Many Paths to Cybersecurity for Women


Many Paths to Cybersecurity for Women

As the overall subject of women in technology remains a complicated one, I wanted to use National Cybersecurity Awareness Month as a chance to shine the spotlight on one slice of tech: cybersecurity, and the women who work there — or more specifically, here at Rackspace.

As General Manager of Rackspace Managed Security, I’m both a woman in cybersecurity, and someone with the privilege of working with some remarkable, accomplished and talented female colleagues.

There aren’t many of us. Only 11 percent of the cybersecurity workforce are women. But there are many different ways to work in cybersecurity, and I hope my experience helps illuminate that. After all, my own journey into cybersecurity was a circuitous one, and my role is a mix of business and technical.

From video games to engineering

Unlike many of my girlfriends in high school, I loved video games. I was one of two who took a computer technology elective class where I started to learn how to code. I liked the logical approach programming called for; ‘if/then’ statements came naturally to me. I even started programming my own video games.

The internet was just on the rise then, but I knew technology would be the foundation for the future — so I decided to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and major in computer science and electrical engineering. (I brought my Super Nintendo with me, thinking I’d make friends that way.)

Sitting in lecture hall of 6.001 (the first introductory computer science programming lab), I looked around at a class comprised mostly of men. While my freshman class at MIT was close to 50/50 male and female, Course VI (computer science and electrical engineering) was only 25 percent female. In every project group, I was usually the lone woman. I didn’t fit the typical mold of a Course VI student, merely because I was a woman.

Leaving engineering behind

Like many women with engineering degrees, I didn’t go into engineering, instead joining Bain & Company as a management consultant. (MIT notes that while 20 percent of engineering degrees are awarded to women, they make up only 13 percent of the engineering workforce). I wanted the business experience to round out my skill set, and I loved the way management consultants approach business and strategy — logically, with hypotheses and data — very similar to the structured and analytical thinking I used to earn my engineering degree.

Now, more than twelve years later, my role as General Manager of Rackspace Managed Security allows me to blend my business acumen with a bit of engineering flavor, a true mix of business and technical. I am responsible for the end-to-end delivery of our Rackspace security offerings, which entails product and go-to-market strategy, engineering and development, sales, operations and customer service delivery.

The women of Rackspace Managed Security

And it’s in this role that I work with a number of sharp, successful women. Women like Gina Rocha, the compliance assistance manager for Rackspace Managed Security. Gina has more than 20 years of experience in compliance, in industries as diverse as banking and finance, oil and gas remediation, software licensing and security operations. Gina holds both bachelor and master's degrees in business administration. Her previous compliance work includes bank audits for the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and environmental audits for the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Also critical to our operations are security analysts like Rachel Cantu, who served as a student mentor and assistant to her campus systems administrator while in school, and was then offered an internship as a security analyst at Rackspace. Now a valued permanent member of the team, her passion for security has pushed me far in a short period of time.

Another analyst, Amanda Schilling, has more than seven years of security experience, including network security roles with the U.S. Army in its Network Operations Center. In addition to several security certifications, Amanda is also an AWS Certified Solutions Architect. She’s also cultivating the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, by mentoring CyberPatriot teams for Junior ROTC at Ronald Reagan High School.

Their work and mine help illustrate that are many different ways to contribute to tech at large and the security industry specifically. Not only do we need front line security analysts who hunt, detect and respond to cyber threats, we also need team members who build relationships with our customers, build out new product offerings, sell and market to our end-customers.

I agree with Dolly Singh, “builder of tech companies," in her advice to the next generation of women in tech in Forbes earlier this year: “The female brain and human experience [are] fundamentally different from our male counterparts,” she wrote, noting that “intuitively and philosophically, most sensible people agree that the balance of both genders' strengths make for stronger development and product teams.”

With the backdrop of recent security breaches, and the mismanagement of responses, this quote takes on even greater meaning to me. We need a more diverse approach to problem solving, an approach that comes with greater diversity on our security teams.

While we haven’t reached gender parity on the Rackspace Managed Security team, we’re currently at 20 percent, which is higher than the industry average, and I’m proud of that. I hope to see Rackspace and other cybersecurity and tech companies continue to diversify — by gender, ethnicity and background — because we know diversity leads to superior results.

Want to take a deeper dive on cybersecurity? Rackspace is marking National Cybersecurity Awareness Month with a variety of articles and events.

Learn how Rackspace Managed Security takes an active approach to protecting you your business.