Cybersecurity culture shifts, and voices rise higher together. Here are some stories of how we can celebrate and lift each other up.
Socio-Technical Engagement Manager, Cygenta
Celebrating the Queen of Awesome
Who has had the biggest impact on my professional career? Well, it has to be Dr. Jessica Barker (Twitter | LinkedIn). She has not only mentored and supported me in my early career, but I'm also now lucky enough to call her my boss and also a dear friend.
Jess has inspired me in so many ways both in my professional and personal life. She’s taught me that following your passion is so important and to always be excited by your work and the people you work with.
I want to celebrate Jess because she is the queen of awesome! She works harder than anyone I know, but always finds the time to support and engage with individuals young and old who want some advice on cybersecurity, and getting into the industry.
What legacy does Jess have in cybersecurity? Jess is a thought leader on the human side of cybersecurity. She 100% breaks down the barriers, and makes cybersecurity not only accessible, but more importantly, understandable to not only organizations across the globe, but also to the everyday individual. Her ability to communicate complex issues is phenomenal.
Head of Security Thought Leadership and Customer Advocacy, Cisco
Celebrating The Ones Who
Make You a Better Person
I am grateful to know several fantastic humans who have been a positive influence in my cybersecurity marketing career. The first person might be unknown to security experts, but every B2B marketer should know her. My life has been profoundly impacted by the one and only Ann Handley (Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram). Ann is the queen of shenanigans, a warrior against content mediocrity, and a giver at large.
On the cybersecurity front, I would like to give a big shout-out to Javvad Malik (Twitter | LinkedIn). Way back when I was a “n00b,” I stumbled upon his videos that made complex topics accessible to my genuine curiosity. His sense of humor, and cynicism, helped me understand the industry and become passionate about it.
Lastly, a note of appreciation to the beloved Wendy Nather (Twitter | LinkedIn) – one of the most brilliant minds in cybersecurity. Wendy is never afraid of challenging the status quo and creates a force of good that has a ripple effect. You, my lady, are living the golden rule, and I am a better person because you’re in my life. Thank you Ann, Javvad, and Wendy for warmly embracing the “outsiders,” for empowering a diverse community, and for your empathetic and inclusive souls. I am blessed to have you all in my life!
Partner, Red Goat Cyber Security
There are three people who have had a significant impact on my career. The reason I have chosen to highlight these three is because of their kindness, support, friendship, and mentoring. These gentlemen are such strong advocates for women in cyber. They do what they do, not for praise or attention, but because they really care about the industry.
Christopher Hadnagy (Twitter | LinkedIn) has been a tremendous mentor for me. He encourages me, even when sometimes I am dragging my feet. He has gone out of his way to help me establish myself in the industry. Something very few people actually do. He is someone who genuinely cares about making the industry a better place.
Graham Cluley (Twitter | LinkedIn) has been a great support and inspiration to me. One of the few people who has been willing to give up his time to offer me advice and guidance on how to grow my YouTube channel. He has been an amazing supporter, encouraging me to go for things I may have otherwise been too scared to go for and always being a good friend.
Troy Hunt (Twitter | LinkedIn) has always been incredibly generous with his time. Willing to help me and offer me advice when I need it, despite never being obligated to do so. He has taken time out of his busy schedule to help me with video content and advice whilst he is on the other side of the planet. This is a pretty amazing example of altruistic behavior.
The unifying thread that these amazing people share though, is the fact you, the public, may never actually know they have done this. Behind the scenes they are doing what actually matters to this industry. They are helping people like me get the confidence and competence to excel. Not because they want the recognition, but because they want to make the industry a better place.
Technology Leader, Engineering Operations, Cisco
Inspiration from a Personal to a Global Level
There are so many sources of inspiration. If I focus only on women’s leadership and empowerment, Michelle Obama (Twitter) and Kamala Harris (Twitter) are at the forefront of my mind. There have been many influential leaders in my life; however, they stand out in various ways that I can identify with on a personal level. They both strongly believe in women’s empowerment. They have always been outspoken about women’s leadership, breaking barriers, and personal ambition. They have both also been the first ones to break barriers as Black women. Michelle was the first Black first lady. Kamala is the first Black and Asian American female Vice President. Michelle and Kamala have inspired me in all of those ways and more.
My beliefs in women’s leadership and empowerment started very early in my life, growing up in a patriarchal family. I recall my mother’s undying support and encouragement that fueled my passion as a little girl, and now as a woman. My mother always told me to be confident, speak my mind, believe in myself, work hard, and that anything is possible. When I was studying computer science at Georgia Tech, I was the only female in virtually all of my computer science classes. Being in the highly technical domain of cybersecurity, I have been challenged at times due to the lack of women surrounding me.
As one of the very few female leaders in cyber security, I strongly believe there is a tremendous opportunity for women to break many new barriers. It is important to find sources of inspiration like Michelle or Kamala to cultivate essential leadership qualities. And it’s also important to leverage these qualities for the betterment of yourself, your life, your business, or your cause. That is what can inspire change and make a lasting difference. I hope that I can inspire more females to pursue careers in technology and leadership.
Information Security Professional
I’ve never really had a formal mentor, although, throughout my life, I’ve certainly been grateful for those who have made an impact. For example, growing up, my mum was always so supportive; told me to study hard, work hard, be independent, and be the best version of myself. She was always my cheerleader!
Over the years, I’ve had a ton of positive, and also a few negative experiences. I remember working on some research back in 2017. I was riddled with self-doubt, but a super supportive work colleague told me the research I did was brilliant, and that I should submit it to the Black Hat security conference. I did, it got accepted, and I was on the stage talking about what I love. Standing by and supporting each other in the workforce is critical, as is being a good motivator, mentor, and positive influence to your peers.
I found that a lot of men were champions for me early in my career. Whether it be the inspiring CISO that gave me advice about my long-term career, or my boss at my first security job who actually gave me 5% more salary than what I asked for. He told me I deserved it, and at the time, it was so inspiring, because I didn’t know my true worth.
Recently I had the honor of meeting Daniel Cuthbert (Twitter | LinkedIn) via the Black Hat community. Daniel is not only a true gentleman, but someone who treats people with kindness. He possesses a unique willingness to help people with blogs and their CFP submissions, to teach others, and call out the bad stuff as it is. His friendship and true strength of character is something I value every day.
You absolutely have to be kind. I’m coaching at Black Hat and BSides Melbourne, to help the next generation coming through, and that’s something that all those amazing people I’ve met through my career have helped me to achieve.
Security Communication Leader, Cisco
A Small Gesture with a Huge Impact
Wendy Nather (Twitter | LinkedIn) has impacted my career in more ways than she’ll ever know. Wendy has been a teacher, a FUD-checker, a network introducer, an encourager, cheerleader, a “you should give it a shot” imposter syndrome buster, a mentor and sponsor, and alongside all of that – the friend you look up to and are proud to have.
I am confident that if you asked a random sample of other professionals in this business, 99 percent would likely say the same things about Wendy. She has touched more lives in this industry than anyone else out there. The impact she has had on me is personally significant, but the breadth of impact she has had on the industry is truly immeasurable.
Wendy regularly goes beyond her daily responsibilities and makes time to empower her peers and the next generation of up-and-coming security professionals. Whether sponsoring or mentoring, keynoting at both industry or inclusion-focused conferences, or simply making time to meet with and encourage women and marginalized groups of professionals to find their superpowers, Wendy is truly the tide that lifts all boats.
It does not have to involve a big gesture for a person to have a big impact. Wendy held out her hand to me at multiple junctures in my career and said, “Come on in, you’re welcome here.” And for me, that’s all it took.
Wendy’s legacy will be one of inclusivity.
Editorial Director, Infosecurity Magazine
I waited many years for the opportunity to sit down with Katie Moussouris (Twitter | LinkedIn) and interview her for Infosecurity Magazine. Serendipity came to the rescue and connected us in a bathroom at the RSA Conference in San Francisco in February 2020. What followed was a three-hour chat and an in-depth interview that left me feeling completely in awe of the pink-haired bug bounty queen. When Katie told me she will one day run for President, I believed her.
Katie has ambition, drive, and determination that most of us can only dream of. She has testified in front of Congress, she fights tirelessly for pay equality (she has now set up the PEN Foundation for pay equality), and she challenges herself relentlessly. Katie’s passions radiate from her, and her “have as much fun as you can, because it’s later than you think” philosophy totally resonates with me. It’s impossible not to be inspired by Katie, and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to get to know her.
Chief Executive Officer, (ISC)2
Any list of influential leaders in cybersecurity is not complete without the inclusion of Theresa Grafenstine, CISSP (Twitter | LinkedIn). I met Terry more than eight years ago when we participated in a panel together at a women’s leadership conference.
Terry previously served as Inspector General for the U.S. House of Representatives; the first woman to ever hold the position. She alerted Congress about the fact that there were not enough women in cybersecurity, that women bring unique skills and strengths to bear on cyberwarfare, and that we should collectively work toward a greater balance between men, women, and minorities in the field.
Terry also served as the global chair of ISACA, as well as on the board of the AICPA, where I was an executive. She always seemed to show up in leadership roles; positions traditionally occupied by men.
Terry has been an example for me of how risk management serves as a common thread and a bridge between finance and security. It was her example that encouraged me to expand my career beyond the accounting profession and take on the CEO role at (ISC)2. Her contributions and influence on so many women throughout her career are immeasurable. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to bring light to her story of trailblazing and leadership.
Chief Strategy Officer, Titania
Universal Truths to Build Bridges
The question, “Who has had the biggest impact on your professional career?” is a difficult one to answer, because that’s not how my mind works, or how my career has grown. I was an autistic child from an underprivileged and underserved socio-economic background. I saw learning as my way to a better life. My life has been a path of continual learning, much of it self-driven and influenced by the best business minds of our century; all for the price of a library card, which is thankfully free!
Though I have met lots of people that have inspired me on the way, my first foray into a “life-changing” mentor was through studying the work of Dale Carnegie in his landmark book, How to Win Friends & Influence People. His book helped me to better understand neurotypical social interactions and relationships, which I’ve observed are so often the key to success in business and in life.
Comedian Hannah Gadsby (Twitter) once said that, dependent on circumstance, “being autistic is like being the only sober person in a room full of drunks, or the only drunk in a room full of sober people.” Gadsby’s analogy not only describes perfectly how many marginalized neurodivergent people feel, it also highlights one of the biggest challenges to increasing diversity and inclusion in cybersecurity. The very differences that could make our industry stronger often block individual success and career growth.
Nicola Whiting MBE (continued)
Chief Strategy Officer, Titania
The question companies often ask when hiring is, “Will this candidate fit in with the team?” rather than “Can the team support this candidate?” The two questions seem very similar, however the first fosters an environment of groupthink (business stagnation), whilst the second is likely to foster diversity, which some studies show increases innovation, resilience, and profit.
After reading thousands of books and meeting and learning from hundreds of the world’s top business leaders and mentors, I’ve realized that their biggest universal truth is that success is inexorably linked to how well you serve people (both colleagues and clients alike).
The biggest gift I could give anyone, in cybersecurity or in any other industry, is a suggestion that they read a few of these books – it would be time well spent. Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People, Gallup’s First, Break all the Rules, Wickman’s excellent Traction series, and perhaps my favorite of all, Bob Burg’s The Go-Giver.
The time spent with these mentors, both in print and personally, has helped me build bridges and connect with others (who often do not share my worldviews or ways of thinking) to foster mutual trust, respect, and success. Viva la difference!
Security Channels Leader, Cisco
Following a Strategic Leader
I have been following the career path of Lieutenant Colonel Milena Realpe (LinkedIn), Cybersecurity and Cybercrime Advisor at the Defense Ministry of Colombia, for a few years. In 2020, she was a juror and speaker at our organization’s Top Women in Cybersecurity, Latin America award ceremony, hosted by WOMCY.org.
Her trajectory in cybersecurity has been an inspiration to me and several women across Latin America, especially in a field highly dominated by men. I’ve been in cybersecurity for over 15 years, and travelled around the world for my job. I often noticed that there were barely any women sat around the table in my cybersecurity meetings, and I started to ask why that was. One of the factors was the way the general media branded cybersecurity. An internet search around cybersecurity will often reveal a white man in a hoodie – not the kind of image that attracts a diverse talent pool. I'm passionate about making the brand of cybersecurity more human, and Lieutenant Colonel Milena Realpe has also inspired this movement.
She has been a strategic leader in cybersecurity, in charge of graduate programs to further educate more professionals in our field. Education is an area that I am passionate about in order to close the skills gap and promote more diversity in this segment. Hearing her speak was an honor. I cannot forget how she closed the session, with a powerful and impactful message: “If you look taller in heels, you will look huge in boots.” Without a doubt this is what I call breaking the glass ceiling!
Cloud Security Engineer, Cigna
A Supportive Community
In my previous field, one of our consultants, Joe Anderson (LinkedIn), and the IT Director, Christy Burnett (LinkedIn), pushed me to do things I didn’t know that I could, and gave me the confidence to pursue a career in cybersecurity.
As my career has advanced, my friend, Cesar Bodden (Twitter | LinkedIn) has become my mentor. He is an incredible champion for diversity in the technology and security spaces, and has the level of experience I can only hope to reach one day. He is always willing and able to listen to whatever problems I have, then discuss them in depth with me until I am comfortable with the resolution we reach.
On Twitter, I have found an amazing community of women in our industry – strong, brilliant, and quick to cheer each other on. I don’t think I have ever found an industry, community, or group of friends that are as supportive! In a time when the need for women in technology is greater than ever, I see it as a very good sign that my best group of girlfriends emerged from the cybersecurity industry.
Engineering Manager, Cisco
I want to share my appreciation for Katherine McNamara (Twitter | LinkedIn), a security solutions architect with Cisco. During the summer of 2019, I was struggling with my identity in ways that I could no longer contain. I was finally realizing why my sense of gender seemed so incredibly different than those around me.
I was looking for ways to feel normal, and ways to talk about what I was feeling where I had no words or previous life experience to guide me. But Katherine saw. Her sharp eye, her openness, and her kindness were there with no hesitation or judgment. She was the first person to ask more than, “How are you doing?” Katherine was the first person to be confident enough to open a conversation with me about what I may be going through. She was the first person I actually talked to about transitioning.
Before that day, I always considered Katherine a terrific colleague, and now I consider her a trusted friend. Katherine engages the world with her intelligence, a great sense of humor, a phenomenal work ethic, and a clear sense of social justice. In work, she is a model for what achievement can look like and makes sure everyone has access to not only what she learns, but how to learn and grow.
Engineering Manager, Cisco
The first time I met Katherine was at one of our security product workshops where I was surprised to find that she was not already working within our security sales organization. I watched her contribute her insights to the class, while simultaneously supporting customers, building out new servers in her lab, and writing documentation. I made it a point to leverage my position as a visible leader within Cisco to tell every engineering and sales leader I knew or met that she was an asset that needed to be hired; that having her on one’s team would ensure success.
Because, that is what Katherine does. She ensures the success of those around her. She teaches, she shares her experience, she takes on new challenges, and makes sure that others need not have to struggle.
Cybersecurity Content Writer & Author
One woman in cybersecurity who has been really helpful in my career is Kate Brew (Twitter | LinkedIn). Kate has an excellent instinct for what kind of information people who work for enterprises and in data centers are interested in. She has always encouraged me to pursue my curiosities, and my growth as a writer.
As a woman in cybersecurity herself, Kate is very supportive of women in all areas of our industry. She believes that more diverse workforces make companies more effective. She leads by example.
Because her work is largely behind the scenes, I believe she deserves more recognition. The people in our industry with the brightest ideas need equally bright and diligent people to bring them to fruition. Cybersecurity is a very human aspect of computer technology, and facilitating creativity is something that’s greatly needed.
Distinguished Engineer & Data Security and Privacy Strategist, Cisco
From Introduction to Success
When I ask myself, “Who made the biggest impact on my professional career?”, hands down (or rather up) I would say Alan Paller (LinkedIn), founder and president of the SANS Institute. I first met Alan in 1991 when I spoke at the very first SANS Conference. Little did I know, that conference and meeting Alan would change the impact of my career.
Alan not only mentored me, but he gave me the opportunity to lead the technical program track of the SANS Conference for seven years, and the opportunity to do many firsts in the security industry – such as the very first training session over the telephone in the mid-90s. One of our focus areas was always on getting more diversity, and especially more women, into the field of cybersecurity.
Inside Cisco, I co-founded the “Cisco Women in Cybersecurity” group, and Alan was the keynote speaker at our global kick-off in 2014. Alan has provided guidance, ideas, and resources for efforts within Cisco for improving diversity in cyber. In the industry, the fruition of our efforts is now called “GirlsGoCyberstart.”. We also started a larger non-profit organization called the National Cybersecurity Scholarship Foundation, for which I am now a board member.
Little did I know back in the summer of 1991 that an introduction to Alan Paller would lead to 29+ years of mentorship and partnership for a common passion.
Chief Marketing Officer, Claroty
When I think about people who have had a profound impact on my career, I'm very fortunate that I can think of many. However, the person who first came to mind when I was asked about this was Ayesha Prakash (Twitter | LinkedIn).
Ayesha was on the sales side, and I was on the marketing side, and we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, which I guess is normal, right? We had some challenges, and that’s normal. Yet, one of the things about Ayesha that profoundly impacted me in a very positive way is that, together, we found a method to work through those challenges, to come together, to help each other be more successful.
The other thing that’s so amazing about Ayesha is that she has created something for women in cybersecurity that also applies to women in general called the pay-it-forward movement. If you are unfamiliar with the pay-it-forward process, the way this works for women, or any marginalized group, is, if you've had someone help you, you don't have to do anything; you don't have to praise that person in public. You help someone else behind the scenes.
Consultant, Critical Insight
The Quiet Triumph of an Unsung Hero
Cat Murdock (Twitter | LinkedIn) has been a true inspiration for me! When I first met Cat, she struck me as a born leader. She was direct, firm, and confident, and I truly admired that. A few months later I had the opportunity to ask Cat for help. Without knowing much about me, she was very responsive and shared trust, insights, and tips in the right direction with me that contributed to my success, and towards winning the social engineering capture-the-flag contest at DEF CON.
Since then, Cat and I have become great friends. Her ability to selflessly support and lift others while suspending her own ego, and removing all aspects of competition from the equation inspires me to push myself to do better. These qualities also motivate me to uplift those around me and demonstrate my skills, integrity, and the quality of my work through actions and practical application.
I continue to be impressed with the leaps and bounds Cat has taken in a relatively short amount of time, making tremendous strides in her career while remaining completely humble and unaffected by those who would seek to challenge her skills or complicate matters for her.
Her legacy will be one of quiet triumph. In her spare time outside of her primary engagement, Cat contributes to various philanthropic efforts, and supports the efforts of many others who are upskilling and driving towards similar career goals. Cat is clearly one of the many unsung heroes in the information security field; someone who doesn’t chase accolades or notoriety, but chooses rather to allow the quality of her work to speak for her.
Deputy Chief Privacy Officer, CDC
Beverly Walker (LinkedIn), the chief privacy officer for The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been most influential in my career. Although I am a non-technical person, Beverly empowers me to insert myself into technical conversations and make an impact. She encourages me to fill voids where necessary, and to assert myself. She is not only the type of attorney, but also the type of leader I aspire to be one day.
Security Sales Systems Engineering Manager, Cisco
People Who Encourage and Expand Your Vision
When it comes to making that bold move to take the next step in your career, you may need some encouragement from someone who knows you and your abilities - from someone whose judgment you trust. For me, this person was Aybala Tut (LinkedIn), one of our amazing people at Cisco.
Three years ago, I saw a post for my dream job as a systems engineer manager for security specialist engineers. I was hesitant to apply for it. I was coming from a technical background, had security experience, and was very passionate around security, but I hadn’t been systems engineer before. There were so many apparent barriers that I was discouraged about taking that step.
Aybala Tut did not see it as I did. She helped me put things into perspective and encouraged me to apply for the position.
Encouragement is not the only component that led to my success. Liat Shentser (LinkedIn) is an open-minded hiring manager who was willing to tap into the untapped talent pool, challenge the status quo, and hire not only for background but also for potential. This had a huge impact on my career, and I am forever grateful.
Finally, kudos to another person who inspired me and expanded my vision: Mike Storm, Distinguished Engineer at Cisco (Blog). The way he makes security fun and understandable for everyone while being so humble and willing to help, combined with deep technical knowledge and industry insights, is incredible. Mike is always inspiring, while making security approachable.