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Inspirational Women In STEM and Tech: “Plan your work, then work your plan”, with Tia Hopkins VP at eSentire

Plan your work, then work your plan. My best friend’s father gave me this gem of advice. He would tell me all the time that a goal is only a dream without a plan. When I set a goal, it’s a process. I evaluate how realistic the goal is (do I need to break it into smaller chunks?) because while goals don’t necessarily need to be easy to achieve, they do need to be achievable; otherwise we are setting ourselves up to be discouraged. Once I qualify the goal, I put a plan in place to achieve it. This helps to keep me on track with achieving the goal and also gives checkpoints along the way which encourages me to keep going. Finally, having a plan in place can help with determining what’s working versus what needs to change.

I had the pleasure to interview Tia Hopkins of eSentire. As Vice President, Global Sales Engineering, Tia Hopkins is focused on leading the team in providing pre-sales engineering support. She has held various technology roles, including Senior Solutions Architect and Director of IT Services at services organizations. She is an adjunct Professor for Yeshiva University’s Cybersecurity Masters program, and a Career Mentor for Cybrary and Built by Girls. Tia is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Ethical Hacker (C|EH) and Certified Hacking Forensics Investigator (C|HFI). She also holds a BS in Information Technology, MS in Information Security and Assurance and MS in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance, and plans to continue her education in pursuit of an MBA in IT Management.

Thank you so much for joining us Tia! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been drawn to technology. Growing up, instead of playing with my toys, I would typically take them apart to see how they work. In fact, at the age of 12, my mom bought me my first computer, and instead of booting it up and playing games or browsing the web, I took it apart. Needless to say, it was also at the age of 12 that I built my first computer because my mother wasn’t very happy with the fact that this expensive computer had been disassembled into what appeared to be a pile of useless parts. My first job that was relevant to what I am doing today was many years ago as a DSL installer for the phone company. That role really piqued my interest and led me to pursue an IT support role, which ultimately led to my focus on cybersecurity.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at eSentire?

The most interesting thing that has happened to me since I’ve been at eSentire is that I’ve found my voice and I have a platform; people actually want to hear what I have to say. That’s incredibly interesting and humbling for me as someone who was used to being a bit of a behind-the-scenes mastermind. I’ve always been focused on helping others and giving back when I can, but it’s typically been quietly. Having the opportunity to mentor and speak publicly about my journey and experiences has been a truly rewarding.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t know that I would consider this a funny story, but it’s definitely the biggest mistake I made when I was first starting out in the information technology field. It was actually quite scary. I was sent on a call to upgrade the storage in a critical server. The upgrade required that the The Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) controller, which basically controls the way the storage devices communicate with each other and with the operating system, also be upgraded. Long story short, I was having some issues and reached out to the vendor for support. I was advised to delete the configuration for the existing RAID controller, which, as it turns out, could not be rebuilt and rendered the hard drives useless. This meant massive data loss. I won’t go into the gory details, but I can tell you that the situation was as scary as it sounds, and we were ultimately able to do a recovery from backup. The lesson learned here for me was to always ask questions, even when speaking to someone you think should have a better handle on a situation than you. I’ve been that way ever since, and it has served me well.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

eSentire is focused on helping organizations solve problems. We are a people company. We are heavily focused on keeping our customers safe and truly being an extension of their internal teams. I’ve been in situations where a customer is simply trialing our service and we discover a breach in their environment and gave them our full support to help them through the process without any financial or contractual commitment from them. Of course, the engagement ultimately demonstrated our value and they became a fully onboarded customer, but at the time of breach, our focus was helping the organization recover; not getting contract signatures.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am not currently working on any specific projects of my own at the moment, but I am focused on partnering with organizations that are working to get more women into cybersecurity and helping drive awareness. Whether it’s speaking engagements, mentoring, or leading workshops, I believe it’s important to do my part because every little bit helps. Some of the organizations I am working with include Built by Girls, Leading Cyber Ladies, and the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu. Time is my greatest challenge these days. I wish I had more of it so I could do more, but it is important to me to balance my professional life, the things I commit to with my personal life and my commitment to my family.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I am currently not satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM. I feel like we have a lot of work to do in terms of creating more awareness in terms of not only the opportunities that are available, but also take that a step further and highlight potential career paths and do a better job of demonstrating what a day in the life in many of these roles look like. I also have a soft spot for cybersecurity given my background, and I feel that STEM focuses a lot on coding, which could be a deterrent for a woman that isn’t particularly interested in being a programmer. It’s a fantastic skill to have, but I almost feel like in some cases it’s positioned as a requirement for any path in STEM, which is not the case.

I also think more can be done in terms of representation. What I mean by that is women who are currently successful in STEM, their path, how they made decisions, and also very importantly, their failures along the way. I think too often as leaders and mentors, we focus on the successes and don’t talk enough about the failures, and I think the failures help shape many of us into who we are today.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I think representation is the problem here. Tech is a predominantly male industry, so female representation is not as common as it is in a role that’s more commonly held by women such as a nurse. We have a long way to go, but a good start to the solution is for women in these various roles in tech and STEM to be more visible in the industry. Little girls and young ladies need to see this more as common and not as an exception. If women and girls feel like they have to go above and beyond and excel above their male counterparts in order to obtain a role, I feel they are less likely to pursue the role.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

I had a student ask me once, “Which jobs in tech are for women?” I actually thought she was joking, so my answer to her was, “All of them!” She then looked at me and said with a smile, “No really, which jobs?” I was floored. I could not believe that her experiences had led her to believe that only a small subset of jobs in tech are for women. I had a very serious conversation with her and assured her that any job in tech, or any job for that matter, could absolutely be filled by a woman. I encouraged her to not limit herself and to pursue whatever type of job she’s passionate about; and that being a woman should have no bearing on whether or not she is qualified for the role.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. I find that getting the right answers is almost always a result of asking the right questions. It’s okay to ask questions that may expose something you don’t know or may shed light on a gap in process. What it also exposes is your desire to learn, grow and contribute. In a previous role, I asked a question about a process the was not well defined and presented a solution to improve it. At first, I was concerned about stepping on someone’s toes or making someone feel bad, but as it turned out, others on the team agreed with me. I became the owner of the development of the new process and I was able to showcase my value as a contributor.

Never stop learning. I’m often asked why I have so many certifications and degrees. My answer is and will always be that my credibility is established and maintained by how meaningful my conversations are. In order to drive high value in those conversations, I must always be open the new concepts, ways of thinking, shifts in the industry, etc. Whether the learning is through formal education, workshops, conferences, or newspaper articles, it is important to keep pace with the ever-evolving field of tech.

Don’t just meet your goals, crush them. In this field, in order to be successful, you shouldn’t set goals, meet them, and relax. Instead, set goals, exceed them, then set new goals. My football team’s head coach always tells the players after a Saturday night victory, “Celebrate for 24 hours, but Monday it’s back to work.” I apply the same thinking to my career. I enjoy the success for a moment, then I’m right back to planning.

Plan your work, then work your plan. My best friend’s father gave me this gem of advice. He would tell me all the time that a goal is only a dream without a plan. When I set a goal, it’s a process. I evaluate how realistic the goal is (do I need to break it into smaller chunks?) because while goals don’t necessarily need to be easy to achieve, they do need to be achievable; otherwise we are setting ourselves up to be discouraged. Once I qualify the goal, I put a plan in place to achieve it. This helps to keep me on track with achieving the goal and also gives checkpoints along the way which encourages me to keep going. Finally, having a plan in place can help with determining what’s working versus what needs to change.

Be human. I know, it’s a simple statement. But this wasn’t so simple for me. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get things right and not make mistakes, but I eventually realized that our mistakes help us grow. Be okay with doing your best and understanding that sometimes you won’t always get it right. It’s okay to ask for help and to admit when something is outside your scope. Overcoming adversity builds character.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Meet people where they are. Focus on an individual’s strengths to help them gain confidence and continue to build on that. When team members feel valued, they are more driven and open to learning new skills. Focusing on shortcomings and opportunities for improvement can be discouraging and yield a less than favorable performance.

Get to know the person beyond the title. Taking a personal interest in your team members goes a long way. Understanding their values, what motivates them, what they’re passionate about, etc. goes a long way establishing rapport and building a strong working relationship with your team members.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I am a lover of sports and I actually coach a women’s football team. I apply many of the techniques I use to coach, to the practices I use when managing my team. Basically, everyone plays a role; everyone’s role is valuable. It takes every single member of the team (male or female) to execute in their role in order for the team to be successful. On the field, I don’t treat my players like women; I treat them like football players. In the office, I don’t treat men or women differently; I treat everyone like a team member with a critical role to play. I find that most individuals are motivated when they understand their role and how it factors into the overall success of their team and the company.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Currently, at eSentire, I am incredibly fortunate to be a part of an Executive Mentorship program where I am provided guidance and insight from individuals with a wealth of knowledge and experience such as Kerry Bailey, our CEO. Kerry and the rest of the executive have been incredibly supportive of me. I am very fortunate to work with and for a team of seasoned professionals who take interest in my success as a person and a professional.

When I was getting into the space, however, I did not have a mentor or guide. A big reason I am focused on mentoring is because I know what it feels like to have to figure it out on your own and I’d like to take that struggle away from as many people as possible.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I believe in paying it forward. My success was not easy by far, but it also doesn’t have to be as challenging as it was. I like to see my challenges as a means of providing guidance to others in terms of what to look out for and how to navigate their career paths assisting them with overcoming obstacles, asking the right questions, etc. I enjoy mentoring whenever possible and talking through my experiences as they relate to current challenges others may be facing. I am also an adjunct professor at Yeshiva University. I teach the Network and Data Communications Security course as part of the Master’s in Cybersecurity program. My goal is to bring real world experiences to my students and help shape the way they think in a manner that will help them to differentiate themselves in the job market.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If I could start a movement it would be a movement of empowerment. Many people don’t think big or follow their dreams because they don’t think they can, or they don’t think they should. As cliché as it may sound, being empowered is powerful. Simply having someone say “you can do it” goes a long way. I’ve personally experienced the feeling of achieving something I never thought possible. Once I experienced it once, I wanted to experience it over and over again, which turned into this spirit of empowerment and led me to go after any and everything I wanted. Did I achieve everything? No. But it was still an experience, and the way I see it is, I either succeed or I learn. There are no failures. I would love to start a movement that enables women (and even men) to feel empowered to go after the things in life that they are passionate about and to be okay with not achieving success right away. Sometimes, the journey is more valuable than the destination.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are two things that I tell myself all the time. “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready,” which is not my own quote, and “Being smart gets you noticed, being informed keeps your relevant,” which is my own quote. When I started out in the field, I really had no idea what path I wanted to take or even what options were available to me. As I performed my research on specific roles, the job market in general, and the IT space as a whole, I would constantly tell myself that while I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, I would always do what I needed to do to make sure I was in position to accept the right opportunity. I never wanted to miss out on an opportunity I wanted due to qualifications, education, lack of experience, etc. To compliment that, it is important to remain in the know with current trends, industry insights, etc. Knowledge can become stagnant, but what is considered to be relevant information is constantly changing. So while I pushed myself to establish a strong knowledge foundation, it is also critically important to me to be able to add value in the discussions I’m having in the field. Two of my daily goals are: learn something and teach something.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

I would love to have lunch with screenwriter, actress, and producer Lena Waithe. Regardless of professional background and career path, I am drawn to individuals that find a way to overcome the odds and succeed in a way that no one ever thought possible. Lena Waithe, like me, came from humble beginnings through hard work and determination now has an incredible success story that has the power to touch countless individuals. I would love to discuss our collective successes and failures as I think she and I would share similar philosophies and have the ability to encourage, inspire, and empower those that we come into contact with.




In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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