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October 31, 2019

Cybersecurity Bootcamps Bridge the Confidence Gap for Women

By Michelle Lange

Angela Marafino used computers in graphic design, photography and printmaking before landing in the legal field, but still didn’t feel as though she was on the right path for her career.

 

“I liked the research and the education part of law, and I knew I wanted that education but not necessarily to be an attorney,” she says.

 

An article on IT security finally lit the bulb above her head: “I said that's me, that's what I want to do.”

 

Marafino took part in a 6-week prep course. Then, a 15-week cybersecurity bootcamp to find an IT career path she truly loves.

 

“With law, or anything else, there are tons of acronyms. And if you have no idea what they are, you're going to be lost,” she says, explaining her decision to take a prep course first. “It helped astronomically in getting into a bootcamp and succeeding.”

 

Once Marafino was in the bootcamp, she learned cybersecurity up and down. “It was really intense, of course, a lot of information. You kind of eat, breathe and sleep cybersecurity, which is awesome,” she says. More recently she took part in the Ace program, which is 18 months of intense study to become a pen tester or red teamer. “I help people find out where they're vulnerable,” she clarifies.

 

Smart, driven women willing to spend a few intense weeks doing a deep dive into cybersecurity are finding that technology bootcamps are the right path to move from nontechnical jobs into careers as technologists – workers with the best mix of hard technical skills and business acumen for today’s digital work environment. And it couldn’t be happening at a better time: Technologist talents are desperately needed — by 2020 could be more than 1.8 million open cybersecurity jobs SOURCE.

 

Moving from Nontechnical Jobs to Cybersecurity

 

Devon Jones is a senior QA engineer at Slalom Build who lives in Colorado — a wild left turn from her life in California, where she was a special education teacher. She shared her experiences with attendees at the Women in Tech Summit (WITS), a women’s tech conference that benefits TechGirlz, in Denver.

 

Jones feels a cybersecurity bootcamp is an intense, satisfying experience for aspiring technologists.

 

“Everything is riding on it, and you’re deep-diving into this super technical thing,” said Jones, who has done two bootcamps, one to learn cybersecurity and another to ramp up on Java script. “It’s four weeks of instruction and then four weeks of building a project and then you have to put yourself out there.”

 

For women feeling a tech skills confidence gap, Jones turns the metaphor to exercise: “Some people immediately have an affinity for computers, and some have to work harder. But they both end up as engineers,” she says. “I have to go to the gym all the time to do a pushup, and I can still do that pushup next to the person with natural body strength. The end result is the same.”

 

Jones’ special education background comes in handy, because she collects data and does an assessment on every one of her students. She also brings patience and empathy from her nontechnical experience – including a job at an insurance company, where she learned how companies can make products accessible to people with disabilities.

 

In her cybersecurity work — Jones is a senior quality engineer at Slalom Build — she dives into her documentation skill set to ensure every process includes step-by-step instructions and contingency plans for crisis situations.

 

Why Diversity Matters in Cybersecurity, and How Bootcamps Can Foster It

 

Newly minted technologists may not have deep IT knowledge, but they bring diverse perspectives valuable when coping with ever-evolving cybersecurity needs. “Someone with different experience in different jobs can add a lot of value,” says Jones.

 

Her colleague worked in the oil and gas industry before turning to cybersecurity and brings a safety perspective that’s augmented by the firm’s documentation process. “She brought up questions no one else on my team thought of,” Jones explains. “In oil and gas, you have to make sure your documentation covers everything for safety.”

 

Whether its women, people of color or people from rural areas, diversity matters in technology development, especially in fields like cybersecurity that affect nearly everyone. During her WITS presentation on bootcamps, Jones shared a story about a smartwatch that worked for everyone in the development room but bombed in the consumer market because it didn’t work on dark skin.

 

“It’s really easy to discount a large part of the population, if that part isn’t represented inDevon Jones the office,” Jones says, citing product safety measures that fail to consider differences in male and female physiology. When considering safety features for some products – such as medications and motor vehicles – Jones explains that a narrow perspective can make the literal difference between life or death for populations un- or under-represented in the design process.

 

In the cybersecurity realm, a narrow perspective can mean figurative life or death for a business, as data breaches can bankrupt organizations.

 

If more women become involved in designing cybersecurity tech, policies and practices, Jones elaborates, “there would be more consideration for 50 percent of the population” leading to healthier, thriving businesses.

 

“There’s a big business case for diversity,” she says, but many of companies don’t know how to attract a diverse workforce. Bootcamps are an “easy option,” she asserts.

 

Are you, or someone you know, interested in launching a career in cybersecurity?

 

CompTIA certifications and bootcamp-style training from CompTIA’s Tech Career Academy are great ways to start. Learn more about our programs and partners by visiting CreatingITFutures.org.

 

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