Our new venture, Inspiring Journeys in Cybersecurity, is an attempt to showcase our member's journeys in the domain. We will continue to bring more inspiring journeys in the future.
Ruchira Pokhriyal is a neurodivergent techie and a bisexual woman of color in the United States, trying to win laurels for herself. She believes in prioritizing her mental health and advocating for social causes such as LGBTQ+ visibility, People of Color & Women in Tech, and Neurodiversity. Professionally, she has worked as a software engineer, a web application PentTester and currently, a Cloud Security specialist at Amazon Web Services.
Tell us about your journey in Cybersecurity, your ups and downs, and your accomplishments.
It’s been quite a journey. Being a neurodiverse, queer woman of color in tech, comes with its challenges. I am the first in my family to move to another country for higher education. Having my share of accent bias and dealing with people to pull me down was not a cake-walk but I am proud of how far I have come. Focusing on my progress, trusting my judgment, and canceling the noise around me has been my strategy to face everything. I am very passionate about cybersecurity. After college, I wanted to work as a PenTester and fortunately, my dreams came true. When the time was right, I decided to switch to my next preferred career path-Cloud Security. I’m really happy to check two domains off my list. During tough times I choose to be my cheerleader and assure myself, recover and try again.
What drove you to Cybersecurity?
Just like most other Asian families, I was motivated to follow in my elder sister’s footsteps and enroll in a tech degree- Bachelor’s program in Computer Science. Despite not being extraordinary at most of the subjects, I was intrigued by computer networks and the basic concepts like network topology, types of enterprise networks, and architectures. It was fascinating to know that modern-day network solutions deliver more than just connectivity. I decided to explore more, which finally boosted my interest in Computer Science and the rest is history!
A couple of tips for anyone considering cybersecurity as a career:
Set aside time from your everyday schedule to learn the basics of Cybersecurity like professor Messer’s Comp TIA Security+ videos.
Use Network+ series as a specialization.
For PenTesting, I used PenTester Academy to learn defense through offense and TryHackMe for some hands-on exercises as well.
For AWS Cloud fundamentals, I use ACloud Guru.
One thing you wish to change about the Cybersecurity domain?
I’d like to change the D&I practices that certain organizations follow.
Next, evaluate the executive team to see if they represent diversity and inclusion. Providing mandatory training to help & teach the executive team to be transparent and authentic with a diverse workforce is something I believe will help with employee retention.
Gender pay inequality among employees is another concern that bothers me.
Do you think communities play a role in uplifting someone in this domain or does one need to play solo?
Absolutely. A big win in my career has been finding a community that serves as a safe space for women. Huge shoutout to BBWIC and WiCyS. With BBWIC, I’ve found the sisters and role models that I always wanted but never had. WiCyS has taught me to give back to the community and be the mentor to others that I always wanted as a child.
You have to play solo whenever necessary as it is of no point being a part of a community if you aren’t an individual contributor!
Have you done anything in the Cybersecurity domain that has enriched the diversity and inclusion scenario? If yes, mention it briefly.
I always strive to understand unconscious bias and communicate the importance of managing it with everyone in my network. It's a skill one cannot learn overnight.
For instance, at work, I try to keep track of and acknowledge a variety of religious, cultural, and meaningful holidays and send a mass email to everyone to pay my gratitude.
I try to include myself in leadership events at work that let me conduct sessions, virtual meetups & events to improve awareness about several social causes and challenges in tech.
This month, I’m focused on spreading awareness about being better allies for the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace. I talk about neurodiversity, LGBTQ+ Visibility, people of color, and women in tech.
One challenge, according to you, that women face in the cybersecurity domain. How did you overcome it?
Sadly, there are still misconceptions that tech is a male-dominated industry, not meant for women, which causes the gender gap.
Women make up only 25% of the global cyber workforce according to (ISC)2 Cybersecurity workforce study.
The underrepresentation of women in STEM programs, the assumption that women can’t be good programmers & the fact that they get paid much less PLUS there aren’t many women holding executive roles compared to men in the tech industry, steers away many young women suited to pursue a STEM-based degree.
I mentor students-help review their resumes & tell them how to use LinkedIn to reach out to hiring managers.
I know I did not have that kind of money as a student but I sure could use the help, this is my way of giving back to 10000 other Ruchira’s trying to break into cybersecurity.
How has your experience been with the Breaking Barriers Women In Cybersecurity Foundation?
This will always be an emotional topic for me. Growing up, I did not have any real “mentors”. And studying in another country isn’t always as fancy as they show it on the TV. I was a broke student, working 10 hours a day at Chick-fil-A on campus.
During the global pandemic, I moved to NJ and wanted to find more like-minded people. Aastha, my only connection from NYC on LinkedIn, introduced me to BBWIC, and that positively changed my life. Talking to people during clubhouse sessions, virtual meet-ups, working on promoting events together, and hearing so many brilliant ideas every day, made me fall in love with this community.
I love how everyone in BBWIC is the biggest supporter and cheerleader for each other, without any passive aggressiveness or jealousy.
Nobody tells me to talk about BBWIC but I tell everyone I meet about it because it has helped me a lot & I think that’s what a great community is all about.
Interviewed and edited by Dr. Sana Fatima
(Sana is an advisory board member of the BBWIC Foundation. A dental surgeon, a writer, and a full-time editor in a publishing house, Sana is a cybersecurity enthusiast herself.)