At Valimail, we take our work seriously but try not to take ourselves too seriously. This value inspires us to get to the heart of what makes people unique and how it affects their careers to provide valuable advice, inspiration, and insights to people working with email daily.
In this lighthearted interview series, we connect with experts from the email, IT, security, ISP, and authentication spaces to learn more about them and their experiences.
About Mary Youngblood
Mary has been in the email security industry since January 2000. She started her career as an Abuse Team Manager for EarthLink/Mindspring back in the days of Dial-Up. She worked with law enforcement and others to catch spammers, scammers, and identity thieves to put the first spammer in prison. In addition to the successful criminal case, she also worked to secure several multi-million dollar judgments for EarthLink in multiple civil cases.
This all happened at a time when almost all ISPs claimed there was no spam problem. After almost ten years of working on the ISP side, she moved over to the ESP side. There, she shares her expertise and knowledge with large enterprise senders to help them with leadership and best practices.
More recently, she’s been working for Adobe for a little over four years.
How do you stay motivated when learning something challenging or frustrating?
Walk away, work on something else, and listen to music. It is amazing how quickly clearing your head can allow fresh understanding when it seemed impossible fifteen minutes before.
Working from home is a great gift; I am too easily distracted by other people. Being at home gives me plenty of ways to clear my head quickly and jump back into the challenge.
What was the last wall you crashed through?
In compliance, there are so many sensitive topics. But I have spent a lot of time digging through logs, writing queries, and solving mysteries that I feel I have conquered a good understanding of our mail servers, how they work, how they don’t work, and what would make them work better.
I can now speak with confidence to our internal engineers and our MTA providers about what I need from them and how to get everything possible from our MTAs to best serve our clients.
What’s your favorite way to show gratitude?
I am one of the few folks who still send postcards on my adventures, and I also like to fill my suitcase with souvenirs for others. The important part is not filling your suitcase up when you start your trip; leave room for the trip home.
What’s the funniest mistake you’ve made, and how’d you handle it?
Back in the old Dial-Up days, we had spammers that would tie up to thirty-six individual connections with the same fraud account, just spamming away. Some of the IPs were our own, and our NOC would kill the connections for us. Some were “rent-a-pops” that were IPs leased from large upstream providers.
Getting their NOCs to kick connections could sometimes be tough and would take too long, which allowed the spammer to keep going. We had unauthorized tools that would help us knock connections offline.
If the user was well-firewalled, the tools didn’t work well. I was once trying to kick a connection, and I kept trying until the corporate network went down. One of the folks on my team mentioned that security told her that something on our floor had taken out the network.
I said, “Yea, that was probably me.”
I never touched those tools again.
What’s the smallest hill you are willing to die on?
Whatever is in the best interest of our clients, I am willing to nag and nag and nag to get it right, to keep our clients’ best interests and expectations on our minds and on our meeting agendas.
If we let that go and stop caring about them, we do not have a business.
What is the biggest challenge in deliverability, and what solution would you recommend?
Using engagement to keep your list clean.
Engagement data will be a thing of the past soon anyway, so get used to life without it. If you do COI right, including preference collection and updates, you hardly need to worry about engagement metrics anymore.
COI to clean everything new coming in and a lot of hard work to get rid of all of the questionable domains already on your list. A clean list gets rid of almost all of the typical deliverability woes. Paying for cleaning is silly and usually doesn’t work the way you think it does. Cleaning the right way is well…the right way. It can require some tough decisions and sacrifices, but I promise it’s more than worth it.
Deliverability is an odd industry. Universities are not producing deliverability experts, yet we old timers still have plenty of opportunity to learn, grow, and stay employed. I cannot imagine doing any other job where I get to have this much nerdy fun.
How would you explain DMARC to your grandparents, friends, or relatives?
DMARC helps the gremlins in the machine to better verify that who emailed you is who they say they are, but is not 100%.
More importantly, it does not determine if the person mailing you is a scammer or not. It helps the cause, but it is not bulletproof.
Get Started with DMARC
If you want to help the gremlins keep bad actors from using your domain, setting up DMARC enforcement is a great solution.
However, getting there can be more challenging if you can’t get sending visibility into your domain. That’s where Valimail Monitor comes in.
To see who’s using your domain and sending emails on your behalf, you can set up a free account on Valimail Monitor. You’ll see the list of named providers rather than a list of IP addresses and discover who’s sending on your behalf.