If you care about cyber security and you’re willing to work hard, we need you. Yes, YOU. The cybersecurity challenge is huge and there is a great need for people with diverse backgrounds to help solve it. Your path can originate in different places. For me, I didn’t start out intending to be a security engineer, but influences along my journey brought me to a role that I love and that taps into my natural interests and abilities.

I began my career as a web designer. When I was in college my favorite professor happened to be teaching a class in cryptography. He suggested I take it, so I did, and found it fascinating. That same professor was teaching another class called Ethical Hacking; I took that too, and then I was hooked.  Being a natural problem solver with a penchant for math, I found a lot of synergy with computer science. There’s not much grey area―it works or it doesn’t.  I discovered that I enjoy breaking technology and then experimenting with solutions to make it work safely again.

I’d given just a bit of thought to cyber security because of my concerns about privacy and where businesses were holding my data. This was something my inner problem-solver cared about!  I decided to attend the 2015 Grace Hopper Women in Technology conference; and there I was fortunate to meet folks from Cisco who ended up recruiting me to take a job in cryptography. That required a big move – from Colorado to RTP, North Carolina; but I went for it, and it has worked out incredibly well!

I’ve now been in R&D for the Cisco Security and Trust Organization for two years. Our group has a big mission – to be Cisco’s single point of trust for security software – that is, offering safe, trusted common modules that product teams across all BU’s can use instead of having to reinvent every time. It’s technically challenging because our code must work for the hundreds of product teams our company has. There is a lot of cross-functional collaboration involved.

The year-and-a-half-long learning curve for Cisco’s many product lines was a heavy lift, but my manager provided good insights and helped me build a solid foundation. In fact, the whole culture at Cisco is supportive: if you want to learn something, go learn it. That’s especially important because there’s always something new to understand with the fast pace of change in the cybersecurity world. With two years of experience now under my belt, I find that I continually get more efficient at learning, finding new solutions, and pulling in new tools to work more efficiently.

One of my favorite aspects of my job is teaming with a core cyber group in RTP who does a lot of outreach to kids.  It’s refreshing to step back and get perspective by talking with them. Even if a young person doesn’t think they want a cyber-career, everyone needs at least some cyber knowledge to keep themselves safe. We try to show them that it can be fun. So many people get intimidated by the prospect of a cyber-job, but learning about it from an earlier age can really help dispel that fear. You don’t need to be scared away by any pre-conceptions you have or pre-qualifications you feel you don’t have; this field is not about check boxes.

Just getting your feet wet is the best way to start. Look up videos online; read and learn; smaller conferences may even offer content online for free. Find people on Twitter, where there is a very active security-minded community. Follow CISOs and cyber experts; search hash tags like #infosec, #cybersecurity and #crypto. Expand your local network by attending Meetups or other area events. The white hat hacking and cyber community tends to be very supportive and open. There’s a whole universe of information for the asking.

Solving cyber takes a village. With any background, there’s a job in cyber you could fill. In fact, the diverse backgrounds are what make us better. It’s a simple first step, but if everyone took it we’d be that much further along.  Yes, you will have to work hard at it. I do, and you can too. Hard problems are the good ones to get past.



Ellie Daw

Software Engineer

Common Security Modules