Privacy Advisor

Forging a path into the privacy profession—one expert’s journey

July 1, 2011

By Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP

As privacy becomes a more significant focus for businesses and governments across the globe, demand for privacy professionals grows more robust by the day. Responding to several data breaches, Sony appointed a chief information security officer to help provide accountability for its customers’ data protection. As part of its review of Google’s privacy policies, Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner has recommended that the company increase employee privacy and security training. Additionally, U.S. legislators are flirting with a national privacy policy; the EU has enacted a strict cookie law, and countries around the world are producing privacy legislation, placing privacy-related jobs in higher demand.

The question remains, however, are most privacy-related positions executive level, requiring years of skill and expertise? If so, how does a recent college graduate, or someone new to the field, find a way into the privacy profession? As one IAPP Privacy List subscriber queried, “Is this profession mature enough to have a career path, or did most people step from tangential roles into a privacy role?”

“In my opinion,” says Microsoft CSS Privacy Manager Michael Spadea, CIPP, “there are more privacy positions than there are qualified applicants.”

Spadea, who possesses a wealth of insight about gaining entry into the burgeoning field of privacy, says, “Network, network, network…Relationships are critical to success and fulfillment.”

“My board of directors”

Networking proved to be a powerful vehicle for Spadea’s ascension into the profession. While attending law school, a professor informed him about an unpaid internship in the corporate privacy office at Fleet Financial, now Bank of America.

The professor “knew of my interest in technology and thought it would be a good fit. It was,” he says.

It was there, Spadea notes, that he connected with Agnes Bundy Scanlan, CIPP, currently chief compliance officer for TD Bank, N.A., and global chief privacy officer, TD Bank Group. Bundy Scanlan became a mentor for Spadea, while helping him make invaluable connections with other professionals.

In discussing Spadea’s internship, Bundy Scanlan says he showed a drive and an interest to do good work. “He really did a great job,” she says. After his internship concluded, she adds, “To his credit, he kept in touch with me.”

“Networking is a two-way street,” Spadea says, “you want to be known as someone who delivers for others. It will come back to you. I always ask the people in my network, ‘What can I do for you?’”

After passing the bar, Spadea clerked for a year before opening his own practice in general litigation. “I fought hard to obtain technology-related cases,” he says. “I was active in privacy-related Bar Association committees and chaired the Connecticut Bar Association’s Technology Law Committee…marketing myself as a privacy professional.” Spadea says getting onto these committees was not difficult and is one of the “core activities lawyers seeking to break into this field need to do.” He also adds that the American Bar Association’s Information Security Committee listserv permits non-lawyers to take part in the conversation.

Participating on the committees allowed Spadea to work with lawyers and judges who are engaged with “cutting-edge issues” every day.

“By being an active participant,” he adds, “you will come to the attention of lawyers who have been in the field for a long time. They can give you career advice, technical and legal advice and make introductions for you.”

Taking an exponential approach to networking, Spadea says, “From each person I met, I always obtained a few names at the end of the meeting…My network was really built over years.”

Spadea urges professionals to take care of their network by staying in touch regularly. “I have the people I call ‘my board of directors.’ These are the people in my network that I have known for years and go to with tough questions.”

Developing a knowledge base

Things changed for Spadea when his wife was asked to open an office in London for her firm. Taking advantage of the new opportunity, Spadea deepened his privacy knowledge by writing articles, enrolling in a UK privacy law course and reading up on EU policies.

Spadea says that young attorneys can strengthen their professional network and deepen their knowledge base by offering colleagues their time and effort researching uncharted issues, keeping watch for needed articles or bits of information and making introductions to other experts in the field. 

He advises professionals to read “everything you can related to privacy—but be conversant in other areas—don’t be boring.” It is particularly important, Spadea points out, to be knowledgeable about “international aspects of privacy” and “operationalizing privacy requirements in large institutions.”

He also notes that writing privacy-related articles and attending conferences are ways of strengthening a knowledge base.

After moving to London, Spadea received a “call from a well-known, London-based privacy professional whom I had been networking with…One of his clients was hiring a privacy lawyer, and he thought that I would be a good fit for the team.”

Spadea’s persistence and efforts to build a network and deepen his privacy competence started paying dividends. One month later, he was hired as the first group privacy lawyer for Barclays Bank. In just two years, he became head of privacy for Barclays Wealth.

Thinking outside of the box

According to Spadea, becoming a marketable privacy professional not only requires robust knowledge of the privacy landscape but also business and technology savvy. He regularly reads The Economist, Harvard Business Journal and MIT Technology Review. Keeping up on foreign media and culture, business management best practices and emerging technology provides a professional with the tools needed in today’s job market, he says. In Next Practices, his blog, he adds, “I love being at the intersection of cutting-edge technology, the law and the market.” 

Spadea notes that privacy professionals should not simply be privacy experts. “As privacy positions are elevated within organizations, management skills become more and more important. You need to know how to create a privacy strategy that supports your organization’s goals.”

He believes that speaking engagements and public presentations are crucial ways of conveying what he calls the mastery of “the soft and hard skills of being in big business.”

Spadea continues, “we aren’t just experts sitting in a small office, brought out to opine on esoteric issues—we drive change in international organizations; we have large budgets; we are managers; we are creative; we are trainers; we keep our organizations out of the press and court; we deal with regulators and the press; we convince our boards to take mitigating action before there are problems; we speak at conferences; we are experts in incident management; we are smart; we are comfortable working in multiple countries; we take the unpleasant calls from senior management when things go wrong; we are senior management.”

As we see more privacy legislation around the world, Spadea thinks that “more businesses will need to hire privacy professionals to make sure they do not run afoul of their regulatory obligations and to minimize the risk of privacy-related litigation.” Consultants, he believes, will be in demand to help jump-start organizations’ privacy programs.

Spadea is not shy about his passion for the privacy profession. He reminds aspiring privacy professionals that “there is and will continue to be a strong demand for creative, forward-thinkers who can carry the ball past the goal line.”

With wise resolution, he adds, “Hang in there.”