Sarah Squire: From Developer to Identity Stalwart
We kicked off our Women in Tech series with Clare Nelson, a seasoned technologist, currently heading up Business Development and Product Strategy at Sedicii Innovations. This time around we’re talking to Sarah Squire, a technical architect at Ping Identity. Sarah currently serves on the board of directors for IDPro and the OpenID Foundation and has been named one of the top 100 influencers in identity.
Armed with a Bachelor of Science in Physics, and a Masters of Science in Information Management from the University of Washington (where she was a NASA Space Grant Scholar), Sarah has carved out a very successful career in the identity industry. The co-author of NIST Special Publication 800-63C Digital Identity Guidelines, which outlines federated authentication standards for all US federal agencies, Sarah is also a Certified Information Security System Professional (CISSP). (Fun fact: Sarah is closely linked to our previous interviewee, Clare, as she facilitated an Identity Bootcamp in 2017 which Clare attended).
We were curious to learn more about Sarah – a tech superstar on a mission to conquer every escape room known to (wo)man – and she graciously agreed to let us pick her brain on a wide range of topics – from the lack of women in the tech industry, to how she measures success, to exactly how she found herself landing a career in identity.
Trulioo: How did you find yourself with such an exciting career in identity?
Sarah: I started my career as a software developer and was recruited onto an identity team. They had me read the most recent identity specifications in the FIDO, OAuth, and OpenID Connect working groups. I was instantly hooked. I loved the way that these standards solved complex problems of distributed trust in a simple, easy way. I really enjoyed learning those technologies and wanted to meet other people who worked with them. My employer wouldn’t send me to conferences, so I took vacation time and paid my own way to Identiverse. When people found out that I had read and understood all those specifications, they asked to hire me as a consultant. I started my own business and worked evenings and weekends until I was able to take it full time. Now I get to work with these awesome technologies all the time, and I’m part of many groups that are creating new ones!
Trulioo: The lack of women in the tech sector has been a hot topic for quite some time. Are you starting to see more female representation at tech conferences?
Sarah: I have definitely been noticing more women at technology conferences in the last few years. I’ve also had the honor of speaking at The Grace Hopper Celebration – a conference designed by and for women in technology.
“Identiverse has always had a strong community of women, and it’s wonderful to see it growing.
Trulioo: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge that women are currently facing within the identity industry?
Sarah: Everyone in an industry as new and as deep as identity is going to have trouble recognizing the context in which she’s an expert and the context in which she’s an ignorant newbie. You have to figure out a way to accept that both are true.You have to genuinely believe that you are both the most informed person and the most ignorant person at the same time.You must make space within yourself for both sides of that paradox. That way you will speak confidently about what you know and simultaneously seek to understand what you don’t know. My respect for a person increases when I hear her speak confidently, and it increases again when I hear her ask what could be dubbed a “stupid” question. Ideally, I want to hear both. If you can do both, that means you are confident enough to teach and curious enough to put aside your ego and learn.
Trulioo: You have been selected to speak at a number of different conferences in recent years – what do you love about speaking? Do you have tips for others out there who may not be so confident in speaking to larger audiences?
Sarah: No one should be afraid to speak. If a speaker gives a bad presentation, everyone will look at their phones and forget everything the speaker said. If a speaker gives a good presentation, people will often get in touch later to work together. So, the worst thing that can happen is that no one remembers you, and the best thing is that people will get inspired to help your cause. There’s no downside!
Trulioo: What is your personal mission?
Sarah: My personal mission is to do an escape room with every identity nerd in the world.
Trulioo: What are your current goals?
Sarah: There are three exciting projects I’m focused on right now.
- I’m working with the financial-grade API working group at the OpenID Foundation to create a standard for an OpenID connect-based mobile payment specification. This would allow people to pay for purchases using their phone application without ever revealing their identity to a merchant
- I’m also working with the CTO Office within Ping to leverage distributed ledger technologies like blockchain and distributed application technologies like Ethereum to reinvent the way that we make authorization decisions and verify information about people
- And lastly, I’m working with IDPro to build a body of knowledge and certification program for the entire identity industry.
Trulioo: Lastly – people measure success in a variety of ways, as a woman who has achieved great things in her career, how do you measure success?
Sarah: I live by a quote from Albert Einstein – “Try to become not a man of success but try rather to become a man of value.” Success isn’t a good goal. It will lead you toward a life of high-profile posturing, which won’t be fulfilling to you and won’t help society at large. Value is a much better goal. In order to provide value in the long term, you have to have a lifestyle that cycles between learning, sharing, and application.
In any given year, if I’ve learned a new technology, shared it with someone else, and applied that technology in a way that helps people, I consider that a successful year.
To learn more about Sarah and keep up to date with what’s she doing, follow her on Twitter.
If there’s a female trailblazer that you’d like to see featured in our Women in Tech blog series, please send your suggestions to [email protected]
Check out our previous post here and stay tuned for the next installment!