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The Privacy Advisor | How I got my start in privacy: The series Related reading: New for PSR: 'Strategic Privacy by Design'

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This is a new series for The Privacy Advisor in which we ask privacy professionals who've been in the field for at least a few years to describe how they got their starts. The series aims to help new privacy professionals gain insights and ideas on how they might jumpstart their own careers. Find the series, to date, here in the Resource Center

Privacy wasn’t something that was on my radar much in 2009, and definitely not as a possible career path. I followed tech news and current events closely, so I was aware of the topic, but mostly related to whatever was the latest data breach at the time and the bigger general discussions around data use that made their way to mainstream media.

I was working as a brand architecture and portfolio manager at a large mobile phone manufacturer. As part of the brand strategy group, part of my role was also to work with internal teams that were coming up with new topics and ideas that the company wanted to speak about more publicly. We would work with them to decide if the topic was something we wanted to integrate into our overall brand strategy, communications, and value propositions as a company. One day, our vice president of brand strategy said that some guy from the legal department and a lady from customer insights wanted to talk with us about “privacy stuff” to see if we could develop some messaging around our company’s data protection policies and standards. I volunteered to take the project because I noticed this was a topic I was starting to see more and more of everywhere. I was the only volunteer.

Little did I know that this would start me on the path towards my privacy career. And so far, it has been the best decision I made in my professional life.

I did finish that project, and we did decide that, like our company’s messaging on sustainability and other corporate social responsibility efforts, privacy was something we wanted to talk about and try to feed into our overall brand propositions. But it also was a project that allowed me to develop relationships with the people working in privacy and data topics across the company. About a year and a half later, in 2010, that same lady from customer insights was heading the privacy program for our global sales and marketing group. And that guy from legal? He was our de facto chief privacy officer. 

That same year, the aforementioned head of the sales and marketing privacy program contacted me. She asked if I was interested in a big job change. I loved the work I was doing in brand strategy and thought that was what I would be doing for the rest of my career. I wasn’t interested in doing something totally different.

But she needed people in her privacy program who knew about marketing, CRM, and how social media teams worked. She had a privacy expert, she had a data expert, but she didn’t have anyone who knew how the teams they supported worked in practice; no one who “knew” marketing. I was concerned that I didn’t know much about privacy from an operational perspective; the rules, the standards, etc. I had learned a lot during the project, but it wasn’t like it was enough to be a data privacy officer. She assured me that she could teach me this and I could learn it; what she couldn’t teach others was what I knew about how sales and marketing worked. After the interviews, and some soul searching, I decided to give it a try.

And sure enough, I did learn it. We are still learning all the time in this area, but that's one of the things I have loved about it. Back then, my role was partially operational, in that I was doing privacy reviews, etc. But I also kept some of that strategic and brand-type work by helping to build our consumer-facing website about our company’s approach and commitments to privacy, and running a large global consumer-behavior study on privacy attitudes and data use. In my later role at the company I now work for, I got much deeper into the nitty-gritty work of Privacy Impact Assessments, managing a privacy program for our sales and marketing subsidiaries in Europe, and doing very daily operational privacy work. Now, I am starting a new role leading our team of seven privacy program managers based around the globe.

I would encourage anyone that has a passion for the topic to go for it if you're interested. You don’t have to be a lawyer or a privacy expert, as we all bring something useful and interesting to the profession with our own unique background and experiences. It is these different perspectives and outlooks that make our profession such an interesting one, and what it will take for our profession to grow and be ready for the next set of data protection challenges that will come.

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