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A Day in the Life of a Head of Security Operations and Response - Sean Brannigan, TalkTalk

Ever wondered what it's like to work at one of Greater Manchester's leading tech employers or what specific job roles get up to each day?

Sean Brannigan is the Head of Security Operations and Response at TalkTalk.

We spoke to him to find out more about this role, his experience at TalkTalk, and what an average day looks like.

Name: Sean Brannigan        

Company: TalkTalk

Job Title: Head of Security Operations and Response

How did you get into your current role? 

My path to Cyber Security wasn’t a traditional one. I did a degree in Product Design at University, and it was only when I moved into the workplace full-time that I went down the technology route. I first worked as a field engineer for BT, installing customer Broadband and TV packages, which I guess is a little ironic considering who I work for today. After leaving BT, I then joined a relatively small Network Managed Security Services provider on a graduate scheme. I moved through various roles, before taking on the Shift Team Manager role looking after the 24x7 team. 

It was whilst working in this role in Feb 2016 that I was approached by TalkTalk to take on the SOC Manager role at the time. The role offered a completely different challenge – maturing the cyber security journey. My prior experience was on the other side of the fence, serving end customers not working for one. However, it was a really exciting opportunity and one that allowed me to build a brand-new team, systems and processes from scratch, with the aim of the team becoming a centre of excellence for Cyber Security Incident Response. 

Over the following few years, the team expanded and merged with other security functions - when my previous manager left I felt ready to apply for the Head of Department role. I was successful in applying for the role, being able to cite 9 years’ experience as a manager by that point, various incident response battle scars as well as personally driving forward significant team capability progress aspects, during the interview process. 

Moving into a ‘Head of’ role presents new challenges but also lots of great opportunities and whilst the business evolves and changes, it’s a rewarding job that I feel is vital to maintaining the security of that journey.

What do you enjoy most about working at TalkTalk?

I enjoy the challenger mentality of the business as that is something I live by day to day and in my managerial role. The creative and continuous improvement of our people development, processes and technologies. My overall goal is for us to get the most out of our capabilities - allowing us to improve our incident detection and response as much as possible, so that we can respond effectively and efficiently when called upon. 

The flexibility and fast paced nature of the business allows my team to be agile and make use of new tooling functionality, while we are trusted as security experts to deliver results into the business, which is very reassuring when it comes to being creative towards maturing our capabilities.

Seeing people develop and progress into more senior roles also remains a key objective for me as head of the department and we have had real success in this area over the past few years.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I normally have meetings about ongoing departmental initiatives each day, as well as catchups with my peers in the security leadership team - and 1-2-1s with my team. Additionally, I host a cross functional daily update call where the wider security team can share and discuss wider updates and challenges. 

I’m also part of other initiatives within the business that focus on the identification and improvement of any operation aspects that can be prohibitive to us achieving our yearly business strategy, such as poor collaboration, skill sharing or documentation issues.

As I am responsible for the success of my department’s strategy, part of my day-to-day work includes ensuring that all of the elements agreed within it are progressing as expected, which can require escalation type conversations to keep them on track.

Additionally, I am available to my team as an escalation point, ensuring that any incident response or project related concerns can be addressed to achieve the desired outcomes.

What is it like starting a new job post-pandemic?

I’d say it was certainly an interesting challenge. One of the biggest issues for us post-pandemic was to improve collaboration by getting people in the office again, but crucially feeling like they could work in a safe environment. This required a number of sensitive conversations based on individual concerns and a balance to be achieved around homeworking versus office working. 

For me personally, I had worked with my team members for a number of years by that point, so had built a good level of trust with my direct reports and the wider team. Therefore, alongside implementing a significant initiative to improve the team structure and ways of working, the other key challenge was to ensure that everyone understood our departmental strategy, where each of them can positively contribute to the success of that strategy and where our strategy fits into the wider business strategy success.

What excites you the most about the work?

There is so much potential for positive change within the business and I’ve seen real evidence of this right across the pillars of the wider security team as well as across many other areas of the business over the last 6 ½ years. We have some fantastic people working here and the board places a real priority of being a secure and reliable business, which really helps support our security objectives. We are implementing new systems within my team and I’m really excited about the new opportunities that this will introduce for my colleagues to aid their own personal development.

Have you learned anything new since you started?

It sounds very clichéd but I honestly learn new things all the time. I might have progressed upwards within the business over the last few years, but I really couldn’t do my job without the expertise and experience of my team around me and the support of the other people in security leadership. I’m always learning new aspects about the business, who to speak to for all kinds of different requirements, as well as my team educating me on new and exciting features of our security tooling that allows us to progress our maturity in a collaborative manner.

I also hadn’t previously developed a departmental strategy before taking on the role, but being able to concisely detail an overarching strategy and achieving the engagement of the team in that strategy has been a great experience.

People management is obviously a significant part of my role too. While it can be challenging at times to manage a relatively large team, I’m always learning how to manage what can be unexpected situations for individuals. However, being able to support and influence a positive outcome as a manager from an initially negative situation is something that remains one of the most rewarding parts of the job.

Thank you Sean!

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