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Shivani Shetty

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.

Shivani Shetty is a cybersecurity professional based in Jersey City, New Jersey. She holds a Bachelor's in Computer Science & Engineering from Gogte Institute of Technology and a Master’s in Cybersecurity from Stevens Institute of Technology. Currently employed as a Cybersecurity Consultant at Nearshore Cyber USA LLC, she holds experience as a Full Stack Developer at Capillary Technology, developing security features and automated deployment pipelines. A multi-dynamic individual, her technical skills span various tools, platforms, programming languages, and security frameworks. She volunteers with Women in Cybersecurity-Stevens, Tryhackme and Topmate, and helps create positive and engaging environments as a Discord Community Manager for Gold Star Gamers. Shivani is a trans woman of diverse talents and loves participating in social innovation challenges and contributing to community outreach projects to positively impact society.

Tell us about your journey in Cybersecurity, your ups and downs, and your accomplishments.

My journey in cybersecurity has been a testament to perseverance and adaptability. After earning my Bachelor's in Computer Science & Engineering from Gogte Institute of Technology, I was eager to pursue a Master's in Cybersecurity at Stevens Institute of Technology in the US. However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 disrupted my plans, leading to a year-long delay due to travel restrictions and uncertainties.

In 2020, when I was ready to move to the US, travel restrictions and global uncertainties forced me to delay my plans by a year. This period was challenging as I navigated the complexities of remote work and staying productive while in India. Despite these hurdles, I used the time to enhance my skills through online courses and certifications. I engaged actively with the cybersecurity community, ranking in the top 3% on Tryhackme and mentoring others through platforms like Topmate. These activities kept my skills sharp and reinforced my commitment to the field.

Finally, in 2022, my dreams materialized when I moved to the US to pursue my Master's degree. Balancing coursework with responsibilities as a Teaching Assistant at Stevens Institute of Technology, I had the opportunity to deepen my knowledge and mentor over 200 students. My journey has taught me resilience and the importance of continuous learning in cybersecurity, shaping me into a dedicated advocate for fostering an inclusive and supportive community in the field.

What drove you to Cybersecurity?

It was genuine curiosity! And a thirst for understanding how digital systems work and, more importantly, how they can be protected. It all started in college when I began exploring networking and IP addresses. I was fascinated by the intricate ways data moved through networks and the vulnerabilities that could compromise security.

As I immersed myself in network security, I discovered a deep-seated passion for the field. It wasn't just about mastering technical skills; it was about safeguarding the integrity of information and ensuring trust in digital interactions. The challenges intrigued me, from learning to anticipate cyber threats to devising proactive strategies that could mitigate risks effectively. Every day in cybersecurity presents new puzzles to solve and opportunities to innovate. Protecting data isn't just a job for me; it's a responsibility that resonates deeply, knowing that my efforts contribute to the security and resilience of our digital world.

One thing you wish to change about the Cybersecurity domain?

I wish it were more accessible and inclusive, particularly recognizing the valuable perspectives that freshers can bring. In today's market, entering cybersecurity can be daunting due to the emphasis on specialized knowledge and experience. I believe in creating more opportunities for newcomers to enter the field through mentorship programs, internships, and tailored educational pathways.

Freshers often bring innovative thinking and a fresh perspective to cybersecurity challenges by offering novel approaches to problem-solving. By facilitating easier entry into cybersecurity and nurturing these talents, we bridge the skills gap and enrich the industry with diverse ideas and solutions. Promoting accessibility and inclusivity in cybersecurity benefits both individuals and the industry. It strengthens our ability to adapt to evolving threats and ensures we remain at the forefront of protecting digital assets and privacy. Embracing fresh perspectives from newcomers is essential for fostering innovation and advancing the field of cybersecurity in a rapidly changing digital landscape.

Do you think communities play a role in uplifting someone in this domain or does one need to play solo?

Communities play a huge role in helping and supporting people in cybersecurity. Early on, I learned that asking for help and being part of a community can make a big difference. These groups share their knowledge, help us accept our flaws, and become better together. Connecting with professionals on LinkedIn has been incredibly helpful. At first, I hesitated to ask for help and preferred to figure things out independently. But over time, I met some fantastic people who have been in the industry longer and offered great advice. Their support has helped me overcome challenges and learn more about cybersecurity.

Being part of communities like BBWIC and WICYS has been inspiring. These communities bring together people who offer support, guidance, and resources. They helped me reduce self-doubt and create a sense of belonging, making staying committed to my cybersecurity journey easier. BBWIC, in particular, has connected me with leaders who show resilience and innovation, further fueling my passion for the field. In short, communities are essential for personal and professional growth, providing the encouragement and support needed to succeed in cybersecurity.

Have you done anything in the Cybersecurity domain that has enriched the diversity and inclusion scenario? If yes, mention it briefly.

In my journey through the tech industry, particularly in cybersecurity, I've found immense fulfillment in offering free mentorship sessions to aspiring professionals. These sessions have been a platform for individuals from diverse backgrounds to seek guidance and support as they navigate their careers in technology. Many participants have expressed how these interactions have provided clarity, boosted their confidence, and equipped them with practical insights crucial for their professional growth.

What drives me to continue offering these sessions is the heartfelt gratitude and positive feedback I receive. It is gratifying to know that I can make a tangible impact on their career trajectories and contribute to fostering diversity and inclusion within the tech sector. It reinforces my commitment to advocating for an inclusive tech community with equal opportunities to excel and thrive regardless of background.

One challenge, according to you, women face in the cybersecurity domain. How did you overcome it?

Navigating the cybersecurity industry as a trans woman has been a journey of resilience and empowerment. Initially, I faced a noticeable decline in job opportunities and responsiveness from recruiters after publicly coming out. This experience highlighted the pervasive biases and discrimination that women encounter in professional settings. Despite these challenges, I persevered, focusing on continuous learning and skill development to rebuild my professional network and regain confidence in my abilities. This journey has been challenging and empowering, reinforcing my commitment to advocating for diversity, inclusion, and trans rights within cybersecurity.

As my experience in the industry grew, I recognized the need to support and mentor other women facing similar obstacles. This realization led me to establish my Topmate initiative, where I guide and encourage women aspiring to enter or advance in cybersecurity. Through Topmate and my involvement with communities like Breaking Barriers Women in Cybersecurity (BBWIC), I actively promote diversity and inclusion initiatives. These efforts aim to foster a more equitable environment where individuals of all genders can thrive based on their skills and contributions rather than stereotypes or biases. By advocating for change and amplifying diverse voices, I strive to make cybersecurity a more welcoming and supportive field for everyone.

How has your experience been with the Breaking Barriers Women In Cybersecurity Foundation?

Breaking Barriers Women in Cybersecurity (BBWIC) Foundation has been an incredibly supportive community for me, especially as a trans woman. I was introduced to it by Shrutirupa, and through this community, I had the pleasure of meeting incredible individuals like Aastha, Ruchira, and Saman. They have been some of the kindest and most supportive people I've had the privilege to know. From the moment I joined, I found acceptance and encouragement from everyone. The atmosphere is inclusive and respectful, and I've never felt judged or excluded based on my identity.

Being part of BBWIC has not only boosted my confidence but has also empowered me to embrace my journey in cybersecurity without hesitation. The foundation's commitment to inclusivity has shown me that diversity isn't just acknowledged but cherished, making me feel truly at home and motivated to contribute positively to the field.

Interviewed and edited by Dr. Sana Fatima

(Sana is an advisory board member of the BBWIC Foundation. A Scientist, Dental Surgeon, and a writer, Sana is a cybersecurity enthusiast herself.)


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