Women in cybersecurity: An interview with Alex Wells
Head of Product Marketing
Alex Wells joined Hadrian as Head of Product Marketing in February 2023. She is proud to be one of few 25% female security professionals in a widely male-dominated industry. As a tribute to Women's Day, let's listen to Well's journey to cybersecurity and what advice she has for people who want to pursuit a career within the industry.
What was your path into the industry?
My very first grad job with Vodafone was flying about my native country New Zealand helping determine where new cell sites should be and what tech was needed to provide mobile cell coverage to people in that area. One of the female engineers I worked with was a badass – she showed me that when you know the answer, don’t let people talk you into a place where you question yourself.
Eventually, my curiosity led me to Europe, despite the fact that Christmas in the winter will never be as good as in the summer! I have worked in a few different cyber security niches, from Zero Trust to Cyber Threat Intelligence, in vastly different organizations. The experience in different areas of focus and different company structures was instrumental in my discovery of Hadrian and attack surface management (ASM).
Smartwatches, thermometers, and electric cars all form part of our individual attack surfaces. It is difficult enough for each of us to keep track of all these ingress points, and it is many times harder for businesses with thousands of assets to protect. The challenge of protecting the modern attack surface fascinates me and draws me into this area of cybersecurity.
Women comprised only 17% of Fortune 500 CISOs positions in 2021. When it comes to progressing to more senior management roles, what do you think the setbacks are for women in the field?
I think that there’s a perception that women are less assertive and perhaps even less decisive.
Senior management are often required to deal with hiring and firing or crisis situations, women are often perceived as not being able to deal with that stress. But funnily, one of the toughest managers I have had was female – who insisted on holding the fort with staff on late nights when a security incident occurred. A key aspect of late fort holding was ordering pizza for the team, so I’d describe her as firm but fair!
However, this perception is changing – younger teams are recognizing the importance of having a more diverse C-suite and the different skill sets they can bring. My decision to come to Hadrian was informed by how respected I felt during the interview process by my colleagues.
Alex at the NATO Innovators and Game Changers : Women in Tech Shaping the Future event
According to one study by Kellogg School of Management, 77% of the women surveyed in the high achieving category had close relationships with a group of two to three female peers. There is large value in network building – how do you encourage entry-level female cybersecurity professionals to strengthen their networks with peers and in general?
There are a number of close female peers that I have made during my career that I still keep in regular contact with, even years after we last worked together. The advice of a friend that knows how you think and work is invaluable and helped support me through challenging parts of my career. You never know where these peers will come from – one of my peers, who has pushed me further in my career than almost any other initially started as a rival!
The industry as a whole is quite closely knit and having a referral can make a huge difference. At the start of my career, I heard the Head of Product at my previous company speaking at a company all address, and I was intrigued by what they were saying. I sparked a conversation with them which ultimately led me to a mentorship. Their coaching helped me get a secondment and subsequently a full-time position as a Product Manager in cybersecurity (a next-generation firewall and a mobile threat defense service). Another aspect of networking in a small industry is reputation building – you could be put forward for jobs you were not aware of.
The number of jobs available in cybersecurity has risen by 350% since 2013. The jobs are there and women should not be intimidated by a lack of industry-specific experience.
Looking beyond technical skills, what are the advantages of an unconventional career path in this industry?
Cybersecurity is moving so fast that although a long standing career is beneficial, the relevant skills and knowledge are constantly evolving. For example, attack surface management has appeared from practically nowhere in the past three years, and prior to that Zero Trust reshaped the way security architecture was thought about. As hackers develop new attack methods, we as security professionals must rise to the challenge. Adapting and educating yourself is the only way to enter or survive in this industry.
Personally, I didn’t have a formal education in cybersecurity but as my passion for cybersecurity grew, coupled with being a bit of a nerd, I filled the knowledge gap. Specifically, it was the Stuxnet virus that first caught my interest, this was back in 2010 and it made international headlines – this was the first memory I had of a malware case being this prominent. The attack held my interest for months and I burrowed into any resources I could find to learn more. This was also around the time I heard about Bitcoin – too bad I didn’t think about investing!