In September 2021, Girls Who Code partnered with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to develop pathways for young women to pursue careers in cybersecurity and technology. This partnership seeks to tackle diversity disparities by heightening the awareness of cybersecurity and technology careers and working with employers to build tangible pathways for young women, especially young women of color, to get hands-on experience in the private sector and the non-profit sector or government.
Our first collaborative initiative is a series of features of women who work in the cybersecurity field, including the exciting work CISA employees are doing. Today, we’re spotlighting Anisha Patel, Director of Program Management at Raytheon Technologies, where she helps lead a 400+ person workforce and manages the activities associated with the software development and Operations Maintenance necessary to maintain the security of large scale networks in use by the US Government.
How and why did you pursue a cybersecurity career?
In the late 90s, I started my career as a traditional engineer who “built things.” The mission at that time focused on the acquisition of the right type of data and dissemination of that data to the right people — “actionable intelligence” — in an almost point-to-point format. From there, I moved to working at a system-of-systems level where the primary mission was still data, however, there were many sources and many recipients. Along the way, security had been a consideration, but it was not my primary focus. As the world became more connected digitally and technology evolved, so did the mission. It became just as important to prevent data from going to the wrong people as it did to get the data to the right people. I realized that protection of data was equally as important as its acquisition and dissemination, so I pivoted to missions and customers whose primary focus was cybersecurity.
Can you tell us about your job? What’s your day-to-day like?
My day-to-day now is all about problem-solving at all levels of the organization and system. If there is a newly identified cyberattack, I ensure the right resources are assigned and that those resources have all that they need. Organizations are all about people, and there is a lot that goes into ensuring those people have what they need to support the mission and their own personal goals. I might spend a whole day focusing on the career and skill development of our staff. Or I might spend a day focusing on researching the latest cyber technologies as it relates to our corporate or customer strategy and creating plans for the near and long-term. Overall, my job is to creatively solve today’s known problems and position the organization to solve tomorrow’s unknown problems.
What are your favorite aspects of your job specifically, and working in cybersecurity generally?
My favorite aspect of my job is that it is never the same day-to-day. As an engineer at heart, I enjoy problem-solving and developing creative solutions, and my job allows me to do that daily. Working in cybersecurity offers challenges as it is ever-evolving and dynamic. I also enjoy that you can understand its importance because it relates to all aspects of your personal life. Much of your personal information is stored either on your computer, smartphone, tablet, or possibly on someone else’s system. Seeing how the information that you have stored is protected is of high importance not just for an organization and customer but also an individual.
Why do you think young women should consider a career in cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity is important because it encompasses all aspects of our lives — communication, transportation, shopping, and medicine are just some of the things that rely on protection of data and systems. Careers in cybersecurity offer practically unlimited growth, plenty of variety across many industries, the ability to use your creativity to solve problems, and the work makes a real impact. Similarly, to ensure a cybersecurity team has the diversity it needs to meet its mission, it needs to be comprised of people with differing skills, mindsets, and experiences, thereby making it crucial that more women are represented in cybersecurity.