Changing The Norms
I have always been interested in technology. Though dormant, this interest started peeking out when I was back in university studying to graduate in General Science (Physics). We had “Computer Science” as a major subject in our fourth year addressing the fact that computers are necessary regardless of the field. Though I had subjects relating to computers and technology before this, I guess I never really gave it much thought, let alone think of it as a career choice. I had never thought that I would be where I am right now. The subject provided enough exposure for me to pursue my interest. Although fascinated by technology, the field was and though comparatively less, it is still evolving and highly dominated by men. Finding women idols to look up to in a local context was very difficult but there were few people in my life who inspired me to pursue my field of interest.
Though the choice made was on unsure grounds and frightening, I decided to start my career in technology in November 2018 and started exploring the tech field and enhancing my knowledge. I traveled to Bangalore for training on cybersecurity. The training provided me with the core concepts of networking and the fundamentals of cybersecurity. Besides technical capability, I was also exposed to Information Technology as a career and got to witness the involvement of girls in this field which was extremely rare in our country. After the completion of the training, I returned back to Nepal and started exploring the industry. Shortly afterward, I got an internship at an IT company as a network support engineer and got some hands-on experience working with networks and the work environment of a company. In June 2019, I got a chance to join CryptoGen Nepal as a Security Researcher. The cybersecurity domain was still fresh, and I was the first employee in the startup company. There were only a limited number of people to learn from and being the only women in the company, it had some ups and downs.
My team at CryptoGen Nepal is aspiring and has always pushed me to break the set benchmark and achieve my goals. The mentorship provided by my team has helped me get out of my comfort zone and take lead in domains I had never thought about when I was back at the University. I was provided with various opportunities to conduct and participate in events that have allowed me to inspire other women who are trying to pursue the field as their career. Since CryptoGen Nepal was a startup when I first joined, I did not have a specific domain to explore. I was involved in and explored various domains of cybersecurity. This gave me the insight I needed to choose the one that piqued my interest. As CryptoGen Nepal provides both offensive and defensive security services, with the exposure I had to various areas of both sectors, I found that my interest was much more driven towards defensive security. I started in this field with absolutely no skills whatsoever, a lot of confidence gaps, and some fundamental knowledge of cybersecurity. Today, I am confident enough that I am capable to achieve any goals I set, working hand-to-hand with my team.
I have never felt like I am the only girl on the team as our presence has never been judged by our gender. It has and always will be judged based on the set KPIs of the individual. As a part of Cryptogen Nepal, I am privileged to work for a company that understands that diversity in the workforce leads to greater collaboration and ideas.
Though I have never felt like I am the only girl in the team, the absence of other girls limits the things that I can share with my team members. My team has always been open to sharing problems. I had developed the habit to set boundaries and limit the information that I shared. However, due to our bonding as team members, over the years the boundaries kept being pushed further backward.
Making your voice heard among a group of men in a male-dominated field can be a challenge during group discussions. I too did face the same challenge at the beginning but the team realized the holdbacks and have developed discussion techniques that allow everyone to speak and add value to the discussions. While working or having conversations with any clients or individuals, there always seems to be this unsettling feeling of being treated differently because I belong to the few female individuals involved in the cybersecurity domain. Every interaction, every conversation somewhat implies the feeling of needing to prove my worth. I do know that everyone faces this. The challenge of proving your self-worth is not just for girls, it is for every individual working in this field in a country like ours. In my experience, while working with clients, people seem to judge my capabilities by my gender over my knowledge and skills. This practice is not going to end anytime soon. Personally, I changed my approach to deal with this feeling. Proving judgmental people wrong with my knowledge and skills, I started taking this as an achievement and not a challenge. People are quick to judge and only when you make them realize your potential and capabilities, they see you eye to eye and honestly, that is the best feeling ever. Where you stand or what value you have are measured by skills you have and targets you achieved.
I have come to realize that it is not the technology that drives a company, it is the people working behind the technology. The size and gender of the team do not matter as much as the positivity in the attitude.
Social Security and trust issues being the major challenges that I faced being a girl in the tech industry. I have not faced nearly as enough challenges as faced by my colleagues, friends, and girls who are involved in this or any other field as I have a really supportive family, motivating friends, and encouraging teammates. Cyber Security as a profession demands 24*7 on-call working days because of uncertainties of activities. It’s like the inherent risk of any business practice. This sometimes leads to us working off-hours and way late into the night that again question the state of the social security of our country.
Reminiscing my initial days in the field, there were a very limited number of girls in Tech and a handful of girls in Cybersecurity. Despite the fact that various challenges still linger, in recent days, I have seen tremendous growth in the involvement of girls in the Technological sector which always inspires me to move forward and contribute further in this field.
The thing to keep in mind is to trust your skill and overcome the barrier created by yourself that reduces your self-confidence.
Wherever you go, you can be more than successful — you can be a legacy. I am proud to in tech, driving the transformation of Cybersecurity making the world cyber safe.