Women in Channel | Juliana Zaremba – Difenda

This post was originally published on ChannelTake.com

Conversation with Juliana Zaremba | Director –Strategic PartnershipsDifenda

Meet Juliana Zaremba. She is the newly appointed Strategic Partnerships Director at Difenda. As part of her role, she is responsible for Difenda’s channel partner program, and their global Microsoft Partnership among other things. Prior to this role, she has worked with the Herjavec Group and CDW. She is a proven leader and achiever with inspiring perspectives on life, work, and leadership. An avid reader and philanthropist, she lives with her husband and daughter in Ontario, Canada. 

Channel Take is happy to feature Juliana in our ‘Women in Channel’ interview series. Here’s the conversation.

First, let us go back a little in time. Please share something about your early career choices? What drove you to this path? Were there any biases you had to face early on? 

While in university, I did have an idea about what I wanted to be. But like for many others, it changed when I entered the workforce.  My undergraduate and graduate studies were in Mathematics and Economics. I wanted to become a statistician and help businesses make decisions based on data.  But when I was interviewing for jobs, I realized that I preferred roles that put me closer to the customers. And so, I started my career in technology as a Business Analyst. My mentor quickly recognized that I was more of a Project Manager. And so, I went back to school to learn more about that craft.  I was young and it was early in my career. I felt I needed a degree to be able to switch roles.  My passion for solving client problems in business, my urge to stay planned and organized, and my love for data-driven decision-making are what led me to this early career shift.  I remember being one of the very few women in the technology industry at the time. But women in Project Management roles were not totally uncommon.  Maybe because of this, I did not face many biases at that time.

What motivates you? What is it that one thing that gets you to push that bar a notch higher every time you think you have made it! 

My job is my passion. I have always worked in roles that have excited me, so motivation is never hard to find.  When I support clients and use my knowledge to help them grow their businesses, I feel like I am making an impact. I enjoy that. 

I also crave challenges and I challenge myself regularly. For instance, while working through different roles, I pushed myself to continue education and secure certifications early in my career.  Later, transitioning to leadership roles unlocked several other challenges and growth opportunities for me.  I had to expand my approach to work and think beyond customer support challenging myself to push the boundaries further all the time. 

I certainly do not feel like I have made it. I have not ever felt that way. This is not because I am not proud of what I have accomplished, or the work I have done. It is because I know that I should continue to learn and grow. For this, it is important to surround myself with people who support me in this pursuit.  

HAVING A CORE NETWORK OF KEY PEOPLE WHO WILL GIVE ME CANDID FEEDBACK, HELP PUSH ME TO ACHIEVE MY DREAMS, AND BE MY CHEERLEADER WHEN I NEED THEM IS SO IMPORTANT IN BUSINESS. IT HAS BEEN CRUCIAL IN MY CAREER.

Juliana about motivation.

Everyone has made their share of wrong choices and mistakes in their professional life. How does one bounce back and fly higher? 

In my opinion, mistakes are an opportunity to learn and grow, not a place to nest your negativity. Have I made mistakes in my career?  Of course!  That is how I have learned the difference between what makes sense on paper and what will work in practice.  My quick 3 recommendations:

  • As I mentioned before , have a circle of people _ to bounce ideas off, get candid feedback from, and draw support from. This has helped me immensely.  
  • I believe in homework. Business proposals or decisions, I recommend to have clear plans and be reviewed by as many leaders and stakeholders as possible.  
  • Lastly, I highly recommend doing a proof of concept, or a trial.  Take your ideas and try them out quickly in order to “fail fast” or get more realistic feedback. This is a great way to learn from wrong decisions and make changes before there is a large impact.  

Is there a person, advice, book, or experience that may have turned things around for you at work, and how? Please share.

I wish there was a silver bullet that I could share with you, but the reality is that there is none.  My career growth has been a culmination of so many different aspects of my life.  My education, my family, my love for technology, my passion for continuous growth, the incredible mentors I have had, and amazing teams I have worked with over the years _ have all added to making me what I am today. There is no one piece to this intricate puzzle that can be removed. 

When asked similar questions by mentees or in other interviews I always share that I never could have told you in university what my career path would have looked like, but at every turn I chose my path based on my gut and what would help me personally grow, as well as support more businesses.  Every time I face a challenge or decision, I also use my analytical approach to assess the changes. I then discuss issues with my mentors to get candid feedback. And finally, I review my choices with my husband, who has been my partner in life since university.  Typically, after all these discussions and assessments, I have a strong feeling on what is the right move and then just go with it and give it everything I have. So far, that has not failed me.

When someone is ambitious at work should they have to compromise on life? How do you strike a balance?

EVERYONE I KNOW THAT IS AMBITIOUS AT WORK IS ALSO AMBITIOUS IN THEIR PERSONAL LIVES. THEY DO NOT COMPROMISE, BUT FIND A WAY TO MAKE THINGS WORK.  BALANCE IS THEREFORE HARD TO DEFINE, AS IT IS VERY DIFFERENT FOR EACH PERSON.  IN MY CASE, I CERTAINLY HAVE HAD TIMES WHERE MY FOCUS HAS BEEN ON WORK, OR MY EDUCATION, OR MY PERSONAL LIFE.  I GENERALLY FOLLOW WHAT MAKES THE MOST SENSE FOR MY FAMILY AND I AT THE TIME.  

Juliana about work-life balance.

As I mentioned earlier, I have been with my husband since university, and when we first met, we both shared a passion for career and family growth.  I would not be where I am today without his support, and the reality is that for both of us there are times where we work together to balance work priorities or personal priorities – that is my definition of balance. 

The last two years with COVID have certainly been interesting, though. I had stopped commuting to work, and travel was no longer part of my work or personal life. As a family, we used the time to learn new ways to balance.  I have had many people share with me what they have done to find balance when work happens at home. I used trial and error to find what works for me.  The reality is that balance is what you make of it. And finding ‘your balance’ should definitely be a priority.  I am so thankful that Difenda is an organization that feels the same way. So it is very easy to make this a priority for my family.

What does leadership mean to you? How early in your career did you know that you wanted to become a leader? 

I recently shared a post on LinkedIn that resonated with me.  After being new at Difenda and having some unplanned time off as we battled COVID at home, I saw a post that reminded me about why I love working with the team I am on.  The post was on the Leadership First page and shared the 9 traits of exceptional leaders: respect, authenticity, communication, humility, accountability, leadership by example, empathy, vision, and care.  When I think back on leaders that have shaped me and my career, they all possess those qualities in spades.  So when I work with a team I ask them to give me feedback on how I can support them and their growth while we are jointly growing the business and serving our customers.  I try to cultivate these traits as a leader, and ask for feedback as to whether I possess these traits or not. 

I DO NOT KNOW WHEN EXACTLY IN MY CAREER I REALIZED I WANTED TO BE A LEADER.  I DO REMEMBER MY FIRST LEADERSHIP POSITION. I HAD BEEN A PROJECT MANAGER (PM) FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS BEFORE, AND I WAS NOW GOING TO BE LEADING OTHER PMS.  I WAS CONFIDENT THAT HAVING BEEN IN THE ROLE MYSELF FOR SO LONG WOULD HELP ME JUMP RIGHT INTO LEADERSHIP. BUT I LEARNED VERY QUICKLY THAT LEADERSHIP IS LOT MORE THAN BEING GOOD AT THE JOB YOU ARE LEADING.  

Juliana about leadership.

I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning but having my former colleagues as my team helped. They became part of my journey to leadership and were patient to work with me as I learned along.  In that role I realized I was passionate about leading and supporting others in their careers. At that point I knew that I wanted to continue to lead in future roles as well.

Is being or becoming a woman leader tougher than for men? What are some of the challenges and biases? How does one overcome them?

This is a difficult question to answer.  I certainly only know my experience and the experience of other women and men that I have worked with.  But in those cases, yes, I would say that being a woman leader is often more difficult than it is for men.  Unfortunately, even in 2022, the technology industry is still primarily male-dominated.  When you are in a more technical position or in leadership, it is even more obvious that there is a gender imbalance. Therefore, in this industry women in some cases need to prove themselves to be given opportunities that men are often more naturally considered for.  This situation is shifting, and different companies have distinct ways of addressing the continued disconnect, so the reality of the struggles for women today depends entirely on the company they are working for, and the company’s leadership. 

KNOWING HOW DIFENDA DEALT WITH WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP WAS IMPORTANT TO ME AS I MOVED TO THIS COMPANY.  I HAD WORKED WITH THE TEAM BEFORE AND KNEW SEVERAL OF THE LEADERS. I SAW THEM MAKE HIRES BASED ON THE SKILLS AND CULTURAL FIT FOR WHAT THE COMPANY IS LOOKING TO ACCOMPLISH. THAT IS WHAT I RESPECT AND WHAT I WANT THE COMPANY I WORK FOR TO REPRESENT.  I GET THE SAME OPPORTUNITIES AT DIFENDA THAT MALE LEADERS DO AND GET THE SAME LEVEL OF DETAILED REVIEW ON MY BUSINESS PLANS.

Juliana about Difenda’s approach to women leaders.

It is hard for me to give advice on how to overcome the challenges of being a woman in leadership, as experiences can be varied and depend on the company and team one is working with.  All I can say is that it is important for individuals to know who they are, what they want to do, and what they need to do to get there.  Be open to feedback and be flexible to address the challenges and changes that come with being a leader.  Have a network that supports you that is also honest. Surround yourself with people who can help you tell a bias from a constructive feedback. Most importantly, be determined. If it is your dream to do something in your career then do not let one person or interaction stop you from achieving that.

Explain your perspective on what the role of an organization is in enabling and grooming leaders. How have your previous bosses or organizations helped shape your career? And how does Difenda do it?

Leaders are so crucial to the success of every organization, and that has become more apparent to businesses in the last two years dealing with the pandemic.  Growing and grooming leaders is not an easy task, and it requires you to be in tune with your employees and your business plan.  

For me personally, building relationships with my team, both leaders and team members, is the key to my success and continued learning. I think organizations that provide that feedback experience to their leaders in addition to training, are going to be the most successful in growing solid leaders.  Difenda is wonderful in this way.  The leadership team is very engaged with the entire organization, continuously giving everyone an opportunity to share what they have learned, and respecting feedback that is provided.  As we grow, we value the engagement of the entire team in what we are building and that allows all of us to work together to drive success in the business and certainly in our team as well.

What is your advice to those who are pursuing leadership roles? How does one switch roles from being a specialist or individual contributor to a leader? 

My advice to anyone pursuing a leadership role is to go for it!  Find your tribe, and make sure you have the right people in your inner circle who will give you feedback when you need it and help you grow while you embark on this journey.  Make sure those people will also help you celebrate your wins along the way – stopping to celebrate is often lost on leaders as we have the next big thing to work on, but you need to enjoy the milestones as you hit them too. 

For me, training has always been important as well. I know it does not replace on-the-job training, but it helps me base my decisions on facts and look at things rationally when I need to so that I feel like I have done my best assessment of every situation.  

HOW TO SWITCH FROM BEING AN INDIVIDUAL CONTRIBUTOR TO A LEADER IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERY PERSON.  ONCE YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO LEAD, THEN I SUGGEST FINDING A MENTOR OR SOMEONE IN LEADERSHIP THAT YOU CAN SHADOW AND ASK QUESTIONS OF AND LEARN FROM.  ALSO, FIND OUT WHAT TRAINING MAY BE AVAILABLE FROM YOUR ORGANIZATION, AND CERTAINLY WHAT SKILLS ARE REQUIRED IN THE LEADERSHIP POSITION YOU WANT TO OBTAIN.  THEN IT COMES DOWN TO WORKING TOWARDS YOUR LEADERSHIP GOAL, WHILE DOING YOUR BEST WORK IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE, AND TAKING A SHOT AT A LEADERSHIP POSITION WHEN YOU FEEL YOU ARE READY.  THE WORST THAT CAN HAPPEN IS THAT IT IS NOT A GOOD FIT, AND THEN YOU ASK FOR CANDID FEEDBACK SO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU CAN WORK ON TO GET BETTER.  LEADERSHIP IS NOT A DESTINATION, IT IS A JOURNEY. BECAUSE OF THIS, THERE IS NO CLEAR CHECKLIST TO GET THERE, BUT WITH PERSISTENCE IT IS POSSIBLE.

Juliana’s advice to leadership pursuers.

Can you talk a little about your new role and what your goals are for your organization as well as for yourself?

Certainly, my role at Difenda as the Strategic Partnerships Director is to manage our global partnership with Microsoft, as well as our channel.  As we moved to a channel-first model I was responsible for developing a formal channel program and then engaging with new partners to support our hypergrowth.  With our current partners, I am developing individual engagement strategies that allow us to drive success towards our joint goals. I must constantly consider the company’s own business, our business at Difenda, and Microsoft’s security goals in the equation.  I am fortunate to be able to work with so many different departments in our organization to realize these plans and see us provide the best cybersecurity services we can for our global customers.  My goal for the department in this organization is to grow and continue to develop as we bring change to the business and to the cybersecurity industry.  After preparing the strategy and now executing the plans, I know that 2022 will be a foundational year for us while we add people to the team.  In 2023 and beyond, we will be able to focus on and make sure we are realizing our growth goals, and supporting the company on our long-term goals as well.

For myself, I always have the same foundational goal for growth.  I love to be challenged, to work with our customers, and to drive business through solving complex issues.  If I am doing that daily with a company, my passion makes it feel like it isn’t work. My new role will certainly push me to continue to evolve and grow with our company and the industry, and allow me to continue to be better.  Of course, I also have personal goals and am excited to prepare to travel again and enjoy fun activities with my family as we continue, evolve, and grow together.

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Megan Miller

Megan Miller’s energy and passion for learning flow into all aspects of her work. As the Growth Manager, North America, she brings a background in sciences which she has transitioned to the tech sector in her role at Difenda.

With a Bachelors of Science in Geology, Megan is a lifelong learner who is voracious about learning anything she can get her hands on about cybersecurity. Her positive energy has built a sales strategy with a focus on expanding in the United States while nurturing the Canadian presence. She is responsible for recruiting and training the sales team. Together with the company’s leadership, she creates the sales process and the company’s product strategy in order to better serve the customer base. This ensures that our customers have a highly trained and highly motivated team to help them every step of the way, Megan has completed Microsoft SC-900 training and working towards mastering Microsoft.

Whether at work or play, Megan is fully committed. She took her love of hockey all the way to the semi-professional level as a competitive hockey player. Megan loves all things sports including water skiing, scuba diving, cycling, and snowboarding. She also enjoys time with family and reading about alternative energy, innovation, and cybersecurity.

Natasha Phanor

As the Microsoft Partner Manager at Difenda, Natasha Phanor is responsible for driving growth within our Microsoft Partnership. With six years in the industry, she offers a fresh, energetic approach, and the ability to focus on our customer’s needs throughout the entire process. Natasha has the innate ability to foresee customer needs and solve problems before they arise, which creates a smooth road for each customer she encounters.

As the recipient of the Outstanding Services Partner of the Year Award in 2018, it is clear that Natasha responds quickly to customer needs, creates a platform for understanding a customer’s business requirements, and walks them through the process to ensure their complete satisfaction.

In her spare time, Natasha is as energetic and passionate as she is on the job. A self-proclaimed foodie-extraordinaire, she enjoys dinner parties, traveling, downhill skiing, hiking, biking, and reading. Natasha has a Bachelor of Fine Arts, specializing in Dance, from Ryerson University.

Ian Miersch

Ian Miersch has energy to spare, and uses his eclectic background to make a positive mark on the cybersecurity industry. As Vice President of Finance & Human Resources, Ian Miersch is responsible for overseeing scalable business growth as Difenda expands throughout North America. But it is the way he does it that sets him apart. By leveraging his engineering background and critical thinking skills, he has been able to develop unique strategies that balance the company’s current business needs with its long-term growth plans. And the results of his unique background and drive mean that the company is growing in a fiscally responsible manner, all with the customer’s needs at the forefront.

With a Bachelor’s of Mechanical Engineering, coupled with an MBA in Finance, both from McMaster University, Ian’s ability to analyze data and make informed decisions is augmented by his ability to understand all facets of the business. He has a holistic understanding of the craft, from operations to project delivery and management, to his niche in financial planning. Ian’s ten years of experience in the industry mean that he has seen it all, and knows how to create a dynamic team and manage the resources needed for success.

Outside of work, he uses his energy to help others through the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Program, earning the Group Recreation Volunteer of the Year Status.

Ian also enjoys exploring and hiking with his three young children, exercising (so he can keep up with them), and reading professional development books. He is an avid but generally heartbroken fan of the Toronto sports teams, including the Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, and Raptors.

Derek Nugent

Derek Nugent, Vice President, Revenue lives by the motto “Be early, be better.” Derek leads our Sales and Marketing team and is responsible for customer success, as well as pre-sales and sales enablement. His high energy level and creativity have built high performing teams, whether at the Herjavec Group, CDW, or in his current leadership role at Difenda.

After earning a Bachelor Administration and Management degree from the Academy of Learning, Derek started in the information technology industry in 2004 and transitioned to the cybersecurity industry in 2014. With so much experience in a wide-variety of roles, he is poised to take the team at Difenda to the next level.

He excels at leading revenue strategies, new market entry, partnership engagement, and customer acquisition and retention. His work ethic and interest in rising to the top motivate his sales teams, who respond well to his passion and zeal. Under his tutelage, they are able to achieve attractive lead generation, YOY growth, and sizable deals. Derek works tirelessly to build a better team, and his constituents follow his road to success, which ultimately leads to a rewarding experience for the customer.

Even when volunteering, Derek is all in. He was a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters from 2005-2015, earning Group Recreation Volunteer of the Year Status.

And when he isn’t busy leading the team to the acme of sales, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two kids, running, working out, watching thrillers, action and dramatic television shows

Manoj Arora

Manoj Arora, Difenda’s Founder and CEO has always been ahead of the curve in Technology and Cyber Security. After securing his engineering degree in Computer Science, he wrote his first mobile banking application when he was just 23 years old. This accomplishment certainly set him apart from the crowd and prepared him for a lifetime of innovation and success in his field. At just 25 years old, he was selected as the youngest Cyber Security Officer for one of the largest banks in Asia.

As a globetrotting young cyber security professional, Manoj was instrumental in designing cyber security infrastructure and controls for some of the largest institutions around the world. Depth of his expertise and passion to serve customers at the highest level of competence and integrity lead to Difenda. Founded in 2008, Difenda is a rapidly growing cybersecurity firm operating in North America and Asia.

As the CEO at Difenda, Manoj drives the strategic vision to protect our customers and enable our team members to deliver our services in line with core values- competence, integrity, and innovation. Currently one of Microsoft’s leading North American partners, Difenda reflects Manoj’ single-minded focus on our customers. Difenda is fully vested in success of its customers and takes pride in considering our success as a byproduct of our customers. Manoj has always been committed to building a great team and forging strong partnerships to serve our customers with standards that top our industry.

When he is not busy bringing cybersecurity to the world, Manoj enjoys playing golf and squash, and continues to travel the world.

Lisa Templeton

Lisa Templeton is the perfect combination of human empathy and technological prowess. In her role as People Services Manager, she takes care of our team members to support them in their daily work, as well as on their personal life paths. Happy employees make for happy customers, and Lisa excels in giving our employees the tools they need for success in order to become the best possible versions of themselves. Along with employee formation, she shines in the service delivery support domain to continuously improve the process. Her 24 years of experience in IT Operations and Service Management help her create quality and efficiency at Difenda.

Having attended the Information Systems Management certificate program at Ryerson University, and with various other certifications to her credit, Lisa is perceptive and innovative when it comes to information technology, but also sensitive to the needs of her human constituents. Responsible for achieving the first privately owned company HDI Support Center certification in Canada, she has also designed and implemented Service Management excellence programs and 24×7 IT Operations departments for multiple IT organizations, and has created corporate rewards and recognition programs to keep her employees engaged and motivated.

On the personal side, Lisa passionately supports the cause of breast cancer research, having lost her mother to the disease. She reads voraciously in her spare time, and enjoys the art of home renovation. The summer months also bring time on her boat and exploring new hiking trails.

Miranda McCurdy

Miranda McCurdy uses her myriad super powers in all aspects of her job and personal life. As the Marketing Director at Difenda, Miranda McCurdy brings over a decade of experience to the table, which includes expertise in all facets of operations, brand management, and content marketing, as well as a multitude of successful strategies for the ever-expanding digital world. She is an expert at simplifying the message the company is trying to send, filling in gaps in the information, and strengthening the content in order to create compelling narratives that strengthen the brand and developing programs that bring teams together.

With several Addy Awards issued by the American Advertising Federation Cleveland to her credit, and her never say die attitude, Miranda understands both the broader picture and the minute details that are needed to successfully market a product. With her abilities to harness both the talent needed to spread the message, as well as to create the message itself, she is an integral cog in the company’s ability to communicate with customers and other stakeholders.

When she is not building a brand, she shares her ability to fill the gaps in her community by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, the Special Olympics, and the Charleston Food Bank. In her spare time, Miranda spends time with her family, enjoys fitness and health, paddle boarding, reading, and arts and crafts.

Juliana Zaremba

Connections are the name of the game for Juliana Zaremba. As Strategic Partnerships Director, she is responsible for Difenda’s channel partnerships and the development and ownership of the channel partner program. She is also responsible for the global Microsoft Partnership, including the creation of strategic plans with MSFT contacts that will facilitate the continued growth of the business and establish certification and training protocols in all security technologies. Her role is multifaceted, as she acquires partners, manages relationships with them, and develops strategies that will provide cutting edge security solutions to our customer base. Another integral aspect of her job is to facilitate growth.

With a Bachelor’s in Math from the University of Waterloo and 14 years of experience from her previous roles at Herjavec Group and CDW, her cutting edge focus and ability to develop long-lasting relationships and strategies provides world class security solutions to our customer base.

Juliana thrives on connections outside of work as well. She is a philanthropist and contributor with Women4Change based in Hamilton. This group of local women is passionate about supporting local causes, and she focuses her efforts around Women in STEM. She is also a member of Club Italia in Niagara Falls and supports their youth events throughout the year.

When not managing the Microsoft Global partnership, Juliana enjoys reading, often reading several books at once. Juliana enjoys exploring the Niagara Escarpment with her family, as well as sharing meals and experiences with her extended family. Juliana’s competitive nature has her always trying new things, like Whoop band challenges and Peloton.

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