Founding WiCyS (Women in CyberSecurity) with Dr. Siraj | The Cybrary Podcast Ep. 36

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In this episode of the Cybrary Podcast we sit down with Dr. Ambareen Siraj, the founder of WiCyS - a non profit whose purpose is to bring women together in cybersecurity. Speaking with Amanda and Angel from the Cybrary team, Dr. Siraj goes through her history in cyberecurity and how WiCyS has helped open the doors for other women to get involved and learn about cybersecurity.

Hosted by: Dr. Ambareen Siraj, Founder of WiCyS, Amanda Davi, Angel V
Length: 57 minutes
Released on: September 16th, 2020
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Amanda: So, Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of the Cybrary podcasts. I am Amanda Davi and I am the Director of Business Development here at Cybrary and I am joined by two lovely ladies and I'll let them introduce themselves.

Angel: My name is Angel. , I'm a mentor with Cybrary. I've been in Information Technology as a professional for 23 years. I'm now the manager of identity and access management for a company called CGI and that's me.

Dr. Siraj: And my name is Ambareen Siraj and I'm a professor in Computer Science at Tennessee Tech University and I'm also the Founding Director of our Cyber Security Education Research and Outreach Center in short CEROC. That's why I think you see CEROC in my background.

Amanda: That is awesome. So Ambareen, we definitely took a look at your background before coming on this call and just the amount of scholarly references and your education background and so we were actually really curious to hear about that background and just your transition into research to cyber and just really how that happened. It was really inspiring to see the amount of work that you've done for the community and I think we're both really interested in just learning more about that.

Dr. Siraj: Thank you for your kind words. You know, I, I'm, I originally come from Bangladesh, which is a small country by India and when I grew up and when I studied Bachelor's degree in Bangladesh, the capital city Dhaka, we didn't have a degree in computer science so I did my Bachelor's in Applied Physics and Electronics, but one of my project was, it's called, it was called, it was long time before, I think in 1990s, early 1990s and it was based on PC-based IC tester and that's where I started learning about programming and I, you know, I don't retain information well, I have a very bad memory, but I still remember the joy of writing a program and keeping the common line and it did what I told it to do and I don't know, that's just a hit something with me and then I thought, you know, that's what I'm going to study further in Computer Science. So I came to United States to get Doctoral degree in Computer Science. I did my Masters first and my PhD in Mississippi State University and I was very blessed to come across my professor Dr. Rayvon, who was, who is one of the pioneers in Cybersecurity Education and Workforce Development and he was offering his first course ever in Cybersecurity and I was in that class and from that course, I mean, I just knew that's what I wanted to do. I just fell in love with the subject matter and that's how I got into Cyber from Computer Science. So my dissertation was in Cyber Security and then I, I was blessed to have a job with, Tennessee Tech University so I joined as an Assistant Professor and, you know, from you know when for professors, of course their primary duty is teaching, but professors are also expected to do research and surveys to different degrees. It depends on the university. I'm blessed to be at a university that allows me to have my presence in all of them almost very comparatively so I do as much as teaching, as research and outreach for the community. So, because I believe in all these three things very strongly, in 2016, we established the Cybersecurity center and I was looking for a name and I thought of this name, Cyber Security Education Research and Outreach Center, because I, we wanted to do all three so we wanted to do Cyber Security and, and contribute in the community through education, through research and through outreach. So that's what my center does. That's what I do. That's my identity and you know, that's what my, if you look at my CV, that's who I am. I do all of it to some extent, I'm not expert at anything, but I try to dib in different things.

Angel: That's really fascinating, it's really fascinating what you, what you've done and I guess the body of work that you've, that you've built over this time, I think it's fascinating, you know, that I'm coming from your background and just that one thing, you know, that you did gave you that instant gratification, that it just hooked you in, and it really got you excited about security and, and it all started from just that one experience and I think it's, I think it's great. I, I guess in a lot of the work that you're doing now, you have the opportunity to create those experiences for other women to also get them excited and get them into IT yeah.

Dr. Siraj: Yep, it's just spreading the love of computing and cyber. That's what it is about.

Amanda: That is awesome and so, Angel, do you want to share a little bit about your background as well?

Angel: Yeah, my, my story is the, my story I think is, I think it's kind of interesting. I, I started out originally actually doing just a hodgepodge of different types of jobs. When I was younger, I was basically trying to find myself and figure out what I wanted to do so honestly, I've done everything from, you know, working in a, an animal hospital in the,ain the dog kennel. I've been a bike messenger in Washington, DC. So I came into my first big job, as a facilities, Assistant facilities person and that was that's pretty much where it started. Once I got exposure and the company that I was, that I started with was called American Management Systems, a long time ago in the Northern Virginia area and that was my first exposure to IT. And we were a consulting company and when I, got a taste of, I think with the help desk guys were doing and the server guys, and I was coming across those teams. I was really excited by that work and for me, that's, that's, it, it snowballed from there. Once I started pestering them and saying, Hey guys, you know, really love to learn what you're doing. You know, take, take some of that work off your hands. I was just eager for more to learn more and more and my entire, I would say 23 years in the beginning, I mean, everything is about just having a hunger for knowledge and because I had that hunger for knowledge, it just kept taking me places that I never expected and so at this point in my life, I'm a, I'm a manager of Identity and Access Management. It's a really exciting area in security right now. I think that we're kind of coming into, our identity is coming into its prime which, which is really wonderful and it's getting a lot of visibility and I've just been very fortunate to kind of have started from the help desk. You know, like I said, like 22 years ago, and having had gone on this journey of going from help desk to then kind of being like the tech lead, like training the new folks coming in because my customer service, my customer service. I love people, I love to help people and it's, it's just really taking what I already thought I was good at, and what I wanted to do is just snowballed into this amazing lifelong career for me, that's just opportunity after opportunity, just doors, keep opening and I, I've just been really, really excited and I try to make as many connections as possible and do as much outreach as I can and kind of give back into the community so it's, I've had a wonderful experience in it so I've been really lucky myself.

Dr. Siraj: Thank you, that's very inspiring.

Angel: Thank you.

Amanda: That's awesome Angel and so for my background, so I've been in the Cyber and IT space since graduating from college and I was telling Angel, this just sort of, kind of fell into this industry and I've strictly been on the communication and marketing side of things but I think, you know, similarly to both of your stories, it's definitely an industry with such a strong sense of community and especially among the women that are in the community but also just in my personal life, something I'm really passionate about is helping others and impacting lives and you know, whether that's through social justice issues or a myriad of other ways you can get involved in the world, something about cyber really resonated with me in that aspect as well so it's been amazing to have that impact on defending the nation's critical infrastructure, through different tools that you're working with, or even from you know the marketing perspective, it's been really rewarding for me and yeah, no, I definitely want to get more technical and Cybrary has been a huge help and advocate of that. You know, I'm very fortunate to have access to all types of training, given the company that I'm with which is truly a blessing, but it's definitely been something that has made me even more passionate to make these learning opportunities and different platforms available to other women that want to get involved so that's truly where I'm at and so it's great to talk with you both today and just learn more about where you see the future of women in cyber going and of course we don't need to strictly talk about that, but I think it's super important especially from two industry veterans, to hear, you know, your thoughts on that, yeah.

Angel: Yeah, I think , I think, you know, cause I think it's important for people to know so that they don't feel so intimidated. You know, I, I think, Dr. Siraj and I come from two different backgrounds, two different opposite ends of the spectrum and that, I mean, I don't, I didn't have a formal education. I actually had a lot of difficulty from an educational standpoint, personally, well, my story, I've never really, I've never really actually shared personally about my story, but I think it's important to share this, these details now. I didn't finish high school so I'm a person who went two weeks into ninth grade. I'd already had so much difficulty from an educational perspective, but for me when I came across, I did go try to go and I was able to kind of get my GED and I was able to take some community college because for me, I had, well later in life met some, later in my early adulthood, met some friends that, and I was really inspired by their stories, actually kids who were studying at NIH and it's because of their academic interests and their background, like it really made me feel inspired and they really kind of encouraged me and said, Hey, you can do this. So I didn't allow myself to be intimidated by trying to finish, you know, my, my education then I did go back to community college but I can't say that I have, I don't even have a bachelor's degree and what I think is so amazing about the information technology space and especially the security space is that it, for people who don't have a traditional educational background for people who I just felt like maybe that wasn't a place where they fit, Security and IT worked for me and I, I fit into this space so wonderfully because like again I really loved working with people. My, my, I loved, I found that I loved helping people and being in IT and being in Security gave me the opportunity to do that, you know, and to feel like I was part of something and to feel like I had a mission and I was part of the mission and, and that, that was what I needed. I just needed the opportunity and I needed the training. I needed people who were a little bit ahead of me to kind of coach me and give me advice and help me along and I was able to find those people within the teams that I was working in within the organization that I worked for and I still today, just so everybody knows, I came to Cybrary also, still continuing my education just because I'm a manager and I've been doing it this long, the landscape changes so frequently that it was just so important for somebody like me to keep my skills relevant and fresh, because for me to be a good manager and for me to be a good manager to my employees and the people that I work with my organization, like I have to continue to learn what's going on out there, that means new tools, that means new technologies and so my education, I came to Cybrary because I was still working on pursuing education, my education, pursuing an education and working on my CISP and so when I saw there was an opportunity to get involved in the mentors' program, I felt like I had something to give and so I've been doing that and that's how I got linked up with a Cybrary first as a student, and now as a mentor so my journey continues.

Dr. Siraj: I think Angela, your story is important in couple of respects, and you're a very good example for different things. One is you know, you not just represent, you're underrepresented because you know, you were a woman who are very much underrepresented in cybersecurity. Ethnic group wise also you're underrepresented and most importantly, you are showing that people can come to cybersecurity and be successful at it without the traditional path that they can come to cybersecurity in nontraditional ways and honestly, if cyber security had to wait for the pipeline to be filled in traditional ways then would have a huge crisis because the traditional path of filling the pipeline with academic education from schools, colleges, it's way, way behind so we really need more people to get into cyber sideways and you're an example of that. So, Thank you, you know great story.

Angel: Thank you very much, yeah and I'd have to say, like, there has to be other ways to get in because honestly, like being a Hispanic woman, there are, for me, I, I didn't come up seeing a lot of other Hispanics involved in again in any fields and so I was always kind of alone in that respect, also being a woman, but also being a Hispanic woman in that regard and so I think a lot of people are challenged economically and they will face some additional economic challenges, you know, as a result of current times and so yeah, there needs to be, to be some creative thinking around, okay I really want to get into that. How do I do that? And I think Cybrary certainly provides that, that pathway, that avenue. Your organization provides that pathway for women to get connected, get involved and kind of start a journey, right so I think it's important for all of us, you know, with the, where we're coming from in this, in this whole space is we're trying to figure out how do we get women interested and draw them in and help them start their journeys or, or continue their journeys for that matter?

Dr. Siraj: Yes.

Amanda: Absolutely. That I love both of your stories. I think, like you said, Ambareen, like just the amount of different avenues that we need to have and foster to get into the cybersecurity industry and scale people up is really the only thing that's going to help build that pipeline and attempt to solve that talent and so I think that's a really great segway into learning a little bit more about what WiCys was founded on and you are the founder of that organization. So I think it would be awesome for us to hear just kind of how you came about, you know, based on your background in academia, but then finding that organization as well is, you know, like you said, just two different sides of gaining access to the industry. You have your more traditional route, and then you have the community and fostering those relationships and, you know, they're a little bit different, but at the same, at the end of the day, the goal is very similar and so definitely interested in hearing more about that and your url's initiatives.

Dr. Siraj: So WiCys started as a national science foundation grant.So when I started teaching at Tennessee tech, often I would notice that, you know, there were very few, if there was any woman in my classroom. When I was in graduate school, it was it was that case also I was the at that time I was the only female student for my advisor. I was the only female student in the lab, you know, not that it prevented me from doing and doing anything or being successful. I always had a very supportive environment, but I, I know now that, you know, if I had a community like WiCys back then it would have amplified my things that I have done. So again, when I was a professor, a couple of years went by and I kept seeing less women in my class and so I taught, you know I love cyber security and there is obviously a huge need in this country for skilled professionals in cyber. So why won't more women get into this field? And I talked about it and I realize it's just a problem of showing by example that women, they need to see that there are others like them in cyber, that there are role models and that it's not just a thing that men do and there is this stereotypical notion about cyber security, which isn't, doesn't talk very well to women and I wanted to do something about that. So I, and I also around that at the time I went to this woman in regional women in computing conference in Kentucky, and it was a very small gathering of, I think around hundred or at most 200 women in computer science, but it had so much impact on me. I was a young professor then, and I thought, you know, we just need to do something like that in cyberspace security. So I wrote a grant to National science foundation, it was about broadening participation of women in cybersecurity. One of the project in that grant which was in collaboration with University of Memphis and Jackson State Community College, both in Tennessee. Again, one of the project was doing this conference. So we had a budget of, for the conference part of the NSF grant, we had a budget of $70,000 for doing the conference two years in 2014 and 2015 for a total of 250 people. That's how we started but first year we had with controlled registration we had more than 350 people, women in cyber show up and that's how we became a community and after five years and more than 3000 in scholarship, couple of thousand in attendance, we actually had that money left from NSF that we used for other things, and this community snowball you know, started in 2014 and I'm very blessed that, you know, along the way, made a lot of good friends, lots of inspiring woman, like, you know, if I met Angel, Angel would be one of them but it's never too late Angel.

Angel: So nice of you. Thank you so much for saying that.

Dr. Siraj: I met so many wonderful, wonderful people during my journey and we all became friends. We all became part of this community and one special woman I met was Dr. Jenelle Struck from, she was at UT Dallas back then, but she joined me now she's the chair of the organization but again, a lot of good people came together and started this kind of Robinhood effort. You know, it's not the, if you look at the organization, we started the organization in 2017, late 2017. So basically it's, in workings, it's a two year old organization but we have now for more than 4,500 members, we have 115 student chapters across different campuses, we have 25 affiliates, which are a community of professionals that are in the local or regional and we are just going, and it's all because of great people that are part of this community.

Angel: That's really amazing, how do your affiliates participate in your organization to, you know, what kind of different roles are there within your organization to kind of help with that outreach?

Dr. Siraj: So the reason, the idea of the chapter and affiliates came about is so when, when I was working on the, kind of like the document for setting up the bylaws for the organization, back in 2017 you know, because back then, the only real thing that WiCys did was the annual conference and we always get, you know, so people, so hyped up coming to the conference and they're all so rejuvenated and they want to do things and then they go back home and then they have to wait for another year to come back and not everyone can come back. So we wanted to see how we can get that spark going year long to do things for the community at their own backyard so when people coming from say Arizona to the, wherever, the conference is, how do they go back and continue to do things and nurture that spark? In Arizona, in their city, wherever they, they are in. So that's how the student chapters, the affiliates concept. So they're kind of doing things. These are, these are cyber students or professionals that are communities of local women and male allies. You know, WiCys doesn't exclude anyone. It welcomes everyone so they're just doing things in their backyard, too. You know, everyone's need is different. Their agenda is different and they're just finding their own voice in their own way to make a difference in their community and what we try to do is, again, we are only a two year old organization. We are learning every day and trying to, you know, striving to be better tomorrow, every day. So we are learning to better support the affiliates through different programmings that we have.

Angel: So I was just curious with, with everything happening with the pandemic lately, what is your organization doing now that the conferences delayed til 2021.

Dr. Siraj: Yeah.

Angel: what's happening in terms of like outreach and that kind

Dr. Siraj: Yeah.

Angel: of keeping people engaged right now.

Dr. Siraj: So you know, the pandemic started in, I mean, yeah, we canceled our annual conference in March and then we needed, we did our virtual summit in April, which was very successful and then we talked about this summer, people are stuck at home. I mean, not stuck, safe at home ndd how can we provide any opportunities with them. So we have been talking to our strategic partners and you know, these things take long time, but this summer we were able to bring two professional development opportunities already to our community. One is in collaboration with Google and Sans corporations, Sans Institute. WiCys community members are having an opportunity to get training in sense through that they're funded, that are getting funded by Google. So that's one initiative.

Amanda: That's amazing.

Dr. Siraj: We and then the other one is AWS, who is also our strategy partner. So we are doing some AWS jam workshops. So this is about, you know giving PD opportunities in being good at AWS. You know, resources and the services that they offer. So, you know, both they're under ongoing right now. We are also working with another strategic partner, which I can't name the name now, but we are trying to bring another training opportunity to our community during this pandemic times. So while we are doing that, again we are, we have started preparing for the next conference, which is still hoping that it will be in Denver, but we are also preparing for uncertainty and so that light last time, it wouldn't be sudden we will, you know, if we, we are thinking of alternate ways to deal with what's coming next. Yeah.

Amanda: That's great.

Angel: That's great. It seems like a lot of wonderful opportunities and I think that your organization is doing just to, just to keep them, some momentum going right so.

Amanda: Absolutely and so in terms of, you know, additional ways for people to get involved, and especially now that a lot of conferences are going virtual, including your own, like what have you found successful in terms of crea, kind of trying to facilitate that community just not in person, has there been anything sort of outside of the box that you've experienced with WiCys to bring more people in and even outside of that, just with, you know, women in general, different outreach approaches that you guys have tried during this time, I think would be super interesting.

Dr. Siraj: I mean you know, I personally am a big advocate for face to face meetings like I would love to meet you two face to face in a table and have this conversation rather than going through Zoom.

Amanda: Yes.

Dr. Siraj: So having said that when that's not an option virtual: we just, we can't sit and not do anything and we have to think about alternatives and, you know. A good thing about virtual is that you, you can be anywhere and you can join, right? So, like for our conference, for people to attend our physical conference, you know, they had, students had to get scholarships and there was very limited number and they could only, then they could come. We had, you know, because the conference I don't know if you've know this, but the conference takes care of all the cost of the students.

Amanda: Right.

Dr. Siraj: In a sense they're like lodging meals. So half of the attendees are always students. So we, we take care of their costs through support of the different organizations that become our conference sponsors and so, you know, so there is always a capacity based on, you know, how many people we can have at the conference because we have to maintain the ratio of half students and half non students. That's something that I am, I will try to enforce as a founder of the conference and the initiative, because I think this half and half model of someone who is looking for opportunities in cyber and those who are in cyber, you know, finding ways to bring more people like them in cyber are being connected as role models/mentors works very well. So too, so there is this thing of keeping this half and half ratio , you know, deferring the cost of this half of all students. So that's why we have to pose a number on the conference. So the, the summary is not everyone can go to the conference. I mean, we have, right now we have more than 4,500 member. Our last conference had the capacity of 1600. So two thirds of the members can't go to the conference. So when we do virtual meetings that, you know, that lifts away, that quota, you know, then we can, we don't have restrictions so more people can participate in virtual opportunities, so I guess, you know, what I'm trying to say is that you know, thinking of challenges as as opportunities, this, and trying to be innovative and creative in you know how we can accommodate the need for the community, with the limited amount of resources we have. Another thing I want to say that the WiCys organization is run by volunteers. Again, it's just two years old. For two years, we had only one employee. One full time employee. We just hired another full time employee very recently. So, so you can imagine the work that is involved in this organization going, and we are very fortunate to have our executive Director Lynn Dom. I'm sure you haven't heard the name. You know, I've known Lynn couple of years now. She has been working with WiCys before it was an organization and then she, I think it has been a year or less than a year that she has become our executive director and she's doing so wonderfully well and so anyway so yeah.

Angel: That's fantastic hats off to, to the effort and everything you've done and those seeds that you planted and look what you've grown like, it's really, it's really amazing.

Dr. Siraj: It's it's not just me. It's a we thing, it's not I. It's a we. It's a community. So it's a community that, that carries the burden to get there.

Angel: Yes, of course, of course but what's with the, so many with the strong few, like what you all have done is it's quite impressive. It's amazing.

Dr. Siraj: Thank you.

Amanda: I agree. I think it's very similar and I'm sure Angel can speak to this, you know, in terms of our community as well, everybody comes together to make things happen and to create learning opportunities for as many people as they can and I know Angel is very super involved in our mentor community and I think that's definitely been a common theme in our conversation today is just the importance of that and having those connections and facilitating those relationships to really, to really learn, especially when, you know, there's so many avenues to entry, there's so many different ways that you can go about doing something and learning a new skill and having that comradery is super important.

Dr. Siraj: I mean I know we are not meeting about to talk about Cybrary, but I really admire your organization. You know, we have, we have, at my school we have a cyber security club. It's called Cyber Eagles because our mascot is Golden Eagles so Cyber Eagles, but you know, the kids in the club, they're always talking about your organization, the learning material that they get from your organization. So, I would love to in future, I mean, it's not for this recording or anything, but we have to sit together and figure out how we can connect because I feel like we both are very passionate about giving back to the community and figure out how we can connect and find you know, more ways to give back to this, to our communities, both of our communities.

Amanda: Absolutely great. That would be amazing.

Angel: So I'm Dr. I was just curious, what do you think is the most valuable piece of information that you can give, you know, young ladies or anybody, or any women today who are wanting to maybe get into cybersecurity or they're wanting to further their education or their careers in cyber security? What, what would you, what, what information would you leave with them?

Dr. Siraj: I would say. Get informed, find out first of all, find out whether cybersecurity is something you really want to do, not just because everyone is saying, oh, cybersecurity is great and there are a lot of opportunities there. Is it something that matches your interest? You know, I didn't say something that matches your skills for a reason. First is you have to see if it matches your interests. So look at, there are tons of information out there. I always tell my students that cyber is so broad that whatever you're, you are good at, you will find a way In cyber to apply that and there are so many different types of careers in cyber from very non-technical to very, very technical and in between. So that's the first question where your interest is and do you find anything in cyber to do a study and see what are the different ccareers? You can Google NIST Nice Workforce Framework, NIST, Nice Workforce Framework that shows you all the different types of careers in cyber, and you can even try to play with it and see what skills are, what roles apply to different careers. So once you have a general idea, what the different colors of Cyber are then you, ask yourself, what is your skill? What are you good at? Or what, where, I mean, what can you, be good at more, where can you hone your skills further? And then once you figured that out there is just so many resources out there even free. There are a lot of free resources. There are a lot of resources that are low cost. There are resources that are expensive as well, but start with very small thing and then do one thing at a time. I always tell my students this one thing and I say, I, I said, I have this three words that I show my students. I think first day I see them is crowd source learning, meaning that don't think you can know or learn everything in cyber. You do, you learn what you think you are good at, somebody else will learn their thing and then there will be a, when you, I guess, work together, whether it's an academia or industry you share. So like in our school, I tell the kids to everyone learn what they want to learn, and then you teach others and you, show others how they can learn this thing and second thing is continuous learning. You learn every day because cyber changes everyday. So if you don't like change, I think being in history would be better because history doesn't change but if you, if you don't mind. Yeah. And if you are rejuvinated by change, then cyber is your field, technology is your field and then the third thing is paying it forward. So as I said, you know, there is so much to do in cyber and there is so, there is a big need for more people with skills in cyber. So those of us who are in cyber, if we don't pay it forward, then there is no way that those opportunities would present themselves to others. So that's what I tell anyone, you know, and I strongly believe that, you know, there is nothing in the world that hard work cannot bend if you work hard and if you have, if you're passionate about something, you can do it.

Angel: I totally agree with that. I absolutely, that's a great advice. So

Amanda: I love that

Angel: I love that too. So do your homework, learn about what it actually feeds their insecurity, see if something appeals to you, you know, so if you get interested in something be voracious and chase that lead and then when you go and seek some education, there are different ways to learn. There are free resources, things on YouTube. Obviously Cybrary is a wonderful resource. You know, the YouTube channel has a plethora of information that are, are, you know, information that's like gateways into learning about some of these different areas. So I think that's also a great start to, and then when you do get in there and you do learn like teach others because it reinforces what you know. It helps build those connections in your brain and, and it gives do you more confidence and assurance in what you're sharing. So it just makes you that much better and in the end, you end up becoming somewhat of a mentor in your way, and it's, it's cyclical. You have other people feeding information into you, and it just goes, everybody gets to benefit and grow from that experience. So I love that advice. So. That's great.

Dr. Siraj: Yeah. I couldn't have put it better than you Angel, because that's actually a very good point.The more you pay it forward, the better you get because the act of paying forward makes you better so it's just a win, win for everyone.

Amanda: Right.

Angel: That's really great and we need a lot of wins right now. What do people need? A lot of wins and they need to know that there's, there's, there's, there's a lot of positivity out there. There are a lot of opportunities out there, but we just have to open our eyes and be extra sharp and we gotta be hungry to turn over all those stones to make those things happen but yes, anything is possible and I do believe that.

Dr. Siraj: And also, you know, often I have, I get students, male, female, that they're afraid that you know, they're not good enough at that. You know, this is too challenging for them, or they're not good enough for this to apply for an internship or a job. I always tell students don't be the one to disqualify yourself, never be the one to disqualify yourself. Your job is to reach out anywhere, every, anywhere, everywhere you see that comes to your path. You know, when you go from A, to, from position, you know, from point A to point B anything you see in your path from A to B came there for a reason, even if it's not for your doing, but somewhere, someone in this world did something to, for you to able to see that in your point from A to B. So don't disregard anything. Consider everything carefully and don't disqualify yourself. And if you're not the person someone is, or, some organization is looking for, they will do their job, they will do their diligence and they will find the one they're looking for. You don't need to be that one to you know, remove you from that pool. So.

Angel: Right. That makes a lot of sense. I think a lot of women in general, I think we have a tendency and I think it's all people to have self doubt to question ourselves, you know and, and are certainly, those are demons that, that I've had to deal with, you know, again, with not having a formal education and you kind of hear that all the time, like you kind of questioned like, wow, is this really going to be a good fit for me? You know, am I really going to be able to contribute, you know, am my good enough am I, you know, so it's still even happens throughout your whole life. You know, the biggest thing is to, like you said, you have to quiet the mind and really set those fears. First of all acknowledge that, yes, those are valid fears. You know, that they happen, you hear that, but you don't have to acknowledge them and give them credit and say, you know, I am better than this and I, I'm going to give myself the opportunity to do something that maybe I'm going to end up loving and right. If you don't, if you don't allow yourself the opportunity to explore that, you'll never know and so they always say, don't, don't try to eat the whole elephant, just start with, you know, one bite at a time, you know? And so life's hard.

Dr. Siraj: Start with the tail, the tiny part of the tail.

Angel: Oh, the tail, yeah start with the tiniest parts, because what ends up happening is, you know, I just said this to somebody else that, you know, tiny volcanoes become, you know, islands of possibility. Right and so you always have to do things small and just, you know, you may have that big goal out there, but just understand, there are always small steps that you can you take every day, every week, that'll kind of get yeah there and, and though that's much easier to digest it's much easier to walk one step at a time, then try to figure out like, well, I'm just going to take down this whole mountain. It's just not, it's, there's always a better way to do that and I think that mindset of believing that you can do something and just trusting in that trusting yourself and everything else just falls away that includes the fear and the negative self-talk will just fall away if you just stay on track and just give yourself the opportunity to just keep going one foot in front of the other.

Dr. Siraj: I mean, you know, that Nike slogan Just do it.

Angel: Yeah

Dr. Siraj: Let's do it. Don't think about it. Don't overthink it. Just do it. Just get in it, get your hands dirty and you know, sometimes you'll feel awful. Sometimes you'll feel this is totally not working for me. That's fine but We make mistakes all the time, but we learn from the mistake. It's important that we don't make the same mistake multiple times, but making mistakes, failing are perfect, legitimate things to do. So do them and learn from them.

Angel: Yeah. Those are growth opportunities for sure. Yeah.

Amanda: That was awesome and inspiring. Got me a little emotional, if I'm going to be honest, I think I needed to hear a lot of that and I think our audience, and I hope there's some girls and women who want to get involved listening and they take a lot of what you guys said and put that into practice cause I think that's definitely invaluable advice and definitely needs, needs to be spread and I think that's a great note for us to conclude on.

Dr. Siraj: But one thing I want to just say, you know, I said there are a lot of resources out there, lot of things out there. If someone listening to it, can't find them, find me and then write to me or find Angel and write to us and we will try what we can to direct you to some of them.

Angel: Yeah. So that is a good question. So where can we find you? So where can people listening to this, listening to this podcast or watching on YouTube or wherever else you're going to find us, where can we actually find you and where can we find WiCys and information about you so that we can get those folks more involved in that journey?

Dr. Siraj: So my name is not very easy to remember. It's, you know, it's Ambareen Siraj, so you might forget that. So I'm most likely you'll forget that and I don't mind at all.

Angel: So how about the website?

Dr. Siraj: Yeah. So what you do is if someone just easiest thing to do is do a Google search for Women in cybersecurity, which is our organization would be the first link and once you go there, you'll find tons of information about WiCys there and if you want information about my, about my school, Tennessee tech and our program, the cybersecurity center, if they're people who are thinking of going back to school we do have a program called Cyber Corps which is a federal grant program that provides students a very generous stipend like for example, if someone wanted to go back to cybersecurity through grad school, say they had a Bachelor's in say, you know something related to Computer Science and they want not, not specifically in cybersecurity and wanted to go to grad school in cybersecurity then federal government would provide for all their tuition. They would give them through this cyber course program. It provides $34,000 per year as a stipend, just to be a student and $4,000 for going to conferences. $2,000 for books, but federal government is investing on students to go to undergraduate or grad school so that they become best of the best and in our program through other programs. I think there are 70 schools in the nation that has this program and these students once they graduate, they go and work for CIA, NSA, FBI, DHS, you know elite federal agencies, our national labs. So it's a very competitive and very prestigious program. If anyone is interested again, you don't have to know my name.

Angel: but I will, I will help people though. So anybody else, if anybody wants to find a good doctor? Her name is A M B A R E E N. Last name is Siraj, S I R A J. So Dr. Siraj, so you should be able to, you should be able to find her plus Security, and I'm pretty sure your name, her name will pop up in Google so.

Dr. Siraj: Well, but you know, you can go to WiCys website and the about page would have my name.

Angel: There you go.

Dr. Siraj: and do Google search. It will take you to my university and you can find me and write to me and I can tell you about some scholarships program that are that maybe someone can think about.

Amanda: Awesome and we'll of course be sure to include any relevant links and information on our guests, in the descriptions on YouTube and within the podcast as well. So we'll definitely easily be able to find you both, hopefully that's what you want.

Dr. Siraj: Yes. We don't have any problem being found.

Amanda: That is awesome. I love it. Well, I just want to thank you both so much for taking the time to be on the podcast with us today. I know I've said it already, but it's definitely inspiring and really important to hear both sides of how people can get involved in the industry and just do their part and give back and it's been great to talk with you both and I've personally learned a lot, and I think our users and audience will gain a lot from hearing both of your stories. So thank you.

Dr. Siraj: Well, I met two great people today, so that's my takeaway today and then angel and we hope to get kind of connected and Tommy, I didn't forget.

Amanda: He's back in the sound.

Dr. Siraj: Yes.

Amanda: I know, I'm gonna give him a shout out.

Dr. Siraj: Yeah. Thank you, Tommy, for your, all your support and everything.

Angel: And for me, it's been a real pleasure doing this. I feel honored to even have been asked to participate in this. So you know, so I appreciate it. Thank you. I've been working for some months eventually to do some outreach stuff like this and videos to educate people with identity and cybersecurity and things of this nature and so, this has felt really natural for me to, to just put my foot out there and, and see how it goes. So thank you so much.

Dr. Siraj: I am telling you Angel, you need to be out there. You need to talk to people because people need to hear from you because

Angel: Maybe you can help that.

Dr. Siraj: Yes.

Angel: Maybe you can be my mentor and help me figure out how to put myself out there to reach more people.

Dr. Siraj: Well, to anyone who is listening out there I think everyone has their own stories to share. In WiCys organization, there is something called speaker bureau so if you're a member, you can choose whether you want to be published in the speaker bureau. So I would love for Angel, and if you are, if you join the, I don't know if you're a part of the organization, but you can choose to be in the speaker bureau that way when we get lot of requests for people seeking speakers for events. So we tell them, go to the speaker bureau and contact them and they will find you there and they will contact you but, you know, I don't see it in say this in a light way Angel, because I told you this again, and I'm telling you this now, you need to be out there being a female Latino, Cybersecurity professional, who have been so successful coming into cyber in sideways and your story is definitely worth to hear.

Angel: Thank you. Thank you again. I appreciate that and I will, and I, and I will do what I can to get myself out there. I do. I do agree with you. I think it's important. It's been a goal of mine to do outreach. Not only into my, my community, but as, as a female, but also, all of us brown people out there, because I think there could be more representation. I just don't think there's enough awareness and so I want to be one of those people that help make others aware of the fact that this is a career possibility and it's an amazing one and it's almost like leading them to the pot of gold that they weren't even didn't even know it existed.

Dr. Siraj: You know, I mean, think of a female Latino young woman with no school education working in a job that she hates, and then she listens to you who looks like them and she thinks okay she is like me. I can be her. So that's why you need to be out there.

Angel: Thank you. Thank you. I commit, okay, great.

Amanda: Love it.

Dr. Siraj: Thank you, Amanda, for having us.

Amanda: Thank you so much.

Dr. Siraj: and let me know if you need anything else. Okay.

Amanda: Thank you both. Absolutely.

Dr. Siraj: Okay, bye.