Lisa Jiggetts on Women in Cybersecurity

Lisa Jiggetts is the founder and CEO of the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC), one of the fastest growing nonprofits dedicated to women in cybersecurity.  WSC provides women with the resources and support required to enter and advance as a cybersecurity professional. Her organization uses a holistic approach to develop programs that train women in both the hard technical skills and soft skills, leaving them feeling empowered to succeed.  She is most proud to be known as a straight-up but down-to-earth motivator with the women whom she mentors.

Tell us some background on you and how you got where you are today.

I’ve always known I wanted to be in cybersecurity. I tinkered with gadgets and played with computers when I was young, trying to figure out how they worked. When I saw the movie, Sneakers, I knew I wanted to be a hacker, but not criminally- I just didn’t know how to get into it. Many years later I had a couple of mentors, while not in cybersecurity, that guided me to gaining the skill set and the knowledge I needed for the foundation in IT. I believe this led the way to my career in cybersecurity. I was aggressive in trying to learn everything – I built a home lab out of a PC and 3 Sparc machines. I asked my job at the time if I could have a span port opened on a switch so I could analyze the traffic on the IDS box I built. I really wanted to see the things work that I read in books and that I learned in training classes. I loved the challenge of figuring out how to make things work. I kept progressing at every job and learning on the side to eventually get to a point where I was “hacking”. I’ve done penetration testing as a contractor and business owner. I wanted to share what I learned to likeminded women and that was part of the reason I started the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC).

Could you briefly tell us about your company ‘Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu’ and what it does?

WSC is a nonprofit whose mission is to help women and girls advance in cybersecurity and STEM, respectively. We provide opportunities and resources to help women exceed in this field. We offer hands-on technical workshops in an all-woman classroom environment. We apply the same process for girls through our Cyberjutsu Girls Academy program. It’s great to see women and girls coming out of our workshops not only gaining a new skill, but also the confidence and empowerment that attributes to their advancement.

It is well known that women are underrepresented in cybersecurity careers. Could you tell us if there was any obstacles or difficulties you have faced during your career? How did you overcome?

I consider myself lucky in that I did not experience many of the horror stories that I’ve heard from women in the field. I can recount something that happened at this particular company where the environment was very unwelcoming and uncomfortable being a woman there. There was one incident where I was on an assessment with another guy, and I was basically undermined that I could possibly know how to run this particular tool that he did not. It turned out that I knew the correct command to run the tool after he had looked it up – I was taken aback by this. I didn’t let this stop me in progressing in the field, but I did leave the company soon after because the environment wasn’t healthy. As I tell many of the women I mentor, get to a point where you have the choice to go and get a new job somewhere else because your “package” is in demand and wanted. By package I’m including everything from technical skills to communicating skills.

You’ve built a successful career in a male-dominated field. What advice do you have for aspiring female leaders?

Have a mentor and know your stuff is what I tell aspiring female leaders. Having a mentor, whether male or female will help in so many ways. Mentors give guidance, advice, and usually have connections to others that could help you get a job, for example. Gaining respect in your field for what you know and not necessarily who you know is priceless. Learning how to maneuver in the politics; networking with industry professionals; and putting yourself out there are ways that your peers can start to appreciate what you bring to the table regardless of you being a woman.

What qualities do you believe are most important in order to survive in cybersecurity industry? Any tips on how to cultivate them?

I believe drive and determination will go a long way backed by a decent skill set. And you can’t just do the minimum as that won’t help you stand out. This field can be intimidating and frustrating at times, so to know that you are not the only one dealing with things can help you keep going and pushing through to get to where you want to be. A shameless plug – but having a support network like WSC is helpful. Many of our members are in similar situations, so having someone to relate and talk to helps you feel like you’re not alone.