How Netflix’s Charles Nwatu Turned His Desire to Help People Into a Career in Information Security
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up on your path?
My name is Charles Nwatu and I am currently the Engineering Manager at Netflix for their corporate information security team.
The origin story for how I got into information security is interesting. My initial passion growing up and what I aspired to become, was a nurse. I really like helping people. I like interacting with people. I like understanding people’s stories and journeys.
But one day, I think when I was either eight or nine, my father brought back a Tandy computer from RadioShack and I was just so intrigued about this machine.
My brother and I took it apart to learn more about it. We played with it, figured out the text terminal and a word processing application that was on it. I was smitten by this machine and what it could do and what it could allow. That increased my desire to learn more about this space.
What was the journey into Netflix?
That path starts from the fact that I, while at university, was able to receive a scholarship called the DOD Information Assurance Scholarship Program. That program allowed me to see and execute on security initiatives within the DOD. It provided a foundation for a lot of my training and perspectives on how to do security in a highly regulated environment.
From there I was approached by one of my mentors who told me that the goal for these programs was to get students trained up—have them be a part of the government workforce, but ultimately, go out and get that private sector experience, then return back and provide some of that guidance for the government at large, or the DOD, or whatever institution you chose to work for. He encouraged me to weave out of the federal government. And from there, I started the journey where I went to McAfee.
I knew I wanted to make another move and decided to cast a wide net to see, “Hey, can I come out to the Silicon Valley area and do security out here?”
I landed the opportunity to work at LinkedIn. From there, Twilio. After that, I decided to take a crack at running my own information security team at Stitch Fix. That led me to where I’m at now, with Netflix building out and reshaping the corporate information security team for what Netflix needs today and for tomorrow.
How would you describe your role within Netflix?
The charter that we’re tasked with is to ensure the security of our employees, our vendors and partners while providing the right guidance as to how to operate in a secure and safe manner. We do this by engaging through partnerships, engaging with people and understanding their use cases and trying to assist, where appropriate. We work to find the right solutions and things of that nature.
How have you seen the industry shift in your time since you’ve graduated until now?
I would say that from my personal experiences, there’s a lot of talk around how to integrate security as part of normal developer operations. So, a tighter convergence of security within the DevOps model or framework. And other growth, has been how do you automate where you can to help streamline your incident response process?
I have also seen a rise in non-security people wanting to understand what our role is. And I think security practitioners have to now develop better narratives around how to not just inform, but engage non-security individuals so that they understand their part in the process.
What advice would you give to somebody perhaps 10 years junior to you who would like to follow your career path?
What I would continue to tell people is, the security space is a small ecosystem. Meet people with grace, and respect the fact that each of us is going through our own journeys – we’re all carrying our own stuff around.
To those trying to get into the security field: I always talk about not only your work experience but the other experiences you are having. I know there’s always a chicken and the egg, like “how do you get experience without the job?” But I think one of the things that I try to do in a hiring manager position is to ensure that I look at the overall experiences of individuals to ensure that we have a robust and diverse knowledge set.