Nick Palmer

Today we are talking to Nick Palmer, who, at a first glance, seems like a rather restrained man and it is hard to guess what he does for a living. But once he opens up, he reveals an extraordinary story of how he abandoned his successful career in the telecom sector in his native Canada and flew over the pond to Russia – a country that he did not know much about – to immerse himself in cyber security and hunting for cybercriminals at Group-IB.

When telling his story, Nick also shares his thoughts on how important it is for a young person to have a career coach to rely on and to get advice from people who have already been confronted by a number of challenges.

Before we start to dive into a myriad of topics, I am curious to
learn who Nick Palmer is. How would you define yourself?

Defining yourself is not that easy and depends on whom you ask. At work, for the people whom I engage with, I am known as someone who is good at sales. This is what I started my career in – connecting with different people and helping businesses grow. Outside my work, I am probably just an ordinary man, husband and father.

Nick Palmer - It is really cool for people to get out of their comfort zone and do something different, something that is scary.

If I were to reflect on my professional life, I would say I am someone who has got a little bit lucky in their career to get into cyber security at the right time. I started my path in this industry in about 2014, specifically in the area of cyber threat intelligence, which was a relatively new topic at the time. Since then, my career has increased in both maturity and popularity as did our collective knowledge of threat intelligence and related areas, such as anti-fraud. At this point I would consider myself to be quite knowledgeable and certainly passionate about these topics. I am happy to have a lot of people in the industry to turn to for guidance, and, likewise, they also come to me for support.

I am now leading a fairly nice-sized team across many different markets. Colleagues probably view me as someone who can advise them on how to grow their careers and what to do better or differently to what they are doing with their customers or products that they are selling.

Who has influenced you most in your life?

I grew up in Canada and my upbringing was fairly conservative. My parents instilled to me all their good traditional values. The key emphasis was always on being a good human, respectful to other people and not getting involved in crime. This led me to some disagreement with people who would, say, steal things or treat others with disrespect.

I certainly learned a lot from my wife too. If you ask her, she would say she moulded me into what I am today. She supported and pushed me at times when I was thinking of quitting and helped me to survive my challenges abroad (when Nick moved to Russia). Of course, other people I met within the cyber security industry also helped me to adjust and settle in Moscow and taught me a lot. I remember when I first started at Group IB, I had no connections on LinkedIn and hardly knew anyone in the cyber security industry. I was a zero. Slowly but surely I got to know other people and learn their values. It is a very small community, and once you know people well, the relationships you build become essential and perhaps more important than anything else. Without a doubt, I owe a lot to the people I currently work with in the industry.

Before getting into cyber security, you worked in telecommunications and fast-moving consumer goods industries. What was the key motivation for you to dive into a new field?

I worked in fast-moving consumer goods for quite a long time. That job gave me hardcore sales experience, because the fast-moving consumer goods industry is super tricky from a sales perspective; it is very aggressive, so you have to have very strong customer relationships to support the clients, and it is all about reaching numbers and achieving margins.

Nick Palmer - Take one step and the next step will follow.

Later on in my career, I went into telecommunications to try something different. I worked as a broadband product marketing manager. In practice, this meant I would design new products, pricing, marketing strategy and training for sales people and would then market strategy for those products. In contrast to my job in the fast-moving consumer goods, this was a very stable and at times tedious job with no major ups or downs. But what I enjoyed most about my job was that I got to work between engineering and marketing teams and had a chance to learn about technology and cyber security solutions from working with different vendors who implemented different solutions for our residential and business customers.

My personal life had a major shift as well. About seven years ago I got married and my wife and I had to decide where to live: either I had to move to Russia, or she had to come to Canada. As a Canadian, I did not know anything about Russian people, lifestyle or the language, nor had I ever had any aspirations to go to Russia. Nevertheless, adventurous by nature, I thought I would just upload my resumé on the websites of companies in Moscow and see what happens.

To my surprise, very soon I got a job offer to teach English. At that time in Russia it provided very good money – even more than I was making at the telecommunications company in Canada! So I thought I would go over, start teaching and find a job in my professional field once I get there.

I sold my house, car, said goodbye to my family and moved to Russia. I started teaching but was also looking for different technology companies to apply to. Before I moved to Russia, I had formed a clear understanding that there are extremely good programmers and technology-minded people, but they have a little bit of a deficiency in terms of marketing and actually selling their solutions in the global market.

These insights helped me to identify where I could be useful and the right people to connect with. I developed my plan of ‘attack’. I wanted to find a technology company that had good products and a good proposition, which I then could help take its business to international waters.

How did the Russian society welcome you when you came there? What challenges did you run into, if any?

It was a very difficult time when I landed there. I would not recommend it to many people (smiling). I have found that if you can push forward during difficult times, especially if you see the reason why you are doing what you are doing, you will always find the bright side. But finding that bright side in Russia was not easy for me.

The main difficulty came from the fact that I did not speak Russian at all. I was an outsider and it was challenging to gain any sort of understanding of the people, culture or business. So what I focused on was how, with my all knowledge that I have, I can help a business grow and rationalise its mission. I also had to accept some of the Russian cultural norms that I was not necessarily accustomed to but, over the years, I learned to live with them.

Now, when I think about having to move soon, I feel sad to be leaving, as I really like Moscow – it has become my home. I felt like I have finally conquered the city! But obviously there are many more things to conquer every day, you never reach the top.

In terms of living in another country after Russia and starting from scratch again, I am no longer scared of anything. I can go anywhere and find myself in any situation. I think that it is really cool for people to get out of their comfort zone and do something different, something that is scary. And the thing is, the more you do it, the easier and easier it gets. Sometimes fear of making a mistake or of what other people might think can be a major stumbling block for a lot of people to follow their dream. And if you do not have that fear, what is standing in your way? Nothing!

“It is really cool for people to get out of their comfort zone and do something different, something that is scary.”

How did you bridge from working as an English teacher to leading teams in the cyber security field?

As a part of my plan, I made a list of all the companies that were interesting to me and I called each of these companies and pretended to be a customer. I made notes of my experience and after that put together a list of companies that had the best products but perhaps did not do such a great job positioning themselves for foreign customers. I contacted the CEOs of these companies and shared my thoughts with them. This is what led me to my current employer, Group IB.

I believe that the most effective way for young people to get into cyber security industry or a similar field is by researching different companies and getting in touch with people who work there. There are so many good technology-driven companies that start up out of nowhere. Just another day, I came across a company which had a very good end-point solution that focuses specifically on new emerging threat into firmware attacks and there are not many companies out there yet that can prevent against those. Speaking with technical specialists in this company, I realised that they do not know how to take what they do to the global market. I think there are huge opportunities for people in this type of emerging activity. My advice for those who are starting their careers is to just go and work for these companies as a volunteer or at a low salary at first to get some experience – get involved in the company and prove your benefit and grow from there.

You are about to move to the Netherlands, what will be your next role?

My position will actually remain the same when I move to the Netherlands. I will be responsible for the global business development at Group IB – basically for all the revenue generation and all the sales. Currently, I manage a team of about 45 people at the company (although, indirectly, it is closer to 125 between marketing and other departments).

I am also responsible for building partnerships with different information-sharing organisations like Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FSI SAC) or Retail & Hospitality Information Sharing Analysis Center (ISACRH-ISAC) and international law enforcement organisations like Europol and Interpol, so I do a lot of work to establish relationships with these companies and share information about cyber threats that we identify, do investigations with them and help to disrupt cybercrime.

When it comes to work, I have learned that one of the most important things is understanding the reason why you are doing something. If you do not have a strong belief in what you do, then you are just earning a salary. But if you have confidence in what you do every day, this can create a feeling of positivity that is indescribable. What drives me most in my work is knowing that the work my colleagues and I do to investigate cyber criminals and disrupt cybercrime helps prevent harmful impact on businesses and people around the world.

“When it comes to work, I have learned that one of the most important things is understanding the reason why you are doing something. If you do not have a strong belief in what you do, then you are just earning a salary.”

Some might say it can be easier to see the impact you make if you work in a field like cyber security where you are actively trying to catch ‘the bad guys’, but how would you motivate young people to make an impact in other fields, especially those who find that they hit a wall?

To be honest, for me it was not always clear either when I started with Group IB. I would think about it a lot and question what cyber security actually is? Well, to put it simply, we sell products and help people protect their business – and that seemed pretty much it. Later, I started to understand the deeper reasons behind the job we do. I think you can find those reasons if you look for them and then really focus on them. Let them be your driving force, the reason why you are in your role. Once you seek opportunities to innovate and create extra interest for yourself in the job you are in, then it prevents you from getting lost on the treadmill of normality.

“Once you seek opportunities to innovate and create extra interest for yourself in the job you are in, then it prevents you from getting lost on the treadmill of normality.”

Even if you are stuck in a rather limited role but know that you want to do something beyond it, something that has a real purpose for you, you can set some small goals and pitch this idea to your boss. As long as you demonstrate how important this is to you and explain why, it is hard to argue with making the change. It is unlikely to work if you just tell your boss ‘I want something different’. If you start with ‘The reason we do X is to achieve Y, and I can see how the job I am already doing contributes to that, but I have a really passion for Z and I would like to do more in that field to help us deliver Y in new ways’, it is hard to say no to that. I think if you are driven by the why rather than by the what, it makes for a different story altogether.

Nick Palmer - The biggest personal struggle for me was coming to Russia and starting life there. However, there is nothing I can teach anybody to get past that – you just have to go through it.

You are also interested in coaching people. Why is it important to you?

I wanted to get into mentorship because you can easily get lost in working for a company just because it is good money and a stable salary. But what about more than that? It is fair to say that steady income helps you feel comfortable, but unless you feel passionate about what you do, you are missing a key component in life. We spend 80% of our time at work, and if you are not driven by what you do, then you are simply stuck on a treadmill.

What has been your biggest struggle while you pursued your career or more generally in life?

The biggest personal struggle for me was coming to Russia and starting life there. However, there is nothing I can teach anybody to get past that – you just have to go through it.

The biggest professional difficulty was moving from an individual-achiever role (for me, it was a sales role) into a role of leadership. It was a difficult role transition. As my team grew, I had to learn to nurture them by myself. This is part of the reason that I wanted to get into the role of mentorship, because it is important to nurture people and to help them develop into the best they can be. To achieve that, you have to be honest and fair with people and help them grow. You can set difficult and aggressive goals for your team – as long as they are achievable; however, helping them to achieve those goals is important.

“The biggest personal struggle for me was coming to Russia and starting life there. However, there is nothing I can teach anybody to get past that – you just have to go through it.”

In my opinion, being an individual achiever is easier. I know individual achievers will look at managers and think they are not contributing anything – I used to have this mindset myself, but it truly changed. When you are in a leadership role, you take pride in your team more than your own achievements. You get to feel real happiness watching your people grow, setting goals for them, seeing them achieve those goals and congratulating them. As a leader, you are in the backstage and no longer the centre of attention. That was probably the most difficult professionally for me at the beginning.

What would you say was the motivational point to go outside your comfort zone?

I would always go back to the question of why you want to do something. If you know the reason why you are doing something, you have the ambition to get bigger. Even when you have achieved something great, there is always somewhere further to move. Do take a second to acknowledge what you have achieved but start thinking about what is next. If you are not moving onto the next achievement, you are just standing still, and stagnation is not good for anybody. If you stop moving forward, someone will come along and take your lunch from you.

If you were not in your present role, what else would you do?

A good question, but I have no idea! Someone has already asked me this question once and I honestly have no clue. That is partly the reason why I wanted to get into mentorship too. Once you have found the thing you want to do, it is hard to imagine that you would so something else. I think when I was asked that question before, I might have said I would still be surfing in Nova Scotia… so maybe that (smiling).

What are the most important things for you in life?

For me, unambiguously, the most important thing is family, because they are always going to be in my corner no matter what. The second thing, in a professional landscape, is to be true to your word. If you give someone your word, you live up to whatever it is you promised. If you cannot, you try to do it again and again until you manage to! In professional life, your word is everything. I have found that to be especially true with Russian people and in a Russian company. If you do not keep your word, you will lose credibility.

If you could give one piece of advice to younger people going into the cyber field for a new challenge, what would it be?

I would say do not overthink what it is you want to do or the reason why you want to do it. Try to have a loose understanding of why you want to do something and just go for it. Take one step and the next step will follow. Nothing happens immediately. You have to work towards what it is you want (even if you are not yet sure what it is exactly!). I know it is a huge cliché, but if you work hard enough, eventually it will happen.

“Take one step and the next step will follow.”

On a global scale, apart from cyber security, what concerns you?

The biggest issue is division in beliefs and ideologies, especially when you look at the cyber crime landscape (I cannot help returning to my professional field!). Criminals take advantage of that division. They take advantage of countries that do not talk to one another. Being open and responsive to other people’s ideas and always having open lines of communication, even when it comes to people you do not agree with, is important. I think if the world continues to go in this way of division, it will become difficult to maintain those crucial lines of communication. This is not a healthy trend – cyber security world is a good example where this causes problems but it is certainly not the only one. You have to have an intelligent dialogue rather than complete polarisation of ideologies, which does not benefit anyone.

“Being open and responsive to other people’s ideas and always having open lines of communication, even when it comes to people you do not agree with, is important.”


Name: Nick Palmer
Industry: Cyber threat intelligence and anti-fraud
Country: The Netherlands

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