Voices from the SheLeads Tech Panel

By Raman Kang

“Nothing led me to cyber security, cyber security came to me,” said Jesse Adcock, Chief Technology Officer, Tech Services, City of Vancouver. The Crystal Pavilion room at the Pan Pacific hotel was packed. Adcock, along with Vaishali Ghiya, Rebecca Fitzhugh and Carol Vorster made up the SheLeads tech panel with Karen Sandhu moderating.

Together the panel spoke about their careers in cyber security, the challenges they’ve faced, the advice they had for others and their biggest accomplishments. The panel was just one part of BC Aware day, a campaign that brings together like-minded organizations that specialize in IT security, privacy, risk and assurance.

Sandhu, ISACA Vancouver Board Director and Chair, SheLeads tech, quickly got the panel underway by discussing the importance of cyber security and how far it has come. “Cyber security wasn’t much of a primary consideration back then but now it’s not a matter of choice, it’s a must do circumstance. I had no choice but to wrap my head around it, I stayed in it because I’m not done yet,” said Adcock.

“Security is fundamental to everything, you think about it in every aspect of your business,” said Ghiya, Senior Director, Global Security Systems Engineering, Cisco. When asked about her biggest accomplishment, Ghiya praised her team, “we have an awesome team, we work with top customers and partners.” On a personal note, she mentioned her using the internet to find the man she would eventually marry, before internet dating was a thing, as one of her biggest accomplishments. Of course her 16-year-old son fell into that category and the audience applauded.

Ghiya wasn’t the only mom in the room. Vorster, Vice President and CIO, Information Technology Service at CORIX Group of Companies, said on top of being a single mom and supporting her kids and their initiatives, her biggest accomplishment professionally was how long she had been in her role. “I’ve been in my role with CORIX for 17 years, that’s unheard of, I’m grateful for the fantastic people I work with, no one does anything by themselves.” She also added that she wasn’t a security expert, but surrounding herself with good people who know what they are talking about, has helped her tremendously.

When the panel was asked about the challenge of balancing being mothers with being leaders, they replied, “we need to stop apologizing for wanting to be moms.” The panel also spoke about how important communication is when trying to balance different aspects of your life. They said to not be afraid of putting the things that are important to you, including kids, first. So much of that comes from having good leaders around you, they said.

On the topic of leadership, Fitzhugh, Principle Technologist, Rubrik, who also served in the marine core, emphasized, leadership is a muscle that needs to be exercised. She spoke about how being in the military shaped her as a leader and spoke about the help she had while doing it. At the age of 19 she became a corporal and was in charge of 40 men. To cope with this intimidating task she praised the leaders that guided her along the way. For her, leadership is “a marathon, not a sprint.”

When it came to challenges, the panel had a lot to say. “When you’re a woman in tech, you get held back a lot. You’re told you’re not ready when you are; your personality needs to be managed when it doesn’t; people will tell you might not be technical enough, loud enough. No, you need the right boss,” said Adcock. She added, in order to overcome your setbacks, you need to overcome that personal vibe and be yourself.

Sandhu chimed in and talked about how others would tell her she was too harsh, too direct and how that made her doubt herself. “Is it me or is it you? I came to a point where I realized the people giving me feedback were not right for me.” She also added that we need our male colleagues to be our allies.

Ghiya also added, how easy it is to get labelled as being aggressive when you’re a woman, while your male counterparts are “just being assertive.” You learn to deal with setbacks in two ways, she said. “You either ignore it or you take those setbacks head on. “ Ghiya went on to say how everyone will run into setbacks, but the trick is “don’t ignore them, take them head on. “ She does this by changing the perspective of those holding her back by asking them how they would feel if one of their own was in this same position and it’s worked for her.

Adcock spoke about imposter syndrome and the best advice she could give others is to “go out of your way to learn.”

“Take courses, get all the skills you need to create a good blend that will appeal to employers. There is a place for everyone, set your mind to it and do it and you’ll have a great ride,” said Ghiya. She emphasized, “it doesn’t matter if you have technical skills, there are programs out there for you to learn.”

The entire panel supported this point. They spoke about how you don’t actually need to be in the tech field or have the skills as skills can be acquired. If you want to get into cyber security, the biggest thing one needs is the drive to be there.

The panel also gave advice to employers looking to hire to go out and find employees that are right for their companies instead of waiting on potential candidates to find them. “We need to urge employers to do better when hiring, to do their homework and actively pursue candidates, don’t wait for them to come to you,” said Fitzhugh.

Together the panel’s best advice for anyone wanting to get into the cyber security field was to “just do it.”

Just like that, it was over; the hour had flown by. The panel was thanked for their time, but the conversations they had started on that stage, had just begun. Audience members approached the stage to find and thank the panellists personally. The advice they had given had clearly resonated with listeners, I know it did for me.

Meet the panellists in the video links below:

Carol Vorster, CIO Corix Group of Companies

Jesse Adcock, CTO Tech Services for the City of Vancouver

Vaishali Ghiya, Sr. Director - Global Security Systems Engineering, Cisco

Rebecca Fitzhugh, Principle Technologist, Rubrik