Parisa Tabriz

Security Princess at Google

Parisa Tabriz is Google’s “Security Princess” — that’s her real job title!

She has worked on information security at Google for more than 8 years, starting as a “hired hacker” software engineer for Google’s security team. As an engineer, she found and closed security holes in Google’s web applications and taught other engineers how to do the same.

Today, Parisa manages Google’s Chrome security engineering team, whose goal is to make Chrome the most secure browser, and more generally, improve security of the web. In 2012, she was selected by Forbes as one of the 30 under 30 pioneers in technology and has the somewhat rare distinction of being profiled by both ELLE and Wired in the same year. In 2014, she used her vacation to work with the White House U.S. Digital Service to enhance security of government technology.

When she’s not hacking, she likes to make things (art, food, miscellaneous DIY projects) or escape Silicon Valley to go hiking and rock climbing in the mountains.

What got you into tech, specifically computer security?

I’ve always enjoyed making things, design, and the arts, and that led to teaching myself web development basics (HTML, Javascript, CSS) in college, primarily from reading free tutorials online. Learning how to make web sites was a cheap and fast way to express myself creatively since it didn’t require any art supplies. Also, I discovered that coding was a really powerful tool for creation.

At some point, one of my websites got hacked, and I wanted to understand what happened, so I started researching more about web security. I also got involved in an awesome club with other students interested in information security and hacking. We would teach each other about hacking techniques we were learning ourselves, and do security projects for fun. I’m still friends with a lot of those people today!

Given my amateur interest in computer security, I interned at Sandia National Labs in their cyber security research lab and got more experience doing research and exposure to wireless networking. Working at Sandia with full-time employees made me realize I could actually do this as a career, so I continued to get more project experience, and ultimately an offer at Google.

I like computer security because it’s a really interdisciplinary field.

You not only need to understand how technology is built (and can be broken!), but also the motivations and psychology of humans and their interactions with technology, as well as economics, ethics, and law.

The threat landscape is constantly changing, so you’re constantly learning new things and being challenged.

I also love security because I think it’s an important problem to work on. The Internet makes possible so many opportunities for education, business, entertainment, and communication, but a big part of its success and availability relies on people trusting its safety.

Describe a time you’ve felt discomfort or discrimination in the workplace or classroom. How did you handle it?

I was attending an industry security conference in Singapore. While trying to find a seat at lunch, someone commented that I was too pretty to be hanging out with a bunch of computer geeks.

I try my best to attribute comments like this to ignorance over malice and keep my snark in check. I assumed it was an awkward attempt at flattery, so I took the opportunity to let him know I was one of the geeks and that I was there to attend the technical talks and run a secure coding contest.

What makes being a woman in tech awesome?

Being in tech is awesome because the field is moving quickly and impacting society in unexpected ways. Our potential to influence the world is huge.

Being a woman in tech is awesome because… well, there are rarely lines at the bathroom. Looking forward, I hope and expect this will change, but for now, I enjoy it!

What advice do you have for any girls pursuing a future in tech?

Coding can be frustrating when you start, especially if you see others with more experience that are working (or seemingly working) faster. Never forget that everyone is bad at $new_thing when they begin.

It takes time and investment to get better at anything, and usually some frustration, but that’s what learning and improvement tend to feel like.

For some reason, we get more afraid of, “being bad” at new things as we get older, so it’s helpful to look at the boldness and confidence of young kids trying new skills if you’re frustrated, and optimize for learning instead of success.