Update 12/18/17: Congratulations to Lisa Seacat DeLuca, who was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Technology for 2017! 

Lisa Seacat DeLuca is the most prolific female inventor in IBM’s history. With more than 400 patent filings, she comes up with a new idea almost every week. She’s had numerous jobs within IBM and currently works as an omnichannel strategist for IBM Commerce. She works from her home-based Baltimore lab, which is filled with lots of different gadgets, including a 3-D printer.

Four Lessons From an IBM Inventor

We spoke to DeLuca about her career, how she has improved various technologies with her ideas and what she has learned from both being a mentor and mentoring others.

1. Be a Good Mentor — and Mentee — to Advance Your Own Career

One of the most important aspects of her career is the role that mentoring has played, both in being a mentor to others and learning from her own mentors. “I am always open to mentoring people and very quick to respond to them. What is interesting is that a lot of men are reaching out to me for mentorship,” she said. That could be because of the larger proportion of male techies, both within IBM and in the overall tech industry.

“But it is important not to discriminate because you can learn from anyone. So you should have as broad as possible a network,” she explained. “Mentoring is a two-way relationship, my mentees challenge and encourage me in my career just as I challenge them.”

One of her more influential mentors is Pam Nesbitt. “We became friends as part of the women’s inventor community within IBM, which Pam founded, and have stayed in touch over the years.” Nesbitt is now a distinguished engineer at IBM.

2. Entrepreneurship Abounds: Make Sure You Are Open and On the Lookout

Last summer, DeLuca was asked to speak at a Girls Who Code Summer Immersion program sponsored by IBM. “Some of the girls were scared because they didn’t have any computer science background and were worried they wouldn’t get A grades in those courses. I told them it is more important to find what you love rather than get that A.”

Working at IBM presents all sorts of opportunities, too. “Yes, IBM is a big company. But it is also easy to move around and work on what you want to do,” she said. “There are many entrepreneurship opportunities available, and to be able to pitch new ideas and get funding.”

On average, she has changed jobs every two years, explaining, “This keeps it fresh and allows me to learn about new technologies.”

3. Be Creative and Think of New Opportunities in Everyday Situations

DeLuca got her coding start in high school, when she taught herself how to code in HTML. Both she and her then-boyfriend applied to Carnegie Mellon University. She got accepted — and he didn’t.

Lately, DeLuca has been focused on wearable and mobile inventions and how they can improve commerce. One is a device that will provide her home network’s Wi-Fi password to approved visitors when they walk in the door. In total, she has sponsored the funding of more than 50 different Kickstarter projects, many in these mobile spaces. One such project was a small board called Metawear that DeLuca used to create a pendant that reacts to particular tweets.

Another one of Lisa’s inventions improves your smartphone security by varying the sign-on patterns slightly. Why is this important? “It was possible to easily guess someone’s password by looking at the smudge marks on their devices. By varying the sign-on pattern, you need to vary the starting point in the dot-based grid, so the smudge becomes inconclusive — making it harder to guess the unlock pattern,” she said. Clever.

A similar security idea is to limit the autocomplete field for user logins to require multiple characters before autocomplete would kick in, making them harder to guess should a phone fall into the wrong hands. DeLuca also explained that another concept is to leverage the new crop of phones with flexible screens so you can bend them in certain ways as a login authentication factor — “like having a physical CAPTCHA!”

4. Learn From the Open-Source World and Build on What Others Have Done

DeLuca recently spoke at a TED@IBM session on the process of innovation. During that talk, she mentions that everything will be faster, cheaper and smaller in the future.

“Certainly, we have more and more data that is available. We have to think more about how we can protect this data, and understand how our customers consume data and how they can keep their privacy safe and secure,” she said. “Really, all security is incremental, so we have to continually find new solutions and build on what has been done before.”

Those are wise words, and DeLuca practices what she preaches. Even with such a storied career at IBM, she still finds time to contribute to a number of open-source projects.

More from CISO

Bringing threat intelligence and adversary insights to the forefront: X-Force Research Hub

3 min read - Today defenders are dealing with both a threat landscape that’s constantly changing and attacks that have stood the test of time. Innovation and best practices co-exist in the criminal world, and one mustn’t distract us from the other. IBM X-Force is continuously observing new attack vectors and novel malware in the wild, as adversaries seek to evade detection innovations. But we also know that tried and true tactics — from phishing and exploiting known vulnerabilities to using compromised credentials and…

What’s new in the 2023 Cost of a Data Breach report

3 min read - Data breach costs continue to grow, according to new research, reaching a record-high global average of $4.45 million, representing a 15% increase over three years. Costs in the healthcare industry continued to top the charts, as the most expensive industry for the 13th year in a row. Yet as breach costs continue to climb, the research points to new opportunities for containing breach costs. The research, conducted independently by Ponemon Institute and analyzed and published by IBM Security, constitutes the…

Cyber leaders: Stop being your own worst career enemy. Here’s how.

24 min read - Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you find your favorite audio content. We’ve been beating the cyber talent shortage drum for a while now, and with good reason. The vacancy numbers are staggering, with some in the industry reporting as many as 3.5 million unfilled positions as of April 2023 and projecting the disparity between supply and demand will remain until 2025. Perhaps one of the best (and arguably only) ways we can realistically bridge this gap is to…

Poor communication during a data breach can cost you — Here’s how to avoid it

5 min read - No one needs to tell you that data breaches are costly. That data has been quantified and the numbers are staggering. In fact, the IBM Security Cost of a Data Breach estimates that the average cost of a data breach in 2022 was $4.35 million, with 83% of organizations experiencing one or more security incidents. But what’s talked about less often (and we think should be talked about more) is how communication — both good and bad — factors into…