Unconventional Women in Cyber Security — Origin Story of Mechele Gruhn

Mechele has had a varied career history and one that speaks to her life-long pursuit of learning. Although Mechele studied physics at the University of Washington, she started her career journey in the medical field as a data entry operator. She transcribed medical billing codes for patients at a major hospital in the Seattle area.

Her father left the military and reinvented himself by learning to run complex computer simulations (military strategy games) and played a significant and inspiring role in her quest to learn more about computer security.

As Mechele’s job at the hospital became more demanding, she set about learning to automate some of her necessary but time-consuming daily tasks. She wrote a program in COBAL to remotely drop all previously run jobs from the day before, clear the print spool, reboot the system and start up again. For those who recall the glory days of COBAL, this likely meant studying thick manuals and hours spent in frustration trying to find the one line of code with the wrong syntax. Ultimately though, the programming skills paid off. This allowed her to spend more time enjoying hobbies such as reading, attending physics lectures with her husband, and writing short stories. While working at the hospital, she was the first non-clinical person to be nominated for the Nils Johanson award for excellence.

Mechele held other jobs in computer training and help desk where her new coding skills came in handy. She built software to track classroom enrollment and scheduling as this wasn’t readily available off-the shelf at the time.

As is the case in many of our lives, a huge layoff at the company left her taking on most of the jobs that others had dropped in the wake of their exit. Because she had been resourceful enough to take on programming duties outside of her primary role and showed a willingness to go the extra mile, when her name came up in the layoff lottery, she was hired back as a contractor to complete the work. Since she was offered a severance, she spent every penny on training to obtain her Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer certification.

One afternoon on a plane bound for a conference she met a Microsoft employee and talked at length about her career opportunities. After following up with her new contact, she applied for a job as a technical account manager. This new role allowed her to work on the first threat model for an infrastructure company supporting an electric grid. Later, she transitioned to the Customer Partner Advocacy group reporting directly to Satya Nadella when he was the head of Azure. She also designed a multi-dimensional security structure tied to an internal HR system using role-based security. Microsoft’s Security Response Center soon reached out to Mechele to lead their Vulnerability Response team.

Mechele will tell you her biggest supporter is her husband, Tony, who is the embodiment of unconditional support. She recalls others in the industry lending their expertise in supportive ways as well. Shawn Richardson, Christa Anderson and Simon Pope were notable influencers in her transition to the cyber security universe. Networking is one of those necessary components of any successful career, but especially so as an under-represented group in information security.

While Mechele is currently enjoying the fruits of retirement, her parting words for anyone looking to make a career shift to cyber-security or tech in general would be that each field in tech is an iceberg. Each of these icebergs is slowly melting as tech is constantly evolving and you should be ready to leap off your iceberg onto another. Roles will change, leadership and technologies are ever-evolving. Make sure that you are preparing yourself for the next big leap.

If you’d like to meet up with Mechele in the Twitter-verse her handle is @m3ch3l3, and I promise you won’t meet a nicer person.

Note: If you are following along, this is a series of origin stories for Unconventional Women in Cyber Security. If you want to take part or know someone who might be interested in sharing their own career experiences, reach out to me on LinkedIn: https://linkedin.com/lorirangel or Twitter: https://twitter.com/sorted_one.

Stay tuned for the next installment!

04/14/21 — edited to correct acronym for Common Business-Oriented Language (thanks JB)

Security Program Manager, Privacy Maven, Cat Wrangler, Dog Whisperer