Women in Tech: Cyber Security- Vidya Sekhar
As an educational service, we have been very interested in how to help correct the gender disparity associated with the tech industry, specifically in cyber security.
We were pleased at both the insight and great advice Ravila White shared with us in our first interview, as well as happy to see our readers/viewers respond so favorably to the interview. In that spirit, this week we interviewed Vidya Sekhar who added more knowledge to our arsenals as well as more comprehension about the gender disparity in tech and, specifically, cyber security. Vidya Sekhar began her journey a bit differently: with beauty pageants. After a terrorist attack took some of her best school friends from her, she started her journey to be engaged- and make a career out of- protecting people. Below is the entire interview video, broken into three sections, with quotes from Vidya. Please share her story and become an advocate for more women joining the tech industry.
Episode 1: From Miss India USA to Cyber Security Expert
We started our conversation by having Vidya share some of her unique experience starting out as a dancer and eventually becoming Miss India USA. After a tragic terrorist attack took some of her best friends in school, Vidya began committing herself to making the world more secure. Not wanting to be involved in physical combat, she took to IT as her choice of defense. She talked about her first experiences in IT, as security was still a very new field. “First you started out as an IT person, and you were one of the weird ones who always wanted to make sure you were doing the access control right.”
Moving away from her story of coming in to the field, we started talking about the benefits of having diversity in the field. “I think every company should always try to get a diverse perspective of different types of thinkers when attacking a problem as big as cyber security.” Contemplating the reasons that the cyber security field doesn’t attract as many women, Vidya shared that in her experience, a lot of young women and girls assume cyber security requires a math-heavy skill-set. This assumption is inaccurate. “I point them to this little video that… where Bill Gates himself says if you can add and subtract, and do basic calculations, you’re fine.” She shared her approach to talking to girls and young women about the field, “I try to tell them that there’s opportunity in this field, there’s good salary in this field, there’s security in this field (because it’s security) there’s so much you can do, and yet they are not turned on by it. So we’re doing something uncool, or something, that’s making them not want to enter into this field.”
Episode 2: The Need for Diversity in the Field
In episode 2, we were able to dive deeper into the stereotypes and assumptions which might deter women from taking an interest in cyber security. “When you have the passion and you have the skills and a way of figuring out how to transfer those skills- everything is valuable.” Vidya implores those with soft-skills, but whom might lack a technical background, to ask themselves, “What is it that I have that I can transfer into that space?”
“I find a lot of women get into cyber security through PMing. So they become a Program Manager/Project Manager, they come in as a contractor, and maybe this is their first time coming into the security space, but they have a really good SQL background; so you use that and you get into the space.” There are a multitude of pathways for people to enter the cyber security field, and the problems we face in this industry require just as varied perspectives in the work as pathways people take to get here. Vidya spoke, particularly, to the stereotype that everyone in this space has social ineptitude. “This is a great space to be in. The problem is huge; we need all hands-on-deck to solve the problems. And really, that’s what it’s like when you’re working in that environment too. It’s mostly people running into each other’s offices, everyone’s in one office, everyone’s on laptops, everybody’s looking at what everyone else is doing, trying to figure out what the problem is and how to fix it. Then it’s conference rooms and then you have to know how to present it… there’s a lot of opportunity for people who are very social in this space as well.” Giving us insight into her own work-place, Vidya shared a favorite, lesser discussed, aspect of her work. “I love the arguments. The different perspectives. ‘No, we have to think about it from an audit perspective.’ No, we have to think about it from a security perspective.’ ‘No, we have to look at it from a privacy perspective.’ I love those arguments because it’s everybody so passionate about trying to do good.” Passion is always a compelling attribute.
Episode 3: Getting Started in Cyber Security
One of my favorite parts of this series is hearing all the great advice from experts who are currently active in the field. Vidya shared three key things many overlook when getting started in the cyber security field.
- “Network a lot in the space by joining some of the organizations that are out there.”
- “Sometimes it’s a matter of the resume not being written right. A lot of times the resume just isn’t showcasing their abilities to the best of the possibility.”
- “Sometimes it’s just not having someone to advocate for you.”
Echoing Ravila’s sentiments about a portfolio of mentors, Vidya suggests the same. “Having multiple mentors is something I recommend for men and women… Some of the most successful people that I know have mentors.” She also went more in-depth as to what that relationship looks like, and why it’s so advantageous for those trying to break into the field. “The idea is not only that they meet you and they allow you to hang out with them and see what their job is like, and do that kind of thing; but also that if someone asks about you, they are your reference, they are your advocate.”
This close, face-to-face relationship is no longer the only type of mentorship available today. Vidya encourages everyone to see what is available to them now. “People are not as out of reach as you think. There are opportunities to shake hands with anyone, there are opportunities to learn from anyone. Even if you don’t have them as a direct mentor, there’s the internet. [Experts] write papers and they put them out there, and they write blogs and they do videos…“ However, having that close relationship has some advantages you just can’t find on the internet. “Get a mentor that will advocate for you, it’s somebody you should meet with regularly. It’s somebody that you should be honest about what you like and what you have trouble with and what you need to do better and ask them what they see your gaps as.” And she shared a bit of advice I have never heard before, but is such a great way to get both experience and exposure in the field, “You volunteer to help out on a nonprofit and you run into people that are leaders in a space you want to be in.”
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