A question I am commonly asked is “how does one network and advance in the Infosec world?”. It is a question I also asked myself, earlier this year, and found the answer through some mediums I least expected – social media and my own meetup group. So I wanted to write a quick post about some things I did, am still currently doing, in order to find encourage others on finding their “fit” or community.
Tip #1: Connect & Explore On Social Media.
This year I decided that I was going to step out of my comfort zone and improve my experience in my career through networking. I typically the kind of person who attends events and sticks to herself, observing more than participating until I feel comfortable. There was nothing wrong with that, to me, but I know that I am probably hindering my experiences by not taking advantage of meeting some great people out there. I decided I was going to intentionally network to make lasting connections (and not just press accept on Linkedin and forget them), and attend more industry events. I was able to accomplish all three of these goals by networking on social media and to be more specific, Twitter.
Earlier this year I went on a following spree of sorts lmao. I started looking through the #infosec and #cybersecurity hashtags to find women who were also interested, or already in, the field to connect and network with. This is how I came across Rachel Tolbac, a brilliant social engineering expert and Chair for WISP*. Following her on Twitter led me to other individuals in the field, and is how I was able to win a scholarship to attend DEFCON, a massive security conference that takes place in Las Vegas every year. (For more about that experience read here). It was through this opportunity that I was able to meet some more amazing women (hey insta-friend ^_^), attend some pretty dope talks and workshops, as well as learn about other organizations within our industry who help women in the information security industry. It was this search that I learned that I am not alone in this whirlwind of navigating my career and that there is a large community of people willing to teach, learn, and empower one another online.
Some dope people to follow on social media
* (If you don’t know about WISP, stop what you are doing and go check them out here.) WISP is a women-led non-profit organization whose mission is “advancing women to lead the future of privacy and security”. They achieve this mission through a variety of programs such as education, mentorship, networking and much more.
Tip #2 – Build a Professional Network on Linkedin.
Linkedin has changed the game in terms of connecting professionals and landing a job. I, personally, use Linkedin to connect with other professionals than I do email or exchanging business cards (which I encourage you to also get). It is where I find peers and mentors alike, as well as where I showcase the latest projects for Security in Color or events happening with local non-profits. Linkedin, similar to Twitter, also has a hashtag feature that allows you to search for posts (#cybersecurity or #womenintech are some). These hashtags will open you to a community of like-minded people who you can connect with and possibly gain more insight into the field of land a job. Don’t be afraid to say hi or connect, and a quick note about yourself goes a long way.
Tip #3 – Explore Your Local Meetup Groups & Events.
As great as networking online with other security enthusiasts may be, nothing beats in-person connections. I began exploring the local meetups in my area to make further connections and attend events. Meetup.com is a popular and great place to start as it will immediately show you all of the local events happening within a 5-10 mile radius of your designated location, and even events taking place when you are traveling. (For example, while in Chicago I attended a meetup workshop on speaking with confidence and still follow/connect with that organization). Meetup lets you explore the different communities out there so you can find which one you like and take part in. Eventbrite is another medium you can use to explore what events are happening locally in your area. Most events are free to participate in or may charge a nominal fee. I know it can be a bit intimidating, especially if you have no one to go with but I promise it is worth it. There are plenty of individuals looking for a place to connect, just like you.
Tip #4 – Build Your Own Community.
When in doubt, create your own path. I cannot emphasize this enough as this is something I had to do. I did tip #2 and explored the various meetups taking place in Atlanta, and honestly didn’t find one I connected with. At the time a lot of the meetups were either: 1) Male-dominated 2) Lacked diversity or 3) Were focused on developers and security wasn’t taken seriously. It became frustrating and I took a leap of faith and created the Security in Color Meetup Group for Women in Cybersecurity (mouthful ain’t it). It was scary to do but I am forever grateful for stepping out on a whim because in 5 short months I have been able to host 7 events and we are now 116 members strong. It was here that I was able to connect with both men and women locally and see that there are a plethora of people interested in the field and are looking for an alternative to what was currently being offered. So I implore those who feel as though they have tried and just can’t seem to find a fit – don’t force yourself to fit in if you don’t belong. Take a deep breathe and create your own community. Put the intentions you are looking for out there and I promise you it will be reciprocated.
The importance of taking part in a community, especially in the world of Information Security, cannot be emphasized enough. This is a field that can feel overwhelming, very quickly. Knowing you have someone you can relate to, lean on, and go through this experience will make your journey 1000% better.