Like many young teenagers, Eric Brown dreamed of being an astronaut. He loved the idea of heading to NASA and eventually boarding a rocket to the moon or even to Mars. And while that specific ambition eventually faded, his love for science, computers, and gadgets never did.
Brown grew up in an immigrant family that emphasized the values of hard work and education. His grandparents came to the United States from the Dominican Republic, where his grandmother excelled in the field of healthcare, and even became her country’s secretary of medicine. His father served as an electrical engineer, and Brown’s own academic and career path launched when his parents recognized and nurtured his passion for technology.
They encouraged him and his two siblings to make the most of their education. “My parents realized that it’s not always just who you know, but what you know that can take you far in life,” he says. “Knowledge and training can open doors that otherwise remain closed.”
Brown’s older sister went to medical school and became an emergency room doctor, and his younger sister, a nurse, has her PhD. He chose technical education and pursued numerous licenses and certifications from (ISC)2, Microsoft, CompTIA, AXELOS, and other credentialing organizations for IT professionals. Later this year, Brown will earn a bachelor’s degree in science, cybersecurity, and information assurance.
“Knowledge and training can open doors that otherwise remain closed.”Eric Brown
This hybrid training has served Brown well and kept him up to date with emerging trends—there have been a few changes in technology since beginning his career in 1998. Over the last twenty-five years, he’s worked in networking and engineering roles at various companies across Florida.
After a position at an internet company and serving as systems engineer at a small start-up, Brown moved to JM Family Enterprises, where he was part of a team that took the organization’s 4,500 employees from Windows NT to Windows 2000. These and other tech implementations, including e-business strategies, helped the auto company generate millions of dollars in new revenue.
Over the next several years, Brown stepped into leadership roles with Netstairs.com, the Golf Channel, and other companies. He navigated racial bias, negative stereotypes, and other challenges along the way. “Being Hispanic in an industry dominated by white males has been hard at times,” he says. “I’ve tried to learn from my experience and let it change the way I treat others.”
Brown remembers one boss telling him he couldn’t be a manager because Hispanic people are workers. Now in a leadership role himself, he looks at merit and not race, gender, or other factors when hiring a candidate or promote an employee.
In 2015 Brown joined SAIC, a Fortune 500 technology integrator. Based in Reston, Virginia, the organization comprises 26,000 employees and more than $7 billion in annual revenue. As cybersecurity director of enterprise identity and access management and a member of the CISO senior leadership team, Brown manages a team of twenty and oversees all aspects of a $6 million annual budget.
That team remains focused on identity management, multifactor authentication, and access management. They also built a leading identity-as-a-service platform providing identity lifecycle management, authentication, email encryption, and other features and services to a large user base.
While cybersecurity measures already were important, Brown says COVID-19 raised the stakes even higher. “With many people working remotely, the physical perimeter of safety and security we once relied on no longer exists, so identity has become a foundational cornerstone of secure access to company assets. What we do has to be accurate, flawless, and well-managed, because it is the new way to keep sensitive data out of the wrong hands,” he explains.
“With many people working remotely, the physical perimeter of safety and security we once relied on no longer exists, so identity is the new access point and what we do has to be accurate, flawless, and well-managed.”Eric Brown
Brown currently works on several high-value initiatives, including a privileged identity management program affording special permissions to leaders and managers. He and his technical experts also manage the SAIC identity and access disaster recovery strategies.
Although Brown has held leadership roles for more than two decades, his management style evolved in recent years, thanks to the influence of his mentor and former CISO.
“I was once really technical and didn’t always let people lead their areas,” he says. “I’m still technical, but I’ve learned to add in inquisitiveness and understanding.” Instead of trying to have all the answers, Brown focuses on being a resource. He also invests more time than he used to in mentoring younger employees.
Brown encourages everyone on his team to strike a balance between their personal and professional lives. As a parent of young, homeschooled twins, he knows how important that is.
“We have to integrate work life and home life now, instead of keeping them separate,” he says. Finding the right rhythms helps Eric Brown and those on his team avoid burnout. They stay energized. And together, they’re improving the technology infrastructure and user experience at SAIC.