Women in cybersecurity: How one woman persisted to live her dreams
Tosin Ajayi moved to the United States from Lagos, Nigeria, in 2009 at the age of 20. Two years ago, she was able to land her dream job at an Indiana manufacturing company working in cybersecurity. Now she is a security operations supervisor succeeding in a male-dominated world.
Ajayi just graduated this April with a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity and information assurance from Western Governors University, an achievement that she had been working on for many years.
Back in 2010, hackers broke into Heartland Payment Systems, 7-Eleven and other companies, stealing credit card information via SQL injection attack. Ajayi remembers seeing news of that attack and wanting to do something about it. “I told myself that when I’m able to go back to school, I want to go back to school for cybersecurity because I want to be able to help people or companies protect their data,” Ajayi said. “You know, it’s just sad how companies invest in their businesses and overnight something just happens, and it’s all gone.”
Initially, she attended Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, where she got an associates degree in cybersecurity. During her time at Ivy Tech, she learned about a program from Ivy Tech called IvyWorks Indy Women in Tech. She applied to join the program, where she was able to learn from other women actually working in tech and develop mentorship relationships with them.
“It’s nice to see women doing the job, first of all, talking to us while we’re getting prepared to go into the tech field, and that kind of boosts my confidence in what I’m doing,” Ajayi said. “It makes me feel like, ‘They’ve been through what I’m going through right now. And it’s not just me. Look at all these wonderful women around me trying to get an education in this field.’”
She got her job in an unusual way, too, she said. A man on LinkedIn reached out to her to have a conversation. She didn’t think much about it, but just before the meeting, she looked at his profile and learned that he was an IT director. “I met him and I was very casual wearing a polo shirt, looking like I had just woke up from a nap,” she said with a laugh.
The conversation turned out to be very fruitful. “He just wanted to know me and was asking me how I was going to apply my Agile certification into security, and I explained that to him. I didn’t even know he was going the Agile transformation route. So after that, they reached out and said, ‘OK this is what we’re trying to do here. Would you receive an offer if we offer you something?’”
She thought the company, SMC, an automation controls manufacturing company in Noblesville, Ind., was a bit far from her home in Plainfield, Ind., but she took a chance anyway. Her commute is an hour or more each day. But now, after two years with the company, she loves her job.
As a woman in tech, her advice to women is pretty straightforward:
- Know the technology – “Whatever you learn in school, you have to be able to apply your certifications, but you have to apply that knowledge back to work. If you’re talking about processes, you should understand the defined processes for that actual work and be able to speak it. So that’s how you get your respect.”
- Find the solution – “Don’t linger on the problem for too long without a solution. My director always told me that everyone can identify a problem. The unicorns are the ones that come up with a solution.”
- Speak the truth – “To be able to survive in this field, you have to know what you’re doing. You have to speak intelligently to what you’re doing. Because that’s what most men do. They may not know 100% of what it is when they speak so intelligently with confidence. So the 50% that they know, you assume they know everything.”
- Soft skills – “Have an understanding of knowing who [your coworkers] are and meeting them from where they are. It’s easy to group all men together. Get to know them as an individual.”
- Stay the course – “Don’t let any situation stop you from achieving your dreams. Because I think those challenges are there to either encourage or discourage you. You just have to just get on the correct path. That’s like your reward for going through the things you went through. I was going through a whole lot of things throughout my degree, but I stayed focused – this is what I want; I’m gonna learn it. And at the end of it when I earned it, I look back to say that, well, despite what I went through. I’m still here. I have something to show for it.”