With increased awareness of unconscious bias, and many initiatives supporting women in technology, security, and payments today, Kristine Harper sees a future where gender is not the only thing that sets women apart from men for leading roles in the industry. Instead, she says that experience, education, intelligence, and proven results will be the deciding factor when choosing between a man and a woman for the same position. In this edition of our blog, Kristine describes her own journey into the payments industry and why it’s so important to help those you meet along the way.
How long have you been at Amazon Web Services and what is your role?
Kristine Harper: I have been in my current role with AWS SAS for three years as of March 2023.
How did you get started in the payments industry? What led you to that career choice?
Kristine Harper: My long-term goals for a career in IT didn’t actually include security or payments. After completing a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Technology, I immediately took a position in IT operations providing third-party IT support to local companies. The initial, hands-on exposure to all types of technologies led me to an opportunity with the U.S. government working as an IT strategic planner, where I quickly migrated into the Army Information Assurance program as a Department of Defense civilian employee. This was my first exposure to Information Security, and I was very intrigued, realizing quickly how naïve I was in this subject area.
I was soon introduced to a member of the PCI team at one of the world’s largest credit card processing companies looking for compliance and technical expertise for their team. That’s where my journey into payments began with one of the most amazing teams I have ever had the pleasure of working with. By leveraging my experience with both operational and security practices, I quickly picked up on PCI compliance, managing and supporting enterprise-wide, large-scale PCI assessment program activities, including PCI DSS, PA-DSS, PCI P2PE, and PCI Card Production as a PCI Internal Security Assessor (ISA) for more than six years. I am now a PCI DSS QSA with AWS Security Assurance Services, LLC, helping AWS customers achieve compliance and security in cloud environments.
Who has been your biggest role model in shaping your career path?
Kristine Harper: Although I have had several amazing role models in my life, I have to give the most credit to Walter Martin for his role in shaping my career path. Walter was my manager at the time I entered the payments industry. He was the first manager I ever had who truly cared about me as a person, often asking where I wanted to go in life, and going to great lengths to ensure my work life did not negatively impact what was most important to me: my family. He demonstrated amazing leadership abilities through his patience, dedication, and desire to help me reach my career goals. Not only was I impressed by the values he lived and worked by, but he also inspired me to inherit those values myself, even after we had parted ways. Although I have added my own values to his list, I still carry his original ten with me today, and I share them with others often. His influence on my career, and my life in general, is something I’ll carry with me always.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
Kristine Harper: My proudest accomplishment in my career to date is managing a project that allowed me to lead an amazing team of people to achieve certification for the very first PCI Hardware/Hybrid Point-to-Point Encryption (P2PE) solution. At the time, I worked for one of the world’s largest credit card processors and was part of a very small team who managed the company’s PCI program enterprise wide. This project was like no other I had done before, and there was a lot of ambiguity around how to accomplish this company initiative. Anyone who has ever certified a solution for PCI P2PE knows that it is no small feat, and that effort was compounded by introducing hybrid encryption/decryption technology. Not only did I gain more technical knowledge and expertise, but I also improved my program management skills, and had the pleasure of working with some of the most intelligent and hard-working people in the payments industry. Although it took three years to accomplish certification, it is one of those experiences that, to this day, impacts the way I plan and manage any project I lead.
Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that is the case?
Kristine Harper: When I graduated from college, I thought, “I can do this. I see women in technology everywhere.” What I didn’t know back then was how hard it would be for me to get my foot in the door. With a Bachelor of Science degree in IT, I took a position that made less than what I was making at my local bank teller job that required no degree, and I didn’t even make enough money to pay childcare for my two small children. It was eye-opening and I knew then I would have to work very hard to get somewhere in this field. Today, I love that I see many more women in technology, especially since there are a lot more women holding leadership positions than there were back then. However, it’s still unbalanced, and women are still under-represented in the top leading technology positions. It’s hard to undo hundreds of years of societal thought processes, but I see improvements every day and it’s very encouraging.
Many women in the tech industry have felt that their gender has affected the way that they are perceived or treated. Is ‘unconscious bias’ holding women back in the workplace and, if so, what can women do about it?
Kristine Harper: Although it’s easy to blame the opposite sex, I think both men and women still hold unconscious biases that hold women back. In less than 100 years, people have taken thousands of years’ worth of cultural norms around women’s roles in society and turned them upside down to prove women can do the same job as men, and in some cases, better. I am encouraged by the men that I witness supporting women in technology initiatives and identifying opportunities for women to succeed. I think it’s important that women also support other women, not just work hard to ensure their own success. Most women in higher positions, or who have years in the industry, know how hard it can be. I encourage women to support other women, give them opportunities and identify ways that you can support those who are still struggling to be taken seriously in this industry. I am inspired by the number of Women in Technology groups that exist to provide support and inspiration to women. I am even more encouraged by the men who lead and participate in these initiatives to give women the confidence they need to feel included and to succeed.
What do you see as the future for women in technology roles/payments industry?
Kristine Harper: With increased awareness of unconscious bias, and many initiatives supporting women in technology, security, and payments today, I see a future where gender is not the only thing that sets women apart from men for leading roles in the industry. Instead, experience, education, intelligence, and proven results will be the deciding factor when choosing between a man and a woman for the same position. As women continue to succeed and demonstrate their capabilities, I am positive we will see an increase in new innovative technology and capabilities, as well as women in C-level positions, that help address security in technology and the payments industry.
Were you given any advice during your career that has stuck with you? As a result, do you have a personal mantra or a famous quote that you live by?
Kristine Harper: As mentioned above, my previous manager, Walter Martin, had several values hanging in his office that impacted me greatly. One of those values was, “Do not compromise your integrity, nor pressure others to compromise theirs.” Those who know me know that I am the first to admit to my own mistakes and take ownership for my own actions, and I am honest almost to a fault. High stress or crisis situations tend to test people’s character, often making them lose sight of their guiding light and ethics. In these moments, it’s important to stay grounded and remind yourself who you are and what your values are. This type of self-awareness will be what sets you apart from others and will help you succeed in anything you do, both in your career and personal life.
What advice would you impart to other women about how to succeed in the payment industry or in a technology-based field in general? What advice would you give to your younger self?
Kristine Harper: If I could talk to my younger self, I’d tell her, “I promise, it’ll all be ok, just trust yourself!” Ambiguity is very intimidating, and not knowing the future will always leave you wondering if you’re making the right decisions. Keep moving forward, and if you come across someone who seems to be standing in your way to success, there are always other routes to get to where you’re going. You do not have to stay the course. Changing course is what leads to innovation and success in this industry. Take those leaps of faith and find impactful ways to lead and develop others. And lastly, if you are a manager of people, help them find opportunities to succeed in this field, and don’t hold them back. That one person you help take on a role higher than you, may one day be the person who makes an impact that significantly changes the future for you and your own family.