Happy International Women’s Day, happy Women’s History Month!
This year’s March 2023 theme for Women's History Month is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Stories.”
What kind of stories do women in cybersecurity have to tell? Glad you asked. In the most recent episode of the Code Patrol podcast, we were tickled pink — pun intended, if you want to get chromatically stereotypical — to have two of the geekiest femi-geekster cyber sisters on to chat us up about how they got into the field.
You're probably well aware of the constant litany of news about how people with double X chromosomes are underrepresented in the field and about how women reportedly held only 25% of cybersecurity jobs globally in 2022.
(Interesting factoid: Women are actually better represented in cybercrime than in cybersecurity. According to a recent report from Trend Micro, about 30% of cybercriminal forum participants are women. Please don’t go to the dark side, though, sisters — we need you on our non-nefarious side!)
This week, we’re presenting two cybersec storytellers par excellence: Megan Baker, IT & Security Lead at fintech Georgian, along with our own Director of Product Security, Naomi Buckwalter.
What kind of stories do they bring us from the cybersecurity trenches? Well, you may or may not might know that Buckwalter is the founder and executive director of the Cybersecurity Gatebreakers nonprofit, dedicated to closing the demand gap in cybersecurity.
But did you know the worst job she ever had? I thought it might be something like “Help Desk,” but no. Let’s just say that it involved lifeguarding, a pool full of children, and rubber gloves to deal with whatever “oops!” those little bodies produced by the end of her shift. Actually, that is kind of what Help Desk pros deal with, isn’t it? Bless your souls, you who dive into the muck to help us all every day.
And yes, it did teach her lessons that she brought into her technology career: “No job is too gross for anyone, especially someone just starting in the workforce,” she says. “You have to stay humble and hungry if you ever want to get anywhere in life.”
No luggage was harmed in the filming of this anecdote
Fair enough. As far as Baker’s cyber stories goes, one of the most memorable is her most embarrassing moment in the field. It involves a suitcase, a hallway, an eight-story building, two SWAT teams and a nickname she acquired that you’ll need to listen to the podcast to learn.
Hey, it happens. Could happen to any tech pro, regardless of gender. One story having to do with high heels and a data-center grid flooring might be gender-specific, but even that’s not a given in these days of gender fluidity.
That’s the point. Their stories are anybody’s stories. They didn’t come on the podcast to talk about smashing glass ceilings because for them, there were no glass ceilings … except for maybe that time Buckwalter found out she’d been hired in large part because of chromosomes. … and was treated as you’d expect, encountering colleagues’ lack of belief in her innate abilities.
Their stories could be anybody’s stories because these women have belonged in technology from the time they were crawling. They didn’t need an inspiring teacher or hacker camp to show them that they were as capable as the boys. Not to belittle the good that comes from those sources, but Baker and Buckwalter didn’t need convincing. They just knew.
They knew because they were both problem solvers from the get-go. “You never saw me without a Gameboy or some sort of tech in my hands, even as a young child,” Buckwalter says. It was a natural progression to study engineering in college, then to get a job as a developer right after graduation. From there, she moved into a big IT shop and stayed for about 15 years — a good stretch of time that included being given a chance to start in security.
Baker has a similar tale. She was always interested in science and math from an early age, but technology and engineering didn't come into play until much later in the game. She studied accounting, then took an auditing job that turned into risk management and then security.
Advice for the security-curious
Their advice for women thinking about getting into cybersecurity? Don’t do it unless it makes sense. “There's often a lot of people who suggest [looking to] certifications and taking these tests,” Buckwalter says. “[But] I think that there are ways to really gauge your appetite and desire and passion for it without taking such a huge leap and making such a big investment. And I think that often those organic transitions into those types of roles and opportunities can be much more feasible and manageable to actually also ensure that you really want to be in security.”
A lot of people think that they want to work in cybersecurity. If they got a real taste of it, though, they might change their minds, these pros advise.
Are you a problem solver? Are you curious about getting into the security field? Do you want to hear what it’s like, from women who know?
Have a listen to the podcast.
Also, got an idea for a podcast on secure coding? Got somebody you’d like to hear from? Please drop us a line at email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you.