At A-LIGN, CLIMBERS take many different paths to reach the summit of their full potential. Being accountable for your work is a value celebrated through our annual value awards at CLIMB, A-LIGN’s annual training and team-building event.
Steven Ferretti, this year’s “Innovate Constantly” award recipient, shares his journey in software engineering and what teamwork and innovation mean to him.
How did you get involved in cybersecurity and start your journey at A-LIGN?
I started programming when I was about 10 years old, so software is something I’ve always been interested in. I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Information Technology from the University of Central Florida and my master’s degree in Management Information Systems from Florida State. In 2015, I moved to St. Pete where I worked for a startup company as a Senior Software Engineer. After that, I worked at Bank OZK as an Assistant Vice President where I helped with its digital transformation and to build its innovation labs. I then worked at Nielson as a Principal Software Engineer, which is when A-LIGN reached out to me about an opportunity to build and implement an innovative technology from the ground-up to complement the people-side of the business. I am now the Principal Software Architect and I oversee all the software engineering.
A-LIGN is the first company I’ve worked with where cybersecurity is at the forefront of the business, but cybersecurity is always a priority for any development team in any organization.
How long have you worked at A-LIGN? What has changed during your tenure?
I joined A-LIGN in March of 2019. When I first started, A-SCEND 2.0 was just a vision. A-LIGN was a powerhouse in the industry from a people and auditing perspective, and they found many similarities in the audits and the ability to de-duplicate them to help clients save time and money. A-SCEND is now a core part of A-LIGN’s business and how we work with clients.
I’ve seen immense growth and opportunity in both the company and the cybersecurity industry since I joined A-LIGN. I’ve seen my team and the company grow exponentially, and that growth provides the opportunity for people at any stage of their career to take ownership of their work and become a leader. We have a very diverse company with a lot of different perspectives, which also allows us to innovate and operate at a rapid pace.
How has COVID impacted your team and the cybersecurity industry?
I was one of the first technical hires for the A-SCEND team, and we soon hired a lot of top technical talent across the country. In hindsight, we were ahead of the remote work changes with COVID because we built a fully remote software engineering team long before the onset of the pandemic. This was a huge blessing for us.
From the cybersecurity and compliance perspective, A-LIGN not only has a strong auditing background, but we’ve built an amazing team. A lot of compliance companies just audit, whereas we’re architecting and building software with the remote engineering team to help companies achieve compliance remotely. We can do the audit, but also give realistic guidance to our clients knowing that all organizations are experiencing the same challenges because of COVID.
What was it like to win the “Innovate Constantly” value award at CLIMB?
I was surprised and excited. When I won the “Innovate Constantly” award, I saw it as a team effort.
Innovation is a contributed effort that comes from people that were at the company before me and the people that we hired. A-LIGN has accomplished what a lot of companies accomplish in five or ten years. It’s an individual award, but it speaks volumes of the team and the people at A-LIGN. It means a lot that the A-LIGN allows us to think outside the box and the opportunity to bring in people with different perspectives. The award is also a testament to the overall success of our software engineering department. A-SCEND isn’t just a proof of concept or internal app. It’s helping the company’s bottom line. A-LIGN is bringing in new clients and is the first in the industry to change the negative connotation of an audit to a positive one through an easier and more seamless experience.
How do you and the A-SCEND team commit to A-LIGN’s value of “Innovate Constantly?”
I think teamwork is the most important aspect of any company or any product. If we don’t embrace everybody’s ideas, we’re limiting the opportunity to innovate. As we were building A-SCEND, we were also building out an entire engineering department from scratch, everything from communication tools to processes and procedures. Our first focus was on building a strong team, and we ensured that everybody respected each other and their ideas and opinions.
The teamwork mindset on our team is a part of our company culture that starts from the top-down. It allows the engineers to own different aspects, whether it be the API, dev ops, UI or automated testing. We operate like a startup. We have the philosophy that we keep innovating and working with the business to come up with new ideas, and it all centers around teamwork.
If you could describe A-LIGN in one word, what would that be?
A-LIGN is making a lot of noise in the constantly evolving cybersecurity industry. I don’t think that’s by accident. A-LIGN is willing to invest in a strong software engineering team and take risks, which is beneficial for the company’s overall growth.
What motivates you to wake up and go to work each day?
The people at A-LIGN are what motivate me to wake up and go to work every day. Even though we have grown exponentially, it still feels like it did when I first joined the company. Everybody is very open and willing to mentor others. If I need help from marketing, I can reach out to anybody on that team and know they would help me. If I need help from an audit perspective, I can reach out to an auditor in that specific service line and they would help me. We are growing, but we still operate like a small company.
What is the most valuable lesson that you’ve learned at A-LIGN?
Never stop learning.
I learn from the people above me and the people below me every day. If things are outside of my day-to-day tasks, I’ll reach out to different people to learn more. You can never stop learning, especially in this industry.
How has A-LIGN helped you with your career development?
A-LIGN has helped me do something I’ve always wanted to do, which is to start something from scratch and build out a team while doing that. A-LIGN has helped me every step of the way and has given me all the support and resources I’ve needed to grow my career.
What is something that most people don’t know about you?
I studied abroad in South Korea.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I play a lot of soccer, but I’ll also play lacrosse and basketball. I enjoy playing any sport. I also enjoy spending a lot of time with my wife and exploring new restaurants in our area.
What is your motto?
Live in the moment.
I can find myself thinking too much about the future or the past. I always try to live in the moment, learn and make the most of what’s currently happening around me.
Why do you think cybersecurity is important?
Cybersecurity and compliance are a core piece of any business. It doesn’t matter how great a product is. It takes one hack to lose all credibility with clients. The industry is just going to continue and to grow. As we’re pivoting to a more remote world, there’s going to be even more attack vectors and cybersecurity is going to become exponentially more important.
Compliance is an extremely important component of cybersecurity, and it doesn’t just end with an audit. A report or certification doesn’t mean a cybersecurity attack can’t or won’t happen. It is critical to continue following the standards and controls in place, and A-SCEND helps clients do that by allowing them to continuously upload evidence and show that standards are being met. It takes one person to not follow a standard and create vulnerabilities in an organization’s security program. A-SCEND helps bridge that gap, especially now that everybody is remote. From the compliance aspect, people must be following security procedures to help create a secure and cyber-aware remote workforce.
What’s the most rewarding part about working for A-LIGN?
Working with the people on my team is the most rewarding part of working for A-LIGN. The people and the culture are why I stay at companies. At the end of the day, the software is important too, but the true difference in companies is the people. Having good people around you and the opportunity for innovation are very rewarding.
What’s the best advice you could give someone trying to enter the industry?
Do your research. If you’re already in a technical industry, then you understand the importance of cybersecurity and info security. Do more research on the subject you’re particularly interested in and try to find a job that interests you.