Why Cybersecurity Is a Great Field for Women

by Michelle Lange | Jul 01, 2019
Headshot of Lysa Myers, who changed careers from florist to cybersecurity

Curiosity, analytical thinking, adaptability — there are dozens of soft skills nontechnical people bring to cybersecurity. Nontechnical skills that are critical to stopping hackers and securing networks, and a lot of those are skills that women can bring to the table.

“I think women, even men, are afraid they can’t do tech because they don’t know computer science,” said Lysa Myers, security researcher for ESET, vice chair of CompTIA's IT Security Community and a member of CompTIA’s Advancing Women in Technology Community (AWIT). “You don’t have to have those skills going in – the tech you can learn. Having empathy is going to go a long way during a stressful break in. That’s when you need the most compassion – when things are getting scary.”

Myers was a florist before she changed careers to IT security and took a job at a security company when she got tired of the ebbs and flows of seasonal work. She worked her way up from technical editing to training new malware researchers.

Coming from a nontechnical background, she relied on her innate soft skills to get ahead:

  • Attention to detail
  • Communication
  • Organization

She started learning IT security from the ground up, first editing technical documents for content and grammar, and then adding more technical skills as she started to understand the world of malware research.

“A suspected malware file would come in, and I’d look at it in a variety of ways to determine whether it was malicious or clean,” she said. 

The job of malware researcher required identifying patterns and flagging unusual activity. Soft skills like being detailed-oriented and responsive plus having baseline computer skills helped Myers pivot her career to IT security.

Communication Skills in IT

Good communicators know how to get a point across, another skill that’s essential in good IT security. The high stakes of cybersecurity require clear communication and follow through, and this is an area where women often excel.

“I’ve known women in this industry who can be very frank, especially when they’re telling people what needs to happen,” Myers said. “I worked with one client and was very straightforward, telling them ‘You guys are doing it wrong, and here’s how you’re doing it wrong.’ After I left, the client said, ‘You have to bring her back, she’s the only person who tells it like it is.’ Bluntness can sometimes be taken really well, although not everywhere.”

Being able to talk to people is another unsung skill in cybersecurity. Social engineering is often used by hackers to break into systems and steal data, so those trying to protect data employ people to hack their own systems.

“Some types of penetration testers are paid to essentially break into offices using social engineering,” Myers said. Since social engineering consists of written messaging and relationship building, this is another area where soft skills come into play.

Diversity of Experience

Nontechnical people can learn how to spot suspicious activity as easily as anyone else – you don’t need a computer science degree to recognize phishing emails.

“We all have thousands of files on our phones or our desktops,” Myers said. “Once you start looking at enough of them, you start to see the patterns of things that are clean versus things that are sketchy.”

If only one segment of the population determines a company’s cybersecurity policy, things are going to get missed. Security needs diversity overall, and companies are looking for men and women who bring collaboration skills, communication, resiliency and emotional intelligence to the industry.

“If you’re able to see the bigger picture and not get stuck in the minutia, that’s critical,” Myers said.

Diversity goes beyond gender, too. IT security needs to tap into the experience of people in different geographies, socioeconomic backgrounds and abilities.

“A lot of the differences in people’s experiences are not intuitive,” Myers said. “By having all these different kinds of people, you build a product that works for more people, and that’s what security is about – protecting people.”

Learn how you can complement your soft skills like empathy, collaboration and communication with a cybersecurity certification from CompTIA. Hear more about Myers’ experience as a security researcher and her path to cybersecurity in this episode of the AWIT TechCast.

Michelle Lange is a writer and designer living in Chicago.

10 Comments

  • Shamika

    Tuesday, July 2, 2019

    This blog was so helpful to me and made me feel less anxious. I am currently working on getting my certification in IT and hoping that someday soon I would successfully change my career to Cybersecurity.

  • Ingrid Norton

    Friday, July 5, 2019

    Great article! I've been going back and forth for the last year as to whether or not to study for a certification. I feel like I could do networking, but being a woman in a field dominated mainly by men is intimidating. :)

  • Sherry Crist

    Friday, July 5, 2019

    I've been unemployed for over 2 years and hoping to break back into the market with a CISSP

  • SueEvans

    Friday, July 5, 2019

    Loved this article, 8 weeks into a new job in Cyber Security, I am very much finding my feet with the technical side which can be frustrating when you don’t know the answers. But loving the other side of the role, especially planning staff awareness campaign, small interesting projects etc. It’s good to remind myself what I do bring to the table .. project management skills, organisation skills, eye for detail and process and all the softer skills as well. Timely reminder thank you!!

  • Jann

    Friday, July 5, 2019

    Thank you for great article. I don’t have technical background. I always have fear and nervous in IT. I love the opportunities in this field. Do you have any suggestion for nontechnical background and nonnative English speaker to learn in IT? I don’t want to give up my hunger for the job opportunity yet but sometimes it is hard to understand and I am almost 40 yrs. Thank you.

  • Jaqimarie

    Saturday, July 6, 2019

    Thank you so much for the information shared. I now have a more hopeful sense of direction. I am currently enrolled in a cybersecurity program. This podcast helped me to identify how my nontechnical experience can provide valuable soft skills to the field of IT. Thank you!!

  • Khakhu Myrtle

    Friday, July 19, 2019

    A great article indeed. ...I am an IT graduate ... I have a degree in this field. It's so hard as a female to make it...expecially in programming .. I have been been interested in cyber security for months now but don't know how to get in. Lol I used to think that you needed programming skill for it.......

  • Stephanie Anderson

    Friday, July 19, 2019

    This article was great. I have been in very technical roles in IT for about 16 years now. It is extremely dominated by men. It would be fantastic to see more women enter the industry even in a nontechnical role.

  • S. Montaque-Dwyer

    Friday, July 19, 2019

    Great article. Rich food for thought as a person in computing.

  • Alexis Tyse

    Friday, July 19, 2019

    I work for Comcast as a sales agent but have an IT background and was recently thinking about breaking into cyber security but didn't know what if I should. Reading this gave me a nudge that I'm going in the right direction!!!

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