When you’re talking with women who work in tech, nearly half of them will let you know they were intimidated by the unequal split between genders in the staff of the companies they work at – all part of Kaspersky’s recent Women in Tech report, Where are we now? Understanding the evolution of women in technology.
In March of this year, as part of International Women’s Day celebrations, Kaspersky discussed the findings of this report in detail and talked about the challenges women have to overcome in the industry. This report focused on gender diversity within the technology industry, across 19 global markets. In Australia the survey covered 250 women and 250 men respectively. Take a look at the report here for more info.
In summing up in her forward to the report, Evgeniya Naumova, Vice President of Global Sales Network, Kaspersky, said:
Companies can only benefit from having diversity in their workforces, and digital competencies are helping to close the gender gap between men and women, broadening career prospects. Our present and future depends on technology, and we all have to play an equal role. In this regard, it has been good to see positive change over the past two years, but there is still a long way to go.
For a birds-eye view of what it’s like to be a woman in the male-dominated tech industry, we interviewed Noushin Shabab – Senior Security Researcher at Kaspersky – and asked her how she came to be working in such the highly technical field as cybersecurity.
Noushin Shabab is a Senior Security Researcher for the Global Research & Analysis Team of Kaspersky in Australia & New Zealand. She specialises in reverse engineering and targeted attack investigations. She joined Kaspersky in 2016 as a senior security researcher in the Global Research & Analysis Team (GReAT). Her research focuses on the investigation of advanced cyber-criminal activities and targeted attacks with a particular focus on local threats in the Asia Pacific region.
PART 1: THE JOURNEY
At what age did you first use a computer?
11 years old
Did you always know from a young age you were going to be in the field of programming?
Growing up, we (Noushin and her twin sister, Negar) would take turns to make ‘escape room’ versions in our house to see who could find an escape at the fastest time. These early childhood memories developed a fascination with solving problems, especially with puzzles and board games. When we reached middle school, we learnt computer programming which nurtured our interest deeper into programming.
Then in high school we frequently competed in a number of national programming contests and managed to sit on within the top three positions for a few. It was around this time, we both knew we wanted to pursue a career in computing and did a degree in programming and computing in university.
What was the turning point in your life that led you to this field?
In university, I was quite good in programming. During my second year, one of my professors asked me to assist him in teaching first year students in learning different technical subjects. Then, when I joined the work force, my peers involved me with training people. I then discovered that I had tact in explaining technical lingo to my colleagues outside technical departments. This eventually made me delve further in technical problem solving that led me to research and eventually cybersecurity.
How did you get into the Security Industry?
After university I was not thinking of getting into cyber security specifically. However, my first professional role was with a cybersecurity company as a malware analyst. As I started to work in this field I realised it’s something I really enjoy and it has brought me to my current position.
PART 2: IN THE FIELD
What are your previously notable positions?
I started my career in cybersecurity as a junior malware analyst in windows antivirus team for a cybersecurity company in Iran. After a few years when I became more proficient in malware analysis and reverse engineering I moved to the company’s newly setup anti rootkit team as senior malware analyst and software developer.
The last role I had in the company was leading a small team of malware analysts for the android antivirus product which was again a new project of the company back then.
How did your current position come about?
I was looking for a job in cybersecurity specialising in my field of reverse engineering. There was a slim margin of jobs in that field. However after a few months, Kaspersky placed an ad offering a researcher role in cybersecurity. Unlike the other interviews I attended, KL was the only company to examine my technical skills especially with my niche in reverse engineering.
A tough piece of homework was given to me to solve after my first interview. Although it was a malware written in a programming language I was not familiar with, I jumped at the chance. Vitaly Kamluk, my direct manager who previously worked for INTERPOL, said my results exceeded his expectations and that was how I landed my dream job.
What skills have you learnt or found to be the most valuable?
Over the course of this role, the need to think creatively and different becomes a way of life but the skill that lies behind that is persistency. However, an area which I did not have much knowledge or thought prior to this role, is working alongside corporate communications and my role in relationship building with editors and journalists.
I’ve learnt how important it is to represent the team and company with the media. Being clear and informative is a skill I work on every day in order to educated our media circles and the public on the work I do.
What do you enjoy most about working in cybersecurity?
I would say the ever changing nature of the role. It also encompasses new challenges which involve new malware that is more sophisticated every time. The creativity of malicious attackers is increasing and the diversity of the role is what keeps me excited.
PART 3: WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT NOUSHIN
What/who inspired you/What do you do during your free time?
Theatre and performing arts inspire me very much. I was also raised in a family with a great passion for literature. Every piece of work from Persian literature has had a great impact on my world view. For those poetry lovers out there, I highly recommend The Shahnameh Ferdowsi.
What brought you both to reside in Australia?
Australia is a multicultural country and it’s very important in our industry and any other industry as well, to have this diversity. That’s why we thought Australia might be a good country to continue our career in. To be honest, we expected the job market to be better for cybersecurity but the fact that it’s improving and getting better makes Australia an interesting country to work in. Apart from this, Australia is a very beautiful country and the quality of life is very high here.
Tell us something we don’t know about you?
I did not go to a regular school. I was qualified to go to a special school for whiz kids.
PART 4: EFFORTS IN BRIDGING THE SKILL GAP
What steps can government, industry and students do to bridge the skill gap?
I believe that we have to work all together to bridge the skill gap. And every one’s part has it’s own importance.
What efforts have you done to contribute to this concern?
Some of my recent work includes identifying APTs as well as advocating for women in cybersecurity and speaking on these topics at major industry events. We have also signed an MoU with University of Swinburne Technology in 2018 and held Kaspersky’s first cybersecurity competition with RMIT and are active in making an appearance with their guest speaking sessions.
Well sought Keynote Speaker
My prominent keynotes include INTERPOL World Singapore 2017, Ruxcon Australia 2017, BSides Wellington 2017, WICME (Women in Cyber Mentoring) organised by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, as well as Security Analyst Summit in Cancun, Mexico and Singapore and AusCERT2018 Conference. I also travel to give talks and be part of panel discussions in Middle East and Asia Pacific.
AWSN: I’m also a member of the Australian Women in Security Network (AWSN), which aims to support and inspire women in the Australian security industry. I was the first mentor to provide technical workshops and mentorship for the AWSN female cadets program, which aims to bridge the skill gap between universities and the security industry.
RMIT: Together with my twin sister, Negar, we hosted a technical workshop for a group of RMIT university students. The workshop provided basic knowledge of Reverse Engineering to the students who were to compete in CySCA national competition.
PART 5: ADVICE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION
What advice would you give parents and/or teachers and educators?
I believe we should go as far back as the time kids are finding their abilities and talents. When parents are giving their children different toys to play with, it’s important to get them play with puzzles and games that engage their minds. Although playing with dolls and polish toys brings other skills up in kids, but letting kids improve their problem solving skill from young ages is also very important.
What advice would you give government and industry?
I do see many discussions around the talent shortage. There are many industry-led, national competitions held by the government which show we are moving in the right direction. However, what remains a lingering concern, are how organisations only recruit professionals and experts in the field. This leaves a very small window for graduates who wish to pursue a career in cybersecurity and newcomers to grow in this space.
What should start effectively are internship positions and graduate roles offered by companies to create opportunity for experienced people who come from other fields but are looking for a future in cybersecurity.
What advice would you give to young girls who are thinking about starting a career in cybersecurity?
For all my fellow females out there, always have a curious mind. Never stop asking questions about your surroundings in this line of work with your circles, peers, mentors and role models. Don’t be afraid of asking silly questions and speaking your mind. This is because all these ingredients build the confidence and knowledge for you to grow your skills and potential in cybersecurity.
All I want to say is, just give it a shot and you won’t regret it. This is an industry that lets you grow as much as you want. There is no end to the learning process and the rewarding feeling you get from you work. We live in the age of technology and cyber and you will soon find your job being your lifestyle.
Are women sufficiently or increasingly being recognised and respected?
Although at the time this field is almost dominated by men and in cyberecurity events you can barely see women, but with increasing number of events which intend to engage more women in cybersecurity, I believe that women are getting more recognition and respect in this industry.
A very good example is that at Kaspersky, we hold this sort of event from time to time. There are lots of experienced women or at least those who are interested in this area – and it’s important to encourage them to show up and be more active.
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