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WiCyS event celebrates opportunities for women in data security field

For years, the technology field has been dominated by men. We’ve all seen it and know it exists.

We’ve also seen the push to diversify the STEM arena. Of course, getting a variety of viewpoints to work in these technical jobs only benefits humanity as a whole. That’s how we grow and learn best while building the best solutions. But what’s being done to help?

I’m proud to say I’m part of the solution in my affiliation with the Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) organization.

The goal of our organization and its annual conference is to bring together intelligent, motivated women and girls from across the country to enhance their knowledge and opportunities in data security while boosting their career confidence, and to also get male allies to join us in that mission.

This year’s conference will be held March 28-30 at the Wyndham Grand Hotel in Pittsburgh, PA.

WiCyS was the brainchild of Dr. Ambareen Siraj, professor of computer science at Tennessee Tech University. Six years ago, she used an NSF grant to create a conference that is now a national nonprofit membership organization. Our annual conference is geared toward bringing women together in cybersecurity from academia, research and industry to share their knowledge and experience while also networking and mentoring.

I couldn’t be prouder of those I’ve seen over the years connect, grow and discover that light bulb moment when everything clicked and connected, they found their tribe and felt they belonged. That’s what happens when you bring strong women together along with male allies.

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An instructor and a student work on an Apple Inc. laptop computer during a coding class at the First Code Academy in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. About 2,500 students have taken courses at the First Code Academy. Photographer: Xaume Olleros/Bloomberg

The best part of this conference is the variety of experiences each individual can have. We have technical presentations that highlight innovations, service learning and outreach projects, research and development projects as well as internships/co-op experiences. There also are lightning talks, which are five-minute presentations that highlight fresh ideas and unique perspectives while jump starting conversations and collaborations.

For a more hands-on approach, there are workshops on any topic you can imagine related to cybersecurity. Want to interact and converse with your fellow technologists? We have informal discussions, called Birds of a Feather, where participants gather to discuss, share ideas or learn about new trends and concepts.

To hear the experiences and perspectives of people living and working in cybersecurity, panel discussions are the answer. Up to four guest panelists will discuss a relevant topic in the field.

One of my favorite parts of this conference is witnessing what our women technologists of the future can do. Student posters (from community colleges, undergraduates and graduates) are judged and put on display.

Some of their ideas include “Using Deep Learning to Generate Relational Honey Data,” “Image Encryption and Decryption Using Blowfish Algorithm and Water Embedding Techniques,” “Securing Connected Vehicles,” “Privacy Preserving Yet Verifiable IoT Devices” and “Hacking Biomedical Devices.” These are only a few of the brilliant projects these students have assembled.

To help motivate and stimulate these young minds are a few keynote speakers worth note: Michele Schochet, director of Security at Facebook; Wendy Nather, head of the Advisory CISO team at Duo Security (now Cisco); Dr. Lorrie Faith Cranor, director of CyLab at Carnegie Mellon University; Dr. Dawn Beyer, Senior Fellow at Lockheed Martin; and Patricia Denno, vice president for Global Intelligence Operations, Enterprise Cybersecurity, Fidelity Investments.

Throughout the conference there are chapter and affiliate Meetups, a National Cyber League (NCL) Capture the Flag cyber competition, sponsor socials and more! Additionally, participants can learn new solutions, challenges, resources, trends, career development tips and best practices; work on making presentations, ask questions, be mentors; and lead initiatives for empowerment.

Being a woman in a cybersecurity-based career is not easy. Discrimination, intolerance, doubt, naysayers and additional barriers are found along the way.

If that isn’t enough, women tend to question themselves. Are we doing a good enough job? Do I belong? Am I capable? Do I know as much as I thought? Events like these bring women together to not only help educate but also support each other especially in their quest to be hired, retained and advanced in their careers.

It’s a scary and sometimes intimidating world, but when we work together, the possibilities are limitless.

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