What’s it Like Being a Woman in Cybersecurity?

This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)

I am a woman in cybersecurity, but I had no idea that I would ultimately find myself in this field. I’ll begin with the story of the journey I traveled to get into cybersecurity, so you can see that it is possible to start in one field, and – if your interests align with industry needs – to become a woman in cybersecurity yourself.

I am the child of a Korean family and the daughter of a Korean engineer who very much wanted me to be an engineer – or a lawyer or doctor, the only “approved” Korean professions. I came to the US from Korea as a young teenager, the most awkward time in life to transition to a new country and language. I did not speak English well and was one of the few Asian students in my high school. But because of my early training in Korea, I always excelled academically even as I faced challenges socially. To make up for my interpersonal limitations, I focused on getting good grades in math and science, and most of my friends at my Southern California high school were math and science nerds. Nerds became my best friends throughout high school and college, and they helped me to overcome tough personal times at school and tensions with my family (which was caught in a real-life Korean drama). My friends ultimately coached me to find a job in technology.

Because my father had advised me (strongly) to go to engineering school, I was very much inclined to be an engineer. I stayed in engineering school even after the professor gave me the standard freshman engineering speech: “Look at the students to your left, your right, front and back; only one of you is going to graduate from engineering school.” Let the “Hunger Games” begin! 

I can’t say I received an A in every course (not many of those, in fact). But the discipline that the engineering curriculum instilled in me boosted my success through the years – and access to talented nerds also helped. As I moved from application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) sales to fiber optics marketing, enterprise network storage and finally cybersecurity, the engineering discipline paid off over and over again, as have my friendships with talented technical coworkers who have been the source of much good advice. 

Fast forward to today: I have been working for the number one cybersecurity company in the world for almost three years. The engineering discipline I learned and technical friendships I have made have been critical to my success. But as I grew more confident in my role, I began to look around at my colleagues – almost like it was in engineering school: left, right, front and back; how many of my colleagues were, like me, a woman in cybersecurity? 

Very few, it turns out, and that is a shame for the industry! We need more talented people with different backgrounds joining the industry, not fewer. The more employees start to look, think and behave exactly like one another, the fewer new ideas will come to the table. Cybersecurity is one field that benefits from more – and more consistent – out-of-the-box thinking.

I have greatly enjoyed working with other women in cybersecurity – when I can find them. Some women I meet only stay in the field for a short while due to any number of workplace or external pressures. 

I feel strongly enough about helping new women in cybersecurity to be successful that I decided to write this blog. If you are also a woman in cybersecurity, I’d love to hear from you about the types of challenges you are facing and how you are overcoming them. I dream of gathering a sufficient number of ideas and opinions to create a playbook for women like us – one that a new hire could turn to for answers to difficult questions. 

I welcome your feedback – all ideas and inputs are welcome! We can share our amazing experiences working as women in cybersecurity. 

Jane Chung is VP of Public Cloud at Palo Alto Networks, where she leads a team of business development, evangelist and engagement managers in delivering global scale service creation, delivery and co-sell opportunities to public cloud providers. 

Jane is passionate about protecting the most sensitive data – whether on prem or in the cloud – from increasingly sophisticated cybersecurity threats. 

Jane is accredited as a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and Computer Hacking Forensics Investigator (CHFI), and holds a Masters of Science degree in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance.


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