It seems only fitting that my first post is a reflection on the 2017 Women in Cyber Security (WiCyS) conference in Tuscon, Arizona. This was my first technology conference. I had avoided most opportunities up until this point because I am relatively new to the field and was worried about not being able to keep up in the conversation. That being said, I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to miss!
For me, the most surprising part of the conference was how many women came into this field via indirect routes. One woman who presented came into the field because she was helping her husband with his homework while raising their children. As someone who was a former theatre major, the sheer volume of people with non-cyber backgrounds who had become very successful was a true affirmation that my path is not insurmountable.
My first day at the conference, I was a part of the GenCyber Arcade. This was the highlight of the conference for me. I got to teach password cracking to a group of almost 100 high school students. Cryptography and password cracking were my introduction to cyber security so it’s very near and dear to my heart. I had so much fun working with these students who were absolute sponges for information. So many of them wrote down every word I said. A group of them even came up to me during lunch and asked if I would be interested in giving a presentation at their high school. It was also here that I met my first of many mentors I would meet throughout the conference.
During a break between rounds of the GenCyber Arcade, Jennie Kam from Cisco reached out to me upon hearing my confidence and passion for password cracking. It was great to have met someone with a shared interest in such a specific topic and though we did not have much time to talk at the conference, she has been my go-to person for developing my online brand. She has given me some valuable advice about how to navigate the Twitter-verse as well as resources to learn more about my interests. She has been my mentor with the most contact since the conference which was only a few days ago. And my deepest gratitude goes out to her for absolutely every piece of advice she has given me.
One of the workshops that had the most effect on me was the workshop led by Rhonda Henning of the Harris Corporation. Her workshop, titled “What Got You Here Won’t Get You Where You Are Going,” helped me to realize that I don’t need to have a step by step plan to get where I am going. All I need to know is where I came from, where I am, and roughly where I want to be. Then I just need to keep going in the general direction of where I want to end up. And so long as I am moving forward, I am on the right path.
I don’t have the time nor the space to cite every amazing mentor I met at the conference, but another remarkable thing that happened was the bonding of the group of girls from my school that attended. While some of the girls were friends before the conference, the entire group became extremely close during the conference. This takeaway has led to a support group that we were able to take home with us. We fully intend to meet up weekly to plan many more female-oriented cyber events in our area to give back to a community we owe so much.
WiCyS 2017 affected all 5 off us differently. We went to different workshops, met different people, and had different goals based on our own career paths. But most importantly, the opportunity to meet with so many successful women in a field where women make up only 11% of the demographic was simply amazing. While sometimes, we might be the only woman in the room, there were almost a thousand of those women in the same room just a few days ago. All of us can reach out to those same women and ask for advice, mentorship, and companionship when the need strikes. This is a network of women ready to inspire and lead other women to their own success and we were all tapped into that network for a few days. We continue to grow the network each time we show women less experienced than ourselves the path of the “badass cyber-feminist” as Lorrie Cranor so eloquently states in her Twitter bio.
My greatest achievement from WiCyS 2017 was the courage to finally start this blog to document my own path to success for other women who are trying to navigate this male-dominated industry. Hopefully, I will meet some amazing people and learn a lot along the way.
Thank you to the many women I met at WiCyS 2017. Thank you to WiCyS for the scholarship to attend, and Cisco for the scholarship to afford the travel. Thank you to my faculty mentors at Pace University’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, Dr. Li-Chiou Chen, Dr. Pauline Mosley, and Andreea Cotoranu, who invited us to be a part of their GenCyber Arcade. And most importantly, thank you to the wonderful women I go to school with who are as passionate as I am about making a difference in the cyber community.