Career Stories

From Social Services to Cybersecurity: This VP Is Passionate About Keeping People Safe

Devon Westerholm, Vice President of IT Customer Experience,
Palo Alto Networks

Devon Westerholm has worn many different hats over the years—everything from video editor to staff at a homeless shelter. But it’s in her fast-paced role as Vice President of IT Customer Experience at cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks that she’s finally found her true calling: working for a mission-driven company that helps protect its users.

Read on to hear more about her journey to a senior-level tech role, what she loves about the company culture, and the best career advice she’s ever received (hint: it involves not staying silent).

Tell us about your career journey, and what led you to your job at Palo Alto Networks.

I’ve had a very unusual career journey: I started working as staff in a homeless shelter, followed by work as a video editor, then as a locations manager for Bill Nye the Science Guy and other educational television programs.

Then I moved into tech. I started at Adobe as a Customer Service Agent, I transferred into technical support for their video products where I worked my way up and then over many years moved into customer experience. This is where I started the first customer experience program at Adobe, which is quite well-known in the space. I spent five years building the customer strategy & designing the experience in the Solar industry at SunPower. Most recently I spent time at Dropbox, and now I’m at Palo Alto Networks leading IT Customer Experience.

When I look back across this very unusual journey I’ve taken, there are definitely consistent themes that weave all of it together. I consider myself a champion for those who don’t have a voice, whether it’s homeless people or customers who are not at the table as we’re making decisions on their behalf. It’s important that we make sure we keep customers front of mind as we make the hundreds of choices in our conference rooms day to day that have a very real impact on them.


What attracted you to work at Palo Alto Networks?

Living my personal values and ethics is super important to me, so I’m drawn to mission-led companies. The Palo Alto Networks mission of making the world a better place—this matters to me. To come home at the end of the day knowing that everything that you did mattered is the best feeling in the world. I was really excited to join the cause at Palo Alto Networks and protect people from those that have bad intentions with their data and are looking to wreak havoc. I feel really connected to that.


What are you responsible for in your role at Palo Alto Networks?

My team is responsible for two key areas: getting our products ready to go to market and building tools that help customers solve problems on their own.

To expand a bit more, we run New Product Introduction (a.k.a. NPI). We enable our products by plugging in everything it takes to go to market. This process has to pull from so many different systems (to enable quoting, licensing, SKUs, pricing, etc), so we have quite the breadth: It’s just about as cross-functional as you can get. We have to coordinate across systems and make sure all of these things fit together perfectly.

We also build the technology for supporting and empowering customers. Customers interact with our systems to manage their products, register and manage users, and set up and submit support tickets. Internally our teams utilize our tooling to handle support cases and manage customer success. This direct connection to customers is a responsibility that my team finds incredibly motivating—continually improving these tools help us give the experience that reflects what the Palo Alto Networks mission is all about.


What do you like best about the company culture?

I think that everyone here has good intentions and is focused on continuing to be the best security company on the market. Everybody here wants to do the right thing and make sure that we are being the best version of ourselves so that our customers can not only protect their information but they can truly leverage what they need from these powerful tools we provide. When everybody has a North Star that they’re marching toward (our mission) it creates this environment of cooperation and synergy, which is exciting.


How does Palo Alto Networks encourage a diverse and inclusive environment?

I think that always starts with hiring. In order to be the best company that we can be, we have to have a diverse group of people with different experiences and perspectives to make sure that we’re coming up with the best ideas and solutions.

I am so proud of my team; we have different ethnicities, backgrounds, and languages and our team is almost 60% women. Not only are there different cultures surrounding us, but everyone also brings different work experiences from previous industries.

As a company, we know that security is such a complex notion, and in order to stay ahead of the bad actors, we need to have diversity from every angle—in thought, background, experience—so that we can come together to find the best solutions. We wouldn’t be able to succeed if we all were the same. It’s just not possible.


What is the best career advice you have ever received?

One thing I’ve learned in my life is that playing small doesn’t serve you. It doesn’t serve the customer and doesn’t serve the company. You have to speak up. You were selected out of all sorts of people to come and bring your voice to the conversation. So participate. Add to it. Don’t ever be a shrinking violet. You have a right to be in the room—and every time you’re in the room, whether it’s in work or in your personal life, you have an obligation to really make sure you contribute.

The other advice I would share is that you should be able to publicly speak in front of people and share an idea confidently and clearly. After all, to contribute your ideas, you need to be able to articulate them.