Written by Jessica Peng, Software Development Team Lead at Fortinet Canada
The cybersecurity sector is facing a global shortage of 3.4 million people and it’s having enormous impacts on organizations around the world. In fact, Fortinet released its 2022 Cybersecurity Skills Gap report earlier this year, which found that a staggering 80 per cent of organizations experienced at least one breach during the previous 12-month period that they could attribute to a lack of cybersecurity skills and/or awareness.
This puts cybersecurity professionals like me in high demand. While the gap is getting smaller, more people are needed – especially women. There is a huge opportunity for companies to add diversity to their IT teams, and yet, as a woman, I am still a rarity in my field. Women make up almost half the global population but only 24 per cent of the cybersecurity workforce.
Increasing the number of women in cybersecurity would go a long way to help close the skills gap and put much-needed defenders on the front line against the growing tide of cyber-attacks. Whether you have a technical background or not, there are exciting careers to choose from in the cybersecurity sector – and training options readily available to get you started. Entering the tech sphere as a woman can be daunting, so I want to share my experience to encourage others.
My path to a cybersecurity career wasn’t direct. During university, I majored in semiconductors and went on to work for a manufacturer in the component quality control department. After a year on the job, I became interested in software development and decided I wanted a change. I spent a month teaching myself how to code by reading through lines and lines of system code. Eventually, after a year, I was able to transition into a software engineer role.
After 12 years and a few companies, I began work on my master’s at the University of Windsor in Applied Computing. That step led to my current position as a senior software engineer and team leader at Fortinet, a leader in cybersecurity across Canada.
As a team leader, I balance the day-to-day maintenance and features development with managing and supporting my team. That can include troubleshooting to remove any barriers they are facing and ensuring tasks are assigned and completed promptly. Transitioning from my previous career to software development in a cyber security field took me some time and presented challenges. But that doesn’t need to be a barrier for women considering a move to this field.
The Fortinet Training Institute, for example, provides certifications and training in cybersecurity. People can find instructor-led, virtual instructor-led, and self-paced training options. Fortinet’s industry-leading Network Security Expert (NSE) program offers eight levels, starting with basic cybersecurity awareness and moving through highly technical skill sets. When joining Fortinet, I took the training they offered and found it helped me switch to a security mindset.
Given that a large part of my role is supporting the design of new features, I use my cybersecurity training daily when thinking about how new products or features could be attacked on a public network. I use that knowledge daily because I’m always thinking about how new products or features could be attacked when out in the wild. This approach helps us reduce risks during the design phase because Fortinet training focuses on staying current with threats and recognizing them.
Learning at your own pace is excellent for those looking to shift careers. I myself was self-taught for a large portion of my career transition, and my position at Fortinet today is a testament to the opportunity that exists in the cybersecurity space.
Cybersecurity is an exciting career, and with the opportunities available due to the global skills gap, it’s a busy one. I’m passionate about encouraging more people to explore careers in this sector and would love to see more diversity in the field. By making training readily accessible – and setting up special programs for under-represented communities like women – Fortinet is working to expand and diversify the global talent pool. I look forward to seeing new faces on the job.