Share This Article
Sign up to stay
At work, Shawnte enjoys exchanging knowledge with her colleagues. She posits that her commitment to learning and trying new things has enabled her to build an arsenal of highly coveted technical and managerial know-how.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Was there anything in your childhood that hinted at your future career path?
I always asked a lot of questions. I was one of those kids that had to know why and how everything worked. Also loved solving puzzles, brain teasers, like Mine Trap and crypto quotes. So, I would say those things hinted at an investigative career path, problem solving and root cause analysis.
What was your educational journey?
Definitely not a straight line. I went to college on a full tuition scholarship for chemical engineering. Still, I chose to take a lot of art courses at that time because they gave me the outlet, I needed to express myself and process my transition into adulthood. So, I graduated with a bachelor’s in visual and performing arts.
After college I was working, but also taking pre-med courses because I was considering pharmacy school … Then, for a few years I just focused on learning my craft, which was human resources at the time.
About six years in, I decided to change careers and attended a coding bootcamp to get into programming, after which my education was predominantly through LinkedIn Learning and other free resources in the evenings after work. Most recently during COVID, I chose to change careers and completed a six-month IT security analyst bootcamp to get some cybersecurity industry certifications under my belt. I also returned to school full-time to earn a bachelor’s in cybersecurity leadership.
Do you have any advice for people that are just trying to figure it out when it’s not exactly clear to them where they fit?
There’s no right path. I think regardless of how you get there, you’re still going to get there. For instance, I’ve always been really into math and science and technology, which is how I got the engineering scholarship to begin with. But then I didn’t feel satisfied with the program. After I graduated, my family was trying to push me in that direction because that’s where the money was. So that’s where all the pre-med courses came in because they were trying to push me into pharmacy.
It just doesn’t feel right. I had to figure it out for myself and ended up getting into human resources just through work. I actually got into human resources through a tech company. It doesn’t have too much to do with cyber, but it laid the foundation because I had to learn a lot about law, I had to learn about policy, I managed compliance, and all of those things circle back and play into cybersecurity.
I think that whatever path you take, you’re going to pick up things along the way that are going to be useful when you get to where you’re supposed to be.
What was the moment you knew cybersecurity was right for you?
I was out to dinner at a restaurant and I was by myself. I sat at the bar and this couple started talking to me — the guy had been in cybersecurity for about 20 years and he was telling me about it, explaining how he worked for the government and would help them find terrorist groups or sex traffickers through Instagram because they somehow were embedding coding in images. It blew my mind that that was even possible.
That’s what really made me start looking into it to see if it could be a good fit for me. I realized that cyber was going to keep me learning and on the forefront of technology. The job market is great. In school, I’ve learned that the industry is still largely developing, but it’s eventually going to be ingrained in everything we do. So I really like the idea of working in this field at a time when there’s still so much opportunity to shape it, especially with regard to cyber ethics.
Can you talk more about cyber ethics?
Cyber ethics is basically determining how technology should be used. Because technology’s advancing so quickly, the ethical portion of it is not ahead of it just yet. You have a technology like deep fakes, and there’s really no laws governing how that should be used.
What is your current position like?
I’m a support technical account manager for Tanium. We offer a platform that gives companies visibility and control over their environment so that they can make real-time decisions. I am working on becoming a platform subject matter expert. We have our core platform that every customer gets and then there’s close to 20 modules that they can swap in and out. My day-to-day is a lot of research, a lot of troubleshooting, a lot of problem solving, and a lot of collaboration.
How did you find your current position?
Leveraging my network through LinkedIn — that’s how I got this job. It was by accident. I attended a meetup for women in cybersecurity called Cyberjutsu. I thought I was just going to have my resume reviewed by someone that was already working in cybersecurity. But the meeting ended up being a recruiting event for my current company, Tanium.
I used LinkedIn to keep in touch with the product security engineer that I had my breakout session with as well as the lead recruiter on the call. She eventually referred me for my current role. I leave somethings open to see what just happens and falls into my lap when I am open and engage with people authentically.
What would you like to do next?
I’m specifically interested in “Blue Team,” which is incident response. Potentially policy. But again, it’s not really set in stone. I see myself maybe bouncing around for a few years before I can say this is the one position in cybersecurity for me. I will say that the program that I’m in is geared towards making us CISOs, chief information security officers. But again, there’s so many paths that you can take to get to that.
Can you talk a bit about your work-life balance?
I feel like I have a pretty good work balance now, but it’s taken a good 20 years to learn because I used to try to do everything at once and take on as much as possible. I’ve worked at a lot of companies where I got promoted very quickly, but also burnt out very quickly. I think this is the first time, because I have an element of maturity now, that there’s this something that says, “You don’t have to do everything all at once, you’re going to get the experience no matter what. It doesn’t have to happen in a year. It can happen in three years.”
So, my mental health has taken more of a priority in the past five or so years after being burnt out at so many companies, especially in tech and especially in working on software development teams. Burnout is a big thing and I’ve been warned that burnout is just as big in cybersecurity, especially at the level of a CISO. So, I’m very careful to take breaks and protect myself.
Besides your job, what else are you working on right now?
Right now, my main focus is finishing up my degree. But I’m also a mentor for a group called STEM-Up Network, which focuses on advancing women in STEM and I’m the student representative for my university’s cybersecurity advisory board. So, between the three of those, that keeps me pretty busy.
What would you say to the upcoming generation of cyber workers?
Cybersecurity is a very broad field – there’s something for everyone. I think people have the perspective that they don’t have the tech know-how to get into it, but there’s a lot more to it than tech. I would say it’s more people-centric than technology-centric. Home in on your communication skills! Also, make time to keep up with emerging technologies and current events throughout the world.
How do you think the industry can work to close the workforce gap?
I think companies should focus our efforts on bringing more women into cyber. I also think that there is a huge opportunity in closing the digital divide, which is essentially people growing up in underprivileged areas not having the same access to technology as everybody else. Companies are missing out on a lot of talent just because people don’t have money.
I also think companies should partner with universities so that they can have a say in shaping the programs that are developing the talent that they need. I mean, it probably wouldn’t hurt to fix the wage gap either. Probably would attract more diverse candidates, but I think those are the main things.
Any other advice for our readers?
I think in tech in general, imposter syndrome is huge. It’s amazing that it never really goes away regardless of how much education you have. In my cohort at Tanium, there were guys that had built supercomputers for the government – and still suffer from imposter syndrome. There’s people at my company that, to me, seem brilliant. The most knowledgeable in any meeting and have been with the company for upwards of a decade and will admit they still suffer from imposter syndrome.
So, I wanted to let people know that it doesn’t go away. So, you can’t let it stop you. It’s always going to be there. If you think that you’re not good enough because of that, you’re selling yourself short. Because I feel like a lot of us in this field, in tech in general, don’t think that we’re good enough or smart enough, even though we are.