Heather Bellini ’91 is bullish on cybersecurity. “This is a field that only continues to grow,” she says. And she would know. As a technology investments expert, Bellini keeps an eye on the full scope of the tech industry. Named a “Top 100 Influential Woman in Finance” by Barron’s, and a “Top Ten Woman in Finance” by GlobalNewswire, this Goldman Sachs partner is now leaping into a new venture as CFO of cybersecurity startup, Deep Instinct.
“Cybersecurity is a great area for start-ups,” she says. “The attack vectors are constantly shifting, and we keep applying new band-aids — one on top of the other — to keep up.”
Hackers stay ahead of the latest security measures. More devices are connecting to corporate networks all the time, exposing vulnerabilities — especially from devices like cell phones and laptops that are often owned by employees, but must still be connected through company networks.
Artificial Intelligence is part of the answer
Deep learning, artificial intelligence’s ability to self-learn and adjust programming as it processes new experiences, is an expanding segment of cybersecurity. And that’s not good for hackers: AI algorithms can now use that capability to learn from hackers as they test the system, and to incorporate those lessons into stronger defenses.
Bellini’s bet on Deep Instinct takes into account the startup is the first company to apply deep learning to cybersecurity tech, developing algorithms and prediction models based on work by a team of mathematicians, data scientists, and deep learning experts.
How to grow a career
Bellini is a lifelong learner, and her career path reflects that. “I’ve been able to map out my career according to what drives my intellectual curiosity and makes me happy. I did so many different things during my liberal arts education, it gave me lots of options.”
“I did so many different things during my liberal arts education, it gave me lots of options.”
In particular, Bellini cites her senior thesis and study abroad in Paris. “I was there when the Berlin Wall was coming down, and decided right then to write my thesis on the economic reunification of East and West Germany. All that writing and data analysis is still part of my skill set.”
After graduating with her econ degree and working for a few years, Bellini was ready to take the leap into Columbia’s MBA program. From there she advanced through Lehman Brothers, Citigroup, UBS, and finally to Goldman Sachs, where she achieved partner within a year.
“I plan my career path in five-to-ten-year segments — I learned that in my econ classes,” she says. After 20 years in finance, she expects to spend the next stage of her career in cybersecurity, a mushrooming field with lots of opportunity.
Don’t be afraid of risk
Bellini points to many factors that contribute to her success, but right at the top is her propensity to take calculated risks. In other words, don’t be afraid of change or to start things over from scratch.
“I tell my kids, put yourself in a place where you will have optionality.”
Also, have confidence in yourself, and set up good support systems. This is especially important for women, she says. “Make sure to have a good network in your industry, and good friends who know you well and can tell you when you’re not being true to yourself,” adds Bellini, who keeps in regular touch with many of her Denison friends.
“Still to this day, I can walk down a New York sidewalk and run into Denison friends. My kids are always amazed and ask ‘Now, how did you know them’?” she laughs.