PepsiCo Chief Information Security Officer Talks Auburn Engineering

By Lauren Winton

Published: Sep 14, 2020 11:03:00 AM

Sara Andrews Sara Andrews

On her desk, sitting near her old Auburn Engineering statistics book, Sara Andrews keeps a paperweight. Etched on the glass it says, “every step of the journey is the journey.” These words guide her every day as she tackles new challenges with a grateful heart.

Andrews, a 1986 Industrial Engineering graduate, is the Chief Information Security Officer for PepsiCo, the leading food and beverage company, with over $67 billion in net revenue in 2019 and an iconic roster of products that are enjoyed by consumers more than one billion times a day in more than 200 countries and territories around the world. She was also recently appointed to the Board of Directors for FireEye, a leading enterprise security and threat intelligence company.

“Whether it was being at Auburn and struggling with a 30-page technical writing paper – that was part of the journey. Graduating, working in manufacturing, wearing the steel-toed shoes and lab coat – that was part of the journey,” Andrews said. “And now, here I am in cybersecurity – and the journey continues.”

That trajectory was the confluence of hard work and an emerging technical field, with some advantageous timing thrown in for good measure. Andrews launched her career at a manufacturing company, tasked with supporting and improving production. She continued in industrial engineering with a variety of roles related to process improvement and waste reduction. Later, she moved into more customer-facing positions in the industry.

She discovered cybersecurity and cybersecurity discovered her while working in Network Operations nearly twenty years ago. As the “person who managed passwords,” Andrews was asked to investigate an incident.

“We investigated the issue using standard problem management practices, but after more investigation, we found that there was malicious code that had been planted into the system. The code was designed to corrupt database files every night at the same time. It was fascinating to uncover what ultimately, was a human action to intentionally cause operational disruption,” she said.

That experience led Andrews on a quest to learn everything she could about cybersecurity.

“I realized how important cybersecurity was for businesses – to enable sustainable growth, digital trust, and potentially serve as a business differentiator,” Andrews said.

And so began her passion to build cybersecurity into business processes whenever possible. Andrews spent 17 years at Verizon serving within and leading cybersecurity teams, finishing her tenure there as Chief Network Security Officer before moving to PepsiCo.   

Andrews values the engineering education she received at Auburn, and references what she learned in her statistics, economics of engineering and technical writing classes in her cybersecurity work – especially statistics.

“Statistics is important,” Andrews said. “When I was a student at Auburn, I had three or four courses in statistics. I think that experience was pivotal because I am constantly evaluating the likelihood and impact of different cybersecurity risks. A solid foundation of statistics is key to developing and implementing a cybersecurity strategy.”

Her advice to those wanting a successful career in engineering is to hone your business and communication skills. She says it’s what sets technically savvy engineers apart.

“If I am looking to hire a technical candidate and I receive a really well written thank you letter or other form of written communication, I always tell the interview team how much I appreciate the written communication skills of the candidate. It’s an important skill, for highly technical individuals, to effectively communicate the importance of a project or technology,” Andrews said.

As an engineer at the top of her field in cybersecurity, Andrews has the aptitude to tackle any project, the leadership skills to move the cybersecurity vision forward and the mindset to manage and safeguard the technology estate and data across the Fortune 500 enterprise that is PepsiCo.

“Talking to any Auburn Engineering student today who is interested in cybersecurity, I say absolutely - go for it,” Andrews said. “I think what students and recent graduates today really want is to make a difference. In cybersecurity, you work with purpose. The field can be as technical or as people-focused as you want; you can work across a broad spectrum of cybersecurity areas – everything from driving governance, risk and compliance, managing identities, designing security defense strategies and even responding to incidents.  There are so many ways to make a difference.”

Working in cybersecurity provides Andrews a sense of unity, a way to improve circumstances, and the opportunity to learn. As she says, it is never boring.

“Cybersecurity is such an exciting field because it is ever-evolving, and it is a life-long learning experience,” Andrews said. “If you feel like you want to make a difference, to work with purpose, cybersecurity is the field for you.”

Media Contact: Lauren Winton, lmw0090@auburn.edu, 334.844.5519

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