I was lucky my father bought me a Video Genie (Tandy clone for those old enough to remember the TRaSh-80) and was in a school with one of the first personal computers. I learned assembler, machine code, basic, COBOL, Fortran none of these fancy libraries to pull in, you wrote everything. I even had to get the soldering iron out to create a box to link the computer to a printer and write the drivers to tell the printer which heads to fire to draw a letter because there were no USBs then.
Fast forward to 2010 when I joined QinetiQ to lead a bunch of penetration testers. These boys (and it was a boys club) where the sort of geniuses you wouldn’t put in front of a customer. Highly technical, dedicated and insular. I knew we had to break this. We needed different thinking, we needed a broader pool of talent, we needed equality, we needed to encourage the brightest minds and guess what, they are not always men. I highly recommend a film called “Hidden Figures” which shows the women “computers” behind putting men on the moon. Boy does it frustrate me the way people were treated. To my mind, it is completely alien to distinguish between race and gender. “We all bleed the same colour at NASA”.
How to attract the top talent?
Would you want to join a boys club locked up in a room full of tech and boys toys? I needed to break down the stereotypical image and make the penetration testing practice attractive to women. It had to become a place where women wanted to join in and flourish. Women needed to know we are welcoming, that the work is interesting and there is a great career path. What was interesting, was we had a lot of women working in the Human Factors department who also reported to me. A complete contrast to the male only penetration testers. I also had the cyber-security consultants to draw on so I brought the three teams together into a workshop to start creating a new identity as one team. They came up with the title of the CSIs, Cyber Security and Influence. The conversations allowed for open dialogue and a better understanding of what each area offers. I also had the opportunity to talk at the Cyber Security Challenge where we met some of Britain’s greatest hacking talent. Wherever I can, I evangelise to anyone who will listen as to the fun that can be had working in cyber security. Not too long after opening up these dialogues, we had our first ladies asking to join the penetration testing team. I think this is key, opening up dialogue, demonstrating that our industry has a lot to offer, challenges, personal development, career growth. There are so many facets to cyber security that anyone with an interest can find a role.
My Message for Others
There’s a lot of fun to be had in cyber security. Be curious, and find a mentor that will help you achieve your aspirations.
Link Margaret Hamilton nasa's lead software engineer