“We need to have faith in ourselves and our capabilities. We need to trust our own decisions and endeavor to inspire change. It is a great time to be in cybersecurity, and there are great opportunities for women to seize!” — Julie Murphy
Inspiration comes in many forms. For some women, it’s watching strength on the big screen or during a global sporting event. For others, it’s working side by side on a big project or school assignment. But no matter what galvanizes these individuals to get up, get out and seize the day, every step they take is a step forward.
These small steps forward have accelerated into a run. With so many breakthroughs and movements that have united women recently, it’s fitting that the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Press for Progress.” I know I see this progress at IBM, where I have the good fortune to be surrounded by smart, dedicated women who are driven to help make the internet — and the world — a safer place. There is always more work to be done, but it’s inspiring to see that so many women are seizing opportunities and doing their part to affect change.
I recently talked with six of these women about the importance of encouraging more women to join the cybersecurity workforce. They also spoke about the role models who’ve inspired them and offered some words of wisdom for other women who may be interested in pursuing a cybersecurity career.
Taking the First Steps
Security is more than a job — it’s a way of life. How did you know this industry was right for you? Was there someone along the way who encouraged or influenced your path?
Pam Cobb, Editor in Chief, IBM Security: Although I didn’t “grow up” in cybersecurity in college, my engineering background put me in similar situations as those we face in the security industry today and that often require the same skils, such as setting up the problem and identifying the most effective and efficient solution. I think being curious about what’s happening in the industry is the single greatest trait you can take with you into any career, but it’s particularly critical in an industry like security that changes so rapidly.
Sana Talwar, Student at Cal Poly Pomona and Former IBM Security Intern: One of my biggest influences is Megan Smith, who, until recently, was the chief technology officer of the United States. I learned about her during a research project in high school, and her story and influence have stuck with me ever since. I think it’s incredibly important for women pursuing a career in security to have role models and mentors. I hope that women in the field keep reaching out to young students to inspire and empower them.
Bridgette Pepper, Project Manager, Global Solution Design, IBM Security: I was always good with technology and loved problem solving and discovering how and why things work. But when it came time to start looking at colleges, majors and careers, a technical school or a security major were never even on the table. My original major was actually political science, with an end goal of law school. And yet, four years later I am happier than ever because I took the risk, changed my major and discovered an untapped passion.
Julie Murphy, Ethical Hacker, IBM X-Force: When I was studying cybersecurity, Jason Flood was a key influence. He described cybersecurity in such a way that I knew it was exactly the field I wanted to work in — one that is fast-paced, growing and requires a thirst for learning that will never be quenched. He encouraged a “do-it-yourself” and “take chances” mindset.
Inspiring Others to Join the Fight
When you’re passionate about your career, it’s natural to want to help inspire and support the next generation. Women can help solve the well-documented cybersecurity skills gap, but what are some of the other ways that women are making a difference?
Rhonda Childress, Vice President and IBM Fellow, GTS Data Security and Privacy Officer, Master Inventor: Personal experiences color everything we do, and each person has a different point of view. Women can bring a unique perspective when unraveling the mysteries of what happened during a breach or recognizing patterns of attack.
Allison Ritter, Threat Gamification Engineer, IBM Security: You are your own advocate! If you believe in an idea, find a way to show its worth and be creative in your ways of presenting a thought. When you work on a project, step forward with your ideas — don’t sit back and let others talk over you. A woman’s voice can be heard among men, but you have to create the power within to speak up and make yourself heard. You never know where one idea might lead the group.
Cobb: If women aren’t encouraged to join the industry, then half the workforce is automatically off the table. The skills gap is such that we need to encourage as many people as we can to consider joining the fight against cybercrime. But more than that, diversity of experience, skills and problem-solving approaches is essential to coming up with creative solutions to the pressing problems in cybersecurity.
Murphy: Cybersecurity has to be a team sport by virtue of the sheer expanse of knowledge that is required. Women tend to be effective communicators and multitaskers with a natural affinity for this environment. If you are naturally curious and tend to bore easily, this is exactly the field for you, as it is continuously changing and evolving.
Reaping the Rewards
The life of a security professional is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re up for the challenge, it may be one of the most personally and professionally rewarding paths you can take.
Talwar: My favorite part about working in security is the challenge. Currently, in college, I have the challenge to learn about security from outside resources. In the job, the challenge comes from the ever-changing aspect of this field. When I join the workforce, I know my day will never be boring — and I look forward to that.
Pepper: My favorite part of security is knowing that, at the end of the day, I am helping others. I’ve had the opportunity to go to CyberDay4Girls, attend conferences, share my story and gain a passion that I didn’t even know existed within me. Knowing that I can help inspire the next generation of security professionals is the greatest joy of all.
Ritter: Advancing your career in technology is hard work, but if you have a passion for technology, throw yourself into your work and push hard. Never think what you do isn’t important. Always remember that each project is just as important as the next, and one day you could be naming your own company.
Childress: I love to solve a good mystery! How did this happen, and why? What can we do to prevent a breach in the future? Coming from a long line of family members in law enforcement, I see working in security as my way to do law enforcement — but with computers. And it’s a great honor to work with my sisters in security to protect and defend the reputation of IBM and all our clients.
The Future is Now for Women in Security
International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to recognize a few of IBM Security’s many devoted, hard-working and high-achieving women, and also to encourage other women to join us in the security industry. However, to realize full representation of women in the field — and all the benefits that will come with that equal representation — we need to tell our stories and share our encouragement every day of the year.
To learn more about the past, present and future of women in security, join a webinar led by some of the most inspiring leaders at IBM. In this session, leaders in senior roles, including chief information security officer (CISO), vice president of security development, chief marketing officer (CMO) and lead security researcher, will share the unique perspectives and insights they have gained throughout their successful careers.