A Place at the Table – Part 3

By Kristen Bell ·

This blog post, the third in my series about women in IT security, will center on finding solutions to the shortage in our workforce. Optiv has created a program to proactively solve the problem all institutions currently face in the area of talent acquisition. We are building our own workforce via the Optiv U Associates Program. I can say from experience that this program works. 

I have had the privilege of mentoring two of the first graduates of Optiv U and have watched them grow into successful IT security professionals. In this program the company recruits college graduates, transitioning military personnel and others wanting to break into security related fields. The intention is to not only seek out perspective candidates with technical ability, but also people who have other non-technical attributes which are essential to becoming good security consultants like creativity, work ethic and perseverance. The 12-week program offers rigorous training courses, but is broad enough to touch each aspect of the IT security space. It serves not only as an avenue for a comprehensive education, but a way for the candidates to explore the areas of security they most want to specialize in.

This blog will highlight one of the first women to come out of this program. Jessica came to us after having served in the US Navy and having worked as an NSA contractor. She’s highly educated and has earned a master’s degree in information technology. When I asked her why she was attracted to our program, her answer was one I’ve heard again and again. She wanted to put her degree to work, but didn’t have the real world experience and training that most companies in the IT security space require. She could get an entry-level position somewhere else, but our program provided something a bit different and more in line with what she was seeking. I can’t begin to tell you how many emails I get from people interested in entering the IT security space who merely lack real-world experience and are trying to find a way to get their foot in the door. 

Our program at Optiv provided Jessica with the ability to build on her career and to continue to flourish rather than to feel as if she were starting over professionally. Though there are many hours of education over the course of the program, Jessica emphasized that, for her, the best part of the program was getting the real-world experience and the training necessary to put her degree to use. The company gave her the ability to shadow consultants in the field and assigned her a mentor. Jessica grants a lot of credit to the investment her mentor has made and feels that being able to go to that person on an ongoing basis has had a huge impact on her success.  After listening to her story, I truly believe that this is a key piece of the puzzle. Jessica described her mentor as “willing to put forth the effort to train her.” We must, as mentors (just as with everything else in life) be willing to give in order to receive.

I asked her towards the end of our conversation if she felt as if she has achieved all that she hoped to. The answer was a resounding “yes.” Jessica has put her degree to use, has become a full-fledged consultant, successfully works independently on engagements and as she stated, she “hasn’t stopped yet.” 

Please be on the lookout for the next blog in the series which will begin an exploration of takeaways from, “Beyond the Boys Club: Breaking the Mold of Women in Technology."

Continue to part 4.

Read Part 1
Read Part 2