Eric Williamson

Like the Microsoft cloud service she supports, Edna Conway ’82 is constantly making connections.

Conway is the vice president and chief security and risk officer for Microsoft’s Intelligent Cloud infrastructure, which supports services to more than a billion user accounts. She is responsible for the security, resiliency and governance of the cloud infrastructure and supply chain upon which Microsoft’s cloud business operates.

In a nutshell, her job is to manage a complex digital matrix constantly undergoing stress so that the cloud doesn’t merely endure change but thrives amid flux.

Users of the cloud might be leveraging it for a variety of business applications: a business sourcing goods and services, a factory checking its sensors on a moment-to-moment basis, researchers collaborating on the latest vaccine. Meanwhile, the numerous applications and services businesses increasingly rely upon—are simultaneously operating in the cloud environment.

“Despite that complexity, we strive to have the right balance of resiliency,” she said.

Understanding the connections interlacing the third parties that work with Microsoft is part of Conway’s specialty. Using the security and resiliency ratings that she devised based on approximately 300 controls, she has established “tolerance levels” to help abate risk. It’s a model that benefits both Microsoft and the third parties who partner with them, she said.

Conway has built a career on synthesizing what others might otherwise miss. Having added advanced supply chain, executive leadership and security credentials from MIT, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and New York University following law school, she is always learning, and not just out of necessity for her work. Her interests are broad. In fact, she earned her bachelor’s from Columbia University in medieval and Renaissance literature.

After obtaining her law degree, Conway served as a prosecutor focused on homicide cases as a New Hampshire assistant attorney general. That experience honed her ability to gather information and parse relevant arguments, which won her at least one case in private practice in California before she even opened her mouth, on the merits of her brief.

She knew that because the judge told her she was winning and asked if she really wanted to address the court with an oral argument. A quick study, she rapidly said, “No, your Honor,” and sat right back down.

Returning to New Hampshire, she became partner in an international legal practice. She was entrusted with some of the firm’s most complex cases, and her exposure to multiple forms of practice resulted in a client, Cisco Systems, asking her to come in-house.

She joined the tech giant in 2000, rising to chief security officer of the global value chain, where she drove a comprehensive security architecture across Cisco’s third-party ecosystem.

Technology has come a long way in more than two decades, as have the threats to it. By today’s standards, risks such as the Y2K bug seem quaint. With all the change, Conway has maintained an approach to her career that leverages the power of technology to allow her to say yes to opportunities. First and foremost, she runs toward challenges others might find daunting.

“Seeing connections, saying yes, trusting your colleagues will help you take a risk, and building something that didn’t exist before have all been integral,” she said.

Ironically, as an early adopter of technology, she was working remotely before working remotely was cool.

Although Conway doesn’t currently serve as an attorney, she still often has to think like one. Companies must carefully vet potential partners, she noted. Brand and intellectual property protection, and other legal and risk mitigation concerns, must be considered.

The winner of numerous awards for her career contributions as a leader in the tech industry, Conway has also served on a number of boards and councils, not the least of which involve advising the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, NATO, and other global and government defense departments. Blending technology, legal risk and business acumen led her to be invited to join the Fortune Most Powerful Women’s community.

Conway said she is a firm believer that “the combination of a curious mind and a great legal education can take you anywhere.”

Seeing connections, saying yes, trusting your colleagues will help you take a risk, and building something that didn’t exist before have all been integral.
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