NBN Co loses security talent to cashed-up banks

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NBN Co loses security talent to cashed-up banks

Looks to rebuild, with some changes.

NBN Co says some of Australia’s top banks raided its security team for converged physical and information security skills that the network builder cultivated over the past five years.

Chief security officer Darren Kane told the Gartner IT Symposium that some of the money on offer for “converged security” skills - now that others had adopted the model - was “crazy”, and had effectively priced NBN Co out of the market.

Converged security models are becoming increasingly popular because it is “near impossible” to draw a line where “facility security stops and where your information security / network access / identity access management starts," Kane said.

"You just can't do it anymore, and I'll tell you that if you've got a large organisation or enterprise that currently isn't considering the converged security model, where you actually tie [security] up to a single accountability so that both board and the C-suite can understand who's got what, I think you're going to struggle in the years going forward."

Kane pitched for and received the backing of former NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow to run NBN security in this manner five years ago.

“Now I'm probably a victim of my own success because now the converged model has been being picked up by a number of the banks and other areas, and because the team has five years’ experience in running the converged model, they've become quite a lucrative target for these other areas that are now looking to do exactly what we've done,” he said.

“The upside is I was proven right, the downside is I've got to build another team.”

Kane said that the going rate for “deep technical skills” in security domains had skyrocketed.

“There’s a shortage of really deep, smart, sharp techs - engineers that can do this stuff we really need at a very, very high level,” he said.

“They’re very difficult to find and goodness gracious, the market has shifted - they're very expensive. 

“If you think you're going to pay someone $180,000 to do that job anymore, it's about $270,000, particularly security architects that know telco.”

Kane said that offers tabled to members of his own security team by the banks priced some people well beyond what NBN Co could afford to pay.

“Some of the money that they've gone out [into the industry] for is fantastic for them,” he said.

“They've got mortgages and families, and I couldn't match it - and to hold them back when they were ready to leave the nest anyway would have been an injustice. So my attitude was to say, 'Go'. 

“Macquarie Bank, NAB, ANZ - you can't compete with that. Some of the money they get is crazy, and good luck to them - one of them is getting more than I am.”

Kane has a plan to rebuild, though it will rely heavily on training up a new team, since he’s priced out of buying in large quantities of existing skills.

He plans to hire a “development officer” with teaching skills whose role will be to find capable people and train them up.

“I'm going to go and spend some really good money and get a teacher - someone who teaches people for a living,” he said.

“Hopefully they'll understand what I want and they can sit there and their whole job is to bring in really good kids that we can interview for jobs, and then make sure those kids have as much pastoral care as I can give them while they're working for me.”

Kane still plans to hire in deep technical skills - just less than before.

“What I'm going to do is lower my sights and say ‘OK, let's get one or two people, keep them happy in critical roles and tell them as part of their job description, it's going to be important for them to actually work with my development officer to ensure those people understand the opportunities they get to come and work at NBN,” Kane said.

“I'm [also] going to be a little bit more aggressive around the types of kids I target - the 29 and 30 year olds that are whacking away at an accountancy degree or a commerce degree with the ‘top four’ [consultancies] or the second tier, that know the pathway to partnership stinks nowadays, and they're on 70-80 grand a year and I know that in two or three years I'll pay them $160,000. 

“They're valuable valuable commodities - they're learned, they're articulate, they understand customer service, and they want to learn.”

Kane said he was cognisant that NBN Co might only be able to have the services of these people for three years, but he hoped his plan would create a “pipeline” of talent that NBN Co could simply call upon when needed.

“Not to mention that the person that leaves our organisation and goes out into the industry helps harden the industry, so at the same time I'm getting benefit from it anyway,” he added.

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