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Inspiring Stories: Sheela Nistala

As a society we tend to focus on titles and roles, and we forget that behind each title there is a person who has a story to tell. And truly every person’s story is unique.
In honor of International Women's day, we interview inspiring women from the community on the story of how they got into Tech, and where they are today.

In this post, I interview Sheela Nistala, who is based in the Netherlands.

Meet Sheela

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I am Sheela Nistala, and I’m an operations and security engineer. I have been in the field of technology for the past 14 years, education included. I grew up in India, moved to the US for my education and am currently living in Amsterdam.

Bringing folks together and building a community where we can share our combined experiences and knowledge is one of my biggest passions. With how ever-changing this industry is, I get a certain rush from being on top of all that is going on. To that end, engaging with the community, teaching/learning from each other is one of the ways I like to keep up.

In addition, I am a volunteer organizer for a conference called DevopsDays Amsterdam, an organisation which arranges meet-ups every month and an annual conference in the summer, where we bring together professionals from all over the world to participate and share ideas.

When did you first become interested in technology and what  sparked  this interest?

My interest in technology started when I was very young. I was probably 10-11 when I saw a computer for the first time; they weren’t very popular in India back then. I remember my Dad having one in his office and was absolutely fascinated by what I saw. How does pressing a bunch of keys on a keyboard make letters appear on a screen? And not only that, there are moving pictures and sound? I didn’t understand how any of that worked and I HAD to find out. Soon after, I started to read and research and I became pretty determined that I would be - what 10 year old me thought was - a “Computer Engineer”.

My parents saw how passionate I was about technology and it didn’t take long before they got me a computer. I spent my free time playing games, trying to figure out what each program on the computer did and learning about how websites work. It wasn’t long until I picked up some HTML, CSS and built myself a basic website, which I was very proud of. That was when I knew this was my calling.

What education do you have?

Once I knew I wanted to work with technology, it was very easy for me to make the choice to study Computer Science, and I decided to get my Bachelors degree back in India. While there, I built an e-commerce website for a small startup as a side project, and while I enjoyed the challenge of creating it, security in technology was an up and coming area that really grabbed my attention. At the time, NYU had started offering a graduate degree in security, and my intrigue in this field led me to apply to and obtain my Masters Degree in Cybersecurity there, specializing in digital forensics.

Despite no longer working directly in academia, I find that the awesome folks in this community keep me on my toes, and help me learn and grow on a daily basis.

Describe your way towards your first job in tech; how did you land this job?

My first job was in grad school, when I was a student. At the time, the professors evaluated applications via a manual process with large stacks of paper, and my team were given the challenge to improve this process. I developed an internal portal that allowed for the applications to be scanned and assigned to a professor electronically for assessment to improve efficiency. During this time, I also helped organize a worldwide cybersecurity competition called CSAW, and designed the challenges for the forensics category.

Thanks to these experiences, this led to me getting my first job in the “real world”. I started working for a company specializing in retail technology, a heavily regulated industry involving credit card transactions and broad security operations. It was my security experience that helped me bring value to the team, and here I learned how to automate security functions and expand my DevOps/Operations skills.

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Do you have any role models that influenced you?
My biggest role model is by far my Mom. She’s always been there for me and has been very supportive of my career choices even when I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. Her resilience, motivation and drive have inspired me both professionally and personally.

My professor Nasir Memon has had a huge influence in my professional life and in the decisions I’ve taken that have brought me to this point. I’m grateful for his guidance and support as I’ve progressed in my career.

There have been several people I’ve met throughout my life who have inspired me and have taught me so much. I have been very fortunate to work with folks from whom I have been able to learn everything I now know. It is difficult to name names because that list could go on and on. My co-workers, the community and all the event co-organizers I’ve had the pleasure of meeting continue to serve as an inspiration to me and my desire to improve.

Finally, I’m inspired by role models of our community who are active in both the Twitterverse and our community events, who speak up to try and make this space a better place for all of us.

Who were/are your biggest supporters in your career?
My family have always been my biggest supporters, always encouraging me to pursue my passion and continue to push myself to progress. I know I can always rely on them.

Along the way, I have been lucky enough to have worked with helpful co-workers who have guided me to refine my career path, to find the things that bring me energy and joy. By way of conferences, meet-ups and the DevOps community I’ve met incredible people whose know-how has helped shape my career progression. A lot of these people have become very good friends of mine.

What do you do in your free time?
I enjoy painting, playing the violin, helping organise meet-ups and conferences and watching TV shows. I recently got an Origami pack as a Christmas gift, so that’s my latest obsession.

What advice would you give to women and girls who dream about a career in tech?
Never undervalue yourself, think that you need to be like someone or do the things that they did in order to be successful in tech. Everyone has their own path, their own journey. You and only you have the power to decide what you want it to be, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The industry can be harsh sometimes, but know that there are several folks who are willing to listen and help - don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice. You’d be surprised at how many folks want to see you succeed.

It can be scary, but do not give up. YOU GOT THIS! 💪

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