first client was the state of Delaware, which, again, as we go back to the beginning of the question, it was Governor Markell at the time the governor of Delaware who was really the glue that brought everybody together. I think my day-to-day activities are a couple of things. I'm the brand and media ambassador. So, chris, I love you.

Chris SienkoHost12:11

You're doing your work right now.

Anthony PicilioGuest12:13

I am indeed Anything to do with the media. That is a piece of my job, whether it's writing thought leadership or doing podcasts or doing television interviews. That's part of it. The other piece that I do each and every day is I try to help companies and organizations build neurodiversity work programs. We have existing clients that haven't dabbled in it. They have a chief diversity officer, but it's race, gender, ethnicity, disability, physical, those sorts of things. Neurodiversity has been put to the side and go to the holiday theme. We're at the kids' table eaten Thanksgiving dinner and now we have a seat at the adult table. Part of my job is making sure that we stay at that table.


I also big part of my job is I'm looking at colleges and universities. I'm looking to see what they're doing with their students. Are they building a program? Do they have a program? What kind of curriculum are they establishing? Do they know what's down the path in cyber? Do they know that stock analysts are going to be the new thing or the bigger thing? We have to be able to influence that a little bit, and that's part of what I do as well. I think the personal piece to me is, again I am neurodivergent when I go to these places and I do these things. The vested interest is in making sure that there's opportunities for people who want to work, to be employed. That is, in essence, my job.

Chris SienkoHost13:55

Yes, fantastic. That puts a nice structure around everything we're going to discuss here. Thank you for walking us through that. Cii's website says they have over 40 years of excellence in uniting talent and technology. Was autism and neurodiversity and its clients part of their MO from the beginning of that 40 years? If so, can you tell us even by shared history, since you clearly haven't worked there for 40 years how CII's methods have changed and progressed to how you create solutions now? Obviously, you've worked with CII four years before you came to work here as well. How do you see this having changed in terms of perception or the way work is done, especially over a 40-year span like that? That seems like a massive change.

Anthony PicilioGuest14:39

Absolutely. I think and I referenced it a little bit in the beginning in 1982-ish, when the firm was first started, it was IT staffing doing whatever it may have been way back when there was always the passion, the empathy of making sure that the underserved, the underemployed community was always at the forefront. I talked about the whole Easter Seals and disability in, but where that starts to change and morph even more is in 2013, when they started spinning up the gears and building the sport internally so that we could do. At that time, mostly folks who were on the spectrum. Now it's huge. It's everybody who is neurodivergent. Think about it this way, chris you have a firm that's 40 years in. You're starting. You got a public sector, you got a commercial sector. Now you have CAI, neurodiverse solutions Kind of a different ball of wax than the other two sectors.


You have to ensure that you have the support built up your HR. You got to have your service delivery. You got to have your job coaches and mentors. Maybe you don't have that on the other side of your business, but in this business you need to have that. We need to make sure that our support mechanisms with our team leads and the way that we do.


It is an all-encompassing sport mechanism, not just on a daily basis for the people that are doing the work, but it extends 24 hours a day for the sheer fact that if somebody finished their day of work and they have some anxiety, we want them to be able to talk to us about what's going on. I just think and the other thing is it kind of goes back to the JPMorgan Chase there was a talent shortage as well. We had to find, in 2013, alternative pipelines to find candidates. I think and we talked to Daisaka a little bit about this that the cyberspace obviously we know it continues to grow and jobs are going to be going left and going right and all different things are going to come in. We have a ton of talent tapped and we got to find that talent, we got to bring it in and we're going to show you the different ways that people think.

Chris SienkoHost17:23

Yeah, that's fantastic. To that end, we talked about that in terms of one large bucket. I want to separate a few things out here, anthony. What are some of the variables when thinking about neurodiverse solution strategies in different portions of the tech sector? Like, for example are there specific challenges or emphases when you facilitate structures for IT roles versus cybersecurity, versus engineering, versus data analysis? Is that or is it more just like here is employment and here are the things that we help to facilitate?

Anthony PicilioGuest17:57

Yeah, I think neurodiversity in general, the pieces that make up that are things that can be sequential, or there's a finite task orientation, or there's a visual aspect, or there's pattern recognition All the things that I'm talking about right now. Don't they fold into cyber Right? Absolutely Fold into all IT, to cyber, to engineering, to data analysis, all of those things. There's a plethora of job opportunities that are waiting to be filled. We talked about SOC, we compliance analysts, identity access management, vulnerability and pen testing, incident response, like all of those things. If you took a look at somebody who is neurodivergent, those skills and aptitudes, that is what makes that whole sector a great fit for somebody who thinks differently. I think we're trying to close that cybersecurity skills gap a little bit. The world is going to gain some innovative thinkers who bring problem-solving talent to protect that critical data and that infrastructure.

Chris SienkoHost19:16

Yeah For sure. Now, do your clients also include neurodivergent professionals in leadership roles or capacities? We talked a lot about SOC analysts and incident response. That's the get your hands dirty, like you said, the pattern recognition and the deep focus and stuff like that. Do you work with leadership roles in that regard, as?

Anthony PicilioGuest19:35

well, yeah, One of the things starting way back when was we were filling all these entry level roles, and we still do. That's the crux of what we do, because we're finding individuals who are just breaking into the job market. But what we found along the way and now the statistic is one in five individuals is neurodivergent, One of the things that I mentioned. So 20 percent of the population that you're working with or working side by side is affected by whatever that may be. Yes, there's bound to be leaders in those spaces. We know that the famous ones, Elon and some other folks that are at the top but I think our job and yes, we do work with leadership, our job is to ensure that the people coming in have career pathing and mobility to get those leadership jobs.


Part of what we do is making sure that we upscale if necessary, but we're also making sure the companies that we work with they understand that we're asking them upfront please make sure you just don't have a SOC analyst one, and they can never go to SOC analyst two or three or two departments. We have to think more broadly than that. We know that leadership roles across the globe are filled by amazing human beings who are neurodivergent.

Chris SienkoHost21:08

Yes, absolutely, that makes sense. I guess I was trying to get a sense of the movement up the hill, like you said, because, especially if it's being done in a perfunctory way, there's that feeling of all right, we got one tick off the box, we got SOC analyst, but it is such an active conversation that you need to have with yourself as a company, and so to do that means to be sort of rethinking just so many different aspects of works. So, to that end, one thing I saw discussed in your post that you shared from CII was is your work to rethink the interview process in a way that doesn't shut out candidates without TISM or other neurodiverse learning and processing methods. So what's involved in rethinking the interview process?

Anthony PicilioGuest21:57

What does that look like? Yeah, so listen, traditional interviews that we've mostly seen over the past, kind of 50, 60 years. A lot of companies do that panel style interview, which we know doesn't work well for somebody who's neurodivergent. It doesn't work well for me either. So if I'm sitting across from you, chris, and five other people, and you're firing off rapid questions at me, I have a delayed processing as part of my neurodiversity, my neurodivergence, I should say, then you're going to think that either A I don't know the answer or I'm just I'm anxiety-ridden, I can't do the job. I am probably anxiety-ridden, but taking that panel away and then doing a one-on-one and not for six hours either.


You know they have these super days for internships. They are very long and exhausting. We're trying to say, like your interview should be 20 to 30 minutes tops. You should only have two or three at the most, because if you can't make that decision on the third interview, I think you don't have the right hiring managers in the room to make that decision Right. You're going to send people six interviews is not the way to go. I think the other way that we've rethought the interview process is we use a neurodiverse, friendly hiring platform. It uses gamification. We take away time constraints.