Executive Spotlight: Interview with Cynthia Shelton, Area Vice President for Special Program Sales at CenturyLink

“Women make up only 10 percent of the cybersecurity career field and there are over one million unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the US alone.”

The future is here, undeniably bringing with it a hefty amount of challenges across the cybersecurity sector at our door. But when a cyber attack comes–are we ready? CenturyLink Area Vice President for Special Program Sales Cynthia Shelton might have the answer. Shelton, with more than 30 years of experience in the intelligence community and almost 20 years of combined service in the U.S. Air Force and the Air Force Reserves, is responsible for leading the federal sales team for CenturyLink’s Intelligence, Energy, Justice and Homeland Security/cybersecurity programs. In an interview with ExecutiveBiz, Shelton gives us a brief rundown of what the future of the cyber marketspace looks like for CenturyLink, the importance of customer relations and what her thoughts are on the gender gap in cybersecurity.

Cynthia Shelton

EM: You recently had the opportunity to address the NATO Information Assurance Symposium in Mons, Belgium. Share with us some of the highlights of your discussion.
Cynthia Shelton: I was asked to participate in a panel that discussed the gender gap in cybersecurity. High-level NATO executives, including the Deputy Secretary General of NATO Rose Gottemoeller, Kevin Scheid of the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCIA) and his staff, attended. I discussed some of the techniques I used early in my Air Force career when I recruited women and minorities for the Air Force Academy. We did outreach to students, parents, teachers and counselors at the primary and secondary levels to make students aware of the Air Force Academy and gave them a road map on how to prepare to attend the Academy and what it meant to pursue a military career. The main point I made was engaging young girls and women early and often about the various career opportunities that exist in the cybersecurity arena. Women make up only 10 percent of the cybersecurity career field and there are over one million unfilled cyber jobs in the U.S. alone. If you look among the 29 member nations of NATO, that number is exponentially greater.

CenturyLink just completed its acquisition of Level 3 Communications. How do you see the acquisition impacting CenturyLink’s service capabilities for the government markets?
Shelton: I am very excited and happy about the acquisition. The acquisition has expanded our global reach and our customers will see continued investment and focus on network growth, network security, network automation and network virtualization.

CenturyLink recently opened its ‘Customer Experience Center.’ What is the thought process around standing up this center?
Shelton: It was the brainchild of our former SVP/GM of Federal Solutions, Erich Sanchack, when he came on-board last year. The idea was to bring CenturyLink’s and our partners’ advanced concepts and capabilities to federal customers by leveraging innovative efforts, rapid product adaption, customer use cases and demonstrations, and making new innovative solutions market-ready. We are really proud of the federal CEC and how quickly we were able to stand it up. We already have some upcoming demonstrations on next-gen cybersecurity and network protections, imaging and signal processing, and software-defined networking (SDN).

What are the biggest challenges government agencies are facing in migrating over to the cloud?
Shelton: Agencies have made some progress in migrating applications to the cloud, but the biggest challenge seems to be choosing what to migrate. Determining the cost savings and ensuring that the agency’s data is protected are just two things that need to be considered when choosing what to migrate. Fortunately, CenturyLink is able to help agencies understand their unique environments, security requirements and portability challenges. We have a comprehensive portfolio of cybersecurity solutions, including Enhanced Cybersecurity Solutions (ECS) and Einstein 3 Accelerated solutions that are approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. We work collaboratively with agencies on initial consultations to develop a safe path to migration, aggregation and consolidation strategies.

In the next 18 – 24 months, where do you see CenturyLink’s greatest opportunity for growth within the federal marketplace?
Shelton: Our greatest opportunities in the next 18 to 24 months are with innovative technologies that can help agencies transform their cybersecurity, cloud migration, SDN, data and analytics. CenturyLink has invested in solutions that can enable the advanced technology and growing bandwidth needs of the federal government. Our recent General Services Administration EIS contract award will play a key role. Fair opportunities under this contract vehicle are underway and CenturyLink is ready to help agencies plan for transition and take advantage of the simplicity of creating fair opportunities through the GSA EIS-pricing tool.

Cynthia Shelton has managed various complex, mission-critical programs for several large government contractors in executive leadership roles. She has a bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy and a Master of Science degree in strategic intelligence from the Joint Military Intelligence College at Bolling Air Force Base. Shelton also serves as a member of the Women’s Leadership Committee for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington as well as a member on the Executive Committee of ACT-IAC.

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