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Embracing innovation: Derrick’s transition from banking to Microsoft’s Threat Intelligence team

A couple sitting at a table

Meet Derrick, a Senior Program Manager on the Operational Threat Intelligence team at Microsoft. Derrick’s role involves understanding and roadmapping the complete set of tools that Threat Intel analysts use to collect, analyze, process, and disseminate threat intelligence across Microsoft.

Derrick’s love of learning and his natural curiosity led him to a career in technology and ultimately, to his current role at Microsoft. From a young age, Derrick was a self-proclaimed nerd. His love for learning was evident even in kindergarten, where he was already reading while his peers were still learning the alphabet. This thirst for knowledge led him to write a short autobiography at the age of five, which he was invited to read to a first-grade class. Derrick’s curiosity was not confined to the curriculum; he wanted to learn everything from electricity to football. His love for non-fiction and science played out later in his life, shaping his career path.

In high school, Derrick discovered a love for music. He played several instruments, including the saxophone, French horn, and trumpet, and even wrote music. However, when it came to choosing a major for college, technology won out over music. Derrick chose computer science and attended college on a full academic scholarship from the college of engineering.

Derrick’s professional journey began at Wachovia as part of their associate program, a leadership development program. His first role was as a .NET developer on enhanced fraud detection, where he built solutions that helped fraud detection teams be more proactive in noticing patterns of fraud. Derrick’s time at Wachovia also included a stint in the organization’s project management office, where he conducted compliance audits and led initiatives to improve how compliance-related artifacts were captured.

Derrick’s career took a turn when he became an analyst for a new emerging financial product. This role allowed him to grow professionally. However, when Wachovia was acquired by Wells Fargo, Derrick found himself doing systems integration work between the two banks. He ended his time at Wells Fargo as a Delivery Manager, a hybrid role of team lead and project manager, which gave him the chance to experience a diverse set of roles.

Derrick then moved to Bank of America, where he was firmly in the technology manager / application manager / project manager category. By the time he left Bank of America, he was an application manager responsible for compliance for 14 different applications. Although he enjoyed his work, he was ready for a bigger challenge.

This readiness for a challenge led Derrick to Microsoft. His journey from a 15-year career in banking to the cutting edge of cyber threat intelligence is not just inspiring but also full of valuable insights.

Derrick is passionate about his work at Microsoft because he is at the forefront of cyber threat intelligence. He is not just observing what it is today, but actively shaping what it will become tomorrow. Every day, Derrick gets to help innovate threat intelligence tools for tomorrow’s challenges. These tools, connected together, provide analysts with capabilities to automate the collection and classification of threat intelligence data.

Derrick’s work is not just about reacting to threats; it’s about building up capabilities to be more proactive. He takes pride in knowing that the work his team is doing is unique. No one else is doing it the way they are. Derrick relishes the challenge of figuring out how to cover the next capability of what analysts and consumers of data, such as the Enterprise SOC, Cloud SOC, and defender teams, need.

Every day, Derrick wakes up knowing that his work and the hours he puts in are going to make a huge difference. He started this role in September 2020 and has been passionately driving forward the mission of his team ever since. His story is a testament to the impact one can have when they are at the cutting edge of their field.

The shift from the highly regulated banking sector to the tech industry was a considerable change for Derrick. In the banking sector, the stringent regulations meant that even a proof of concept required sign-off. Derrick spent 80% of his time on compliance, often putting out compliance-related fires. The actual problem-solving of applications was slow due to the heavy regulations.

However, at Microsoft, the scenario was quite different. As long as sensitive data wasn’t exposed, innovation was highly encouraged. Microsoft’s compliance program was much more balanced, focusing on trends and risks and prioritizing things that needed to be remediated. This approach freed up a lot of time for engineers, project managers, and architects to think through higher-end solutions and look at the big picture. The pace of innovation at Microsoft was a pleasant shock for Derrick. Despite being a large enterprise, Microsoft’s ability to innovate quickly was a refreshing change, although Derrick admits he’s still adjusting to the faster pace.

The decision to join Microsoft was an easy one for Derrick. As a tech enthusiast, the opportunity to work with many smart people and make a significant impact was irresistible. The role at Microsoft was particularly enticing because it overlapped with the business intelligence skillset he had built during his time at Bank of America. Derrick’s role at Microsoft involves processing data, categorizing it, and creating actionable insights, tasks he was familiar with from his previous roles.

Derrick had always wanted to move away from pure application development and into the security side, and his role at Microsoft has not disappointed. He’s been able to make the type of impact he’d been hoping for. Derrick enjoys his work and learns something new every day. He believes that when a job becomes so easy that you can do it in your sleep, it’s time to move on. But Derrick hasn’t reached that point yet. He’s still tackling major complex challenges and testing his time management skills and intellectual curiosity. His story is a testament to the exciting opportunities that await when one is open to change and continuous learning.

Derrick’s journey from banking to Microsoft has led him to share some valuable advice. He emphasizes the importance of continuous learning and growth, reminding us that today’s knowledge may not hold the same value tomorrow. He encourages us to keep our skills up-to-date and to stay open to new realities. Derrick’s own transition from banking to tech was a testament to this, as it opened his eyes to opportunities beyond what he had known. He also advises being ready to articulate your aspirations at any moment. Once, when asked on the spot about his career desires, Derrick realized the importance of having a clear vision and the readiness to seize opportunities. His advice is a reminder to always be prepared to swing for the fences when it comes to your career.

While Derrick finds planned networking activities to be tiring, he has discovered the value of being intentional about it. His network played a crucial role in his career transition, leading him to the opportunity at Microsoft and providing valuable advice for his interview. This experience underscored for Derrick the importance of maintaining and nurturing his network.

Derrick’s journey has taken him from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Seattle. Despite the vast differences between the Southeast and the Pacific Northwest, moving wasn’t a significant challenge for Derrick, thanks to his military family background.

In 2020, Derrick and his wife moved to Seattle. With the city in lockdown due to the pandemic, they found themselves in a new place without knowing anyone. As things started opening up, they began meeting people and noticed a narrative among African Americans that there were no Black people in Western Washington. This observation sparked an idea.

In 2022, Derrick and his wife decided to create a networking event to bring people together and build community. They called their initiative “Vibes After 5” under their company, Sync Seattle. The event was designed to be fun and open-minded, a way to beat the so-called “Seattle freeze.” They also used the event to support a Black-led non-profit organization, featuring it at the event to raise awareness and advocacy.

Their first event, which they thought would attract around 30 people, ended up drawing a crowd of 75. Encouraged by this success, they started a monthly series of networking events. The goal of Sync Seattle is to connect people with each other, with local small Black-owned businesses, and with causes they care about. They recently hosted a UNO tournament while a football game was on, and their most successful event to date was a holiday party that raised $2500 for a non-profit assisting domestic violence survivors.

When Derrick isn’t working or organizing networking events, he loves exploring Seattle’s culinary scene with his wife. They have a growing list of restaurants to try, which Derrick jokingly says is about five years long. Derrick’s story is a testament to the power of community, connection, and a good meal shared with loved ones.

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