In honor of Engineers Week, today is "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day" and the digital team asked me to answer a couple of questions highlighting my experience, what it means to be an engineer, recognize my fellow colleagues for all of their amazing work and share awareness for STEM and education. I was flattered to be asked and loved to participate. Below is my Q&A - enjoy!
1. Why did you decide to pursue a career in high-tech?
I stumbled into IT accidentally; while pursuing an undergraduate degree in Medieval Studies, I was work-study on the college's computer center helpdesk, and I loved it! After college, I had the opportunity to work in tech support for a tiny local ISP, and I jumped on it. What drew me to tech support - and the tech industry in general - was the same thing that drew me to study history: my interest in understanding complex systems and how they inter-relate, and how people relate to them.
2. What have the advantages and challenges been as a woman in engineering and specifically, in security?
One of the biggest benefits of being a woman in tech is that - to some extent - there's flexibility about what parts of the male-dominated tech culture I participate in. For example, if I'm in a technical meeting and someone asks a question to which I don't know the answer, I don't have any problem saying "I don't know - I'll have to look into that!" or "I'm not familiar with that - can you give me a little more context?" My impression is that it's easier for a woman to do that - without losing face - than it is for a man. But if I'm elbow-deep in a POC network with three of my male peers at 9pm the night before the customer shows up, and I have Nerd Tourette's, nobody bats an eye.
I've been incredibly fortunate not to experience many challenges related to my gender and my career. Like every other woman in tech, I've had the moments where I'm working a tradeshow booth and a visitor asks me if I can help him find an engineer… or a new customer assumes that, when I show up supporting an account manager, we're there for a business development meeting and he won't need his technical staff… But that kind of misunderstanding is easy to straighten out. And I've learned that if I can demonstrate that I have useful knowledge and I'm willing to share it and open to adding to it, most people don’t care what set of chromosomes are under the hood.
Many women have very different experiences, and I think part of my good fortune is that I work for a company that has a very strong female executive leadership and active support for women in technology. I would say my biggest challenge as a woman in tech right now is finding other women with the background and interest to join our field engineering team!
3. What’s your proudest moment?
Pardon me while I fire up the propeller-beanie… I contribute to a standards organization, TCG, which creates open standards for interoperable trusted computing. One of the standards I work on, the Interface for a Metadata Access Point (IF-MAP), enables security automation across disparate networking and security devices. (Juniper uses IF-MAP to enable federation and coordinated threat control in our Junos Pulse solutions!) We originally designed it to enable integration of behavior information into access control decisions, and standardized some specific metadata to support that use case. But we left it extensible, too, in case people wanted to apply it to other use cases.
So - one of my proudest moments was when one of my customers came to TCG and said, basically, "You know that standard you created for network security automation? Well, we figured out how to solve some of our other problems in the area of industrial control system security, too. And we'd like to share our research with the standards community so other organizations can benefit from it." You can see the results next week at the TCG pre-conference seminar at the RSA security conference - we'll be demonstrating standards-based, interoperable protection for industrial control system devices using our Junos Pulse Access Control Service and Asguard Networks' SimpleConnect industrial security appliances. If you're going and want to learn more - come find me at Juniper's booth!
4. Outside of security/technology, what other hobbies or interests do you have, and how do you make time for them?
Most of my hobbies involve getting sore & grubby: mountain biking, rock climbing, rappelling, cave exploration... If it involves hanging off of, scrambling up, or crawling under rocks, I'm up for it. Whenever possible, I try to work during the week and play on the weekends - if that means getting up at 3:30am to take a 6am flight on Monday morning, so we can go climbing or caving all weekend and get back at 10pm on Sunday night, it's worth it. (One nice side effect is having fewer travel disruptions, since the early flights are less likely to get delayed or cancelled.)
I also helped start a local hackerspace (Splat Space) and shepherd it through the 501(c)3 process. I'm not very active there at the moment due to my travel schedule, but I do get to support occasional events like local Maker Faires; this weekend I'm helping out at a Robot Camp for a nearby elementary school!
5. What were your favorite classes in grade school and high school?
I loved English class (grammar is a complex system, too!) and social studies. Science classes fascinated me. I was incredibly bad at math, and still am - I love the concepts, but my brain isn't wired at all for the execution. Which is disappointing, because I'm intrigued by cryptography! Authors like Steven Levy (Crypto) and Simon Singh (The Code Book), who make complex mathematical concepts accessible and interesting for a non-mathematician, are terrific.
6. How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has been a huge influence on my professional trajectory. I went from tech support to a local dial-up ISP, to web developer (back when it was just HTML), to web server administrator, to network field technician, to datacenter network operator, to network security engineer, working at a series of start-ups where the people I worked with were willing to give me a chance at a job I wasn't qualified for (yet!) and give me enough pointers that I could bootstrap myself into doing it well.
With my standards work, I started out using my hands-on experience to test our products at PlugFests; my mentor, Steve Hanna, encouraged me to learn more about the underlying technologies and interfaces, and today I'm co-editing specifications and co-chairing a working group. I would never have delved into those areas without his encouragement and support!
7. What advice can you offer girls hoping to start a career in the math and sciences?
My advice for anyone looking for a tech career - and for girls in particular:
Try new things that you might not be good at… yet.
Find someone doing something interesting, and ask them if you can help.
Follow your passion - if you love something, it'll be much more enjoyable to invest the time required to master it.
Never let someone else define your abilities or your potential.
9. Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Radia Perlman - her work has been so influential across so many areas of network design and interoperability.
Shannon Lucid - one of the first female astronauts; former Chief Scientist of NASA; longest single-mission stay in space (on Mir). She's just amazing.
Robyn Denholm - I always look forward to her portion of the company meetings. The job of CFO for a company as large as Juniper must be complex beyond my imagination, but she always manages to clearly communicate where we are and where we're going, and even to make some sense of Wall Street (which seems mostly senseless to me).
10. What’s next on your list of goals for 2014?
Juniper's Pulse solutions - for remote access, access control, mobile security, BYOD, etc. - are continually evolving to meet the changing security landscape and expanding needs of my customers. In 2014, I hope to keep helping our end users understand and successfully deploy that technology, making their networks more trusted, more productive, and easier to use securely from any device, anytime, anywhere.