Seema Kathuria (She/Her), is an Asian American woman born and raised in Silicon Valley, California, where she and her spouse are raising two wonderful children. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering and found her calling as a Product Marketing professional in Cybersecurity. She appreciates the fact about her career that she can fulfil both her professional and personal responsibilities due to flexible work (remote from home) plus keep learning about new cybersecurity challenges.
Having learned the need to recognize what one is great at, one can use those strengths to build the career and standard of living one seeks. Growing up, Seema was logical and strong in many subjects but especially Mathematics and Grammar. Ultimately earning an Engineering degree, but realised through real-world experience that writing and testing software wasn’t her passion. She wanted a career and role that would allow her to channel her passion for communications and collaboration with other people, but also a role that would challenge her to learn and grow her skills and knowledge. Marketing + Cybersecurity fit all those requirements well.
Tell us about your journey in Cybersecurity, your ups and downs, and your accomplishments.
Shortly after completing my undergraduate studies and early in my career; with counselling from my Dad, who had been a marketing professional for many years, I applied for an entry-level product marketing position at Check Point Software, the pioneer in network firewall technology. I didn’t have any education or practical experience in the cybersecurity industry or marketing, so was delightfully surprised to land the opportunity. Back then and even now as a Product Marketing Manager at Cisco, I take every opportunity to learn about what challenges organisations and end users face in safeguarding data, what other companies are doing in the security industry to address those challenges, and how our organisation can uniquely help these organisations stay resilient against cyber threats. I am so glad I am working in this industry. I can’t believe it has been 17 years and counting! The fact is, cybersecurity isn’t boring and it continuously forces us, whether in a technical or a business function, to keep learning and figuring out how to help others stay safe. My mission is to help others understand the threats to their digital information and protect themselves as much as possible. This is what keeps me going each day.
What drove you to Cybersecurity?
I had never planned or prepared myself technically from school or college to enter the Cybersecurity industry specifically. Early in my career journey, I was searching for marketing roles online and came across an entry-level product marketing role that Check Point Software had advertised on Monster.com, a popular job search engine years ago. Although I applied for entry-level marketing positions in other companies too, a recruiter from Check Point reached out to me shortly after I applied online. I was excited to join a company and industry where I would get to expand my technical knowledge after having completed my undergraduate studies in Computer Engineering. Cybersecurity is an industry that wouldn’t “die” any time soon so I felt like it was a “safe” place to start and build a career. Job stability is very important to me and continues to be, especially now that I am responsible for two children and a spouse for whom I want to maintain a certain standard of living and provide for well into the future.
One thing you wish to change about the Cybersecurity domain?
Unfortunately, for the longest time, cybersecurity solutions have been built for larger organisations with the expectation that they can invest in human talent or hire outside experts to help configure and manage those solutions. This is not the case for smaller companies; some of which have the owner itself also serve as the one-person IT and Security Administrator. I want to see mid and small-sized organisations be able to afford and adopt strong cybersecurity solutions, especially since these companies are even more vulnerable to cyber-attacks and would likely even have to close shop if they were to experience a data breach of a certain scale and high enough impact. Security vendors must be thoughtful about designing, building and selling solutions for them – solutions that are affordable, easy to administer and manage, offer frictionless end-user experiences and easy-to-follow documentation and support.
Do you think communities play a role in uplifting someone in this domain or does one need to play solo?
Communities play a very important role in uplifting people who want to enter or stay in the Cybersecurity domain. Those who are considering a career change or even just starting their career can get valuable and transparent guidance from those who have been in this industry so that they are not going in with “rose-tinted glasses”. Initially, when I entered this industry shortly after my undergraduate education, I didn’t know anything about cybersecurity and had to learn from scratch; through online self-study and asking questions from dozens of colleagues in the company in Product Management, Marketing, Business Development and other teams who were in different locations (Israel, North America). It was challenging but rewarding once I started to get a grasp on certain cybersecurity concepts and make connections between the customer use cases and how my company’s solutions helped secure networks, systems and data. I wish there was a community like Breaking Barriers for Women in Cybersecurity where I could safely ask questions and get tips and counselling without being judged and without the pressure associated with being new in a company and expected to “know” certain things over time and become a “subject matter expert”.
Have you done anything in the Cybersecurity domain that has enriched the diversity and inclusion scenario? If yes, mention it briefly.
I have been sharing my knowledge and experiences as an Asian American woman in Cyber with others in each company I have worked with. More recently, I have even been vulnerable, especially inside Asian American Community forums in sharing challenges I faced in professional situations and what I think I could learn from those experiences.
While it is uncomfortable to share and be vulnerable, doing so is the only way for each of us to make a stronger connection with our co-workers and also for them to be comfortable opening up to us. When we make it known how we feel and why we feel in the moment instead of letting feelings fester, we permit others to also share their feelings and ultimately, we can work more harmoniously together, be open to asking for feedback and engage in healthy debate. I am a work in progress on this but am more optimistic today than I have ever been. With much of my work being remote (I don’t go into an office), I want to be more intentional about having 1:1 “check-in” conversations with my teammates in which we don’t even talk about work but just catch up on life in general.
One challenge, according to you, that women face in cybersecurity. How did you overcome it?
One challenge women in cybersecurity face is the pressure to “prove” their worth. For one, there are far fewer female than male CISOs. According to this article by Forrester who had researched CISOs, only 16 percent of CISOs are female. Out of 378 sample respondents, there were just 20 instances of a woman in a CISO role supported by a woman in a CEO or CIO role compared to 225 instances of a man in a CISO role supported by men in a CEO or CIO role. Not having support from the very top can discourage females from applying for, let alone landing and retaining, a CISO role.
Also, there is gender bias when it comes to judging coding skills, an important stepping stone to a cybersecurity career. The good news is, however, more females are learning coding from an early age. According to this article, Generation Z women started coding between the age of 16–21 and 25% already did so before age 15, due to more educational opportunities. Girls Who Code is on a mission to close the gender gap in technology. Holding equal if not better qualifications, females should fight tooth and nail to compete and negotiate their worth from early on in their cybersecurity careers. I am optimistic that the pay gap will close over time.
Per CyberSecurity Ventures, “Women hold 25 percent of cybersecurity jobs globally in 2022, up from 20 percent in 2019, and around 10 percent in 2013. We predict that women will represent 30 percent of the global cybersecurity workforce by 2025, and that will reach 35 percent by 2031.”
How has your experience been with the Breaking Barriers Women In Cybersecurity Foundation?
I am so humbled to be invited to this community by Aastha; who founded BBWIC in 2021. I cannot believe it has been 3 years and I don’t even remember exactly how she found me through LinkedIn. I am inspired by the amazing Board members who have already accomplished so much individually and are giving back. Each of them makes time to guide, mentor, and be there as a listening ear for our community and personally me. As a BBWIC Board Member focused on Career Development, I serve as a mentor for community members who want career advice, to expand their network, tips on improving their resume and LinkedIn profile and to prepare for interviews. Giving back to the community is such a heart-warming and rewarding experience.
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.)