Q: Congrats on your Cyber Defense Magazine Award. Were you surprised about it? Any reactions?
I was very surprised by the nomination and being named one of the Top 25 Women in Cybersecurity by Cyber Defense Magazine. It’s an honor to be named among these incredibly intelligent and talented women in the industry. I’m grateful to have spent the past six years in cybersecurity with the last two years at Remediant.
Q: Tell us a little about your background and your current role at Remediant.
My career trajectory is fairly non-traditional in the sense that I started at a large, global corporation and am now at a fairly young startup. Immediately after graduating from Virginia Tech, I started my career in Program Management (PM)/Business Intelligence (BI) software implementation at Lockheed Martin and remained there for five years and then went on to CSC. I transitioned to sales at MicroStrategy where I leveraged my experience working on implementation teams and as an end-user to sell BI software, and found the role to be a better fit. It was there that I discovered my own entrepreneurial spirit, and figured out that a startup environment is the best fit for me, personally and professionally. Evangelizing and bringing disruptive technologies to market is where I thrive, which is what I love about being at Remediant.
Q: What do you see as the top challenges today for building the female cyber workforce?
This industry can give a false sense of intimidation to women. I’ve found myself being the only woman at various conferences, business meetings and in other professional settings. However, women make up about half of the population and often times make the buying decisions for the household. In a time where IoT/Tech powers the home and cyber threats are prevalent in our daily lives, more women should be involved in the decision-making for solutions and the overarching protection aspect of the technology.
Q: Has the talent gap gotten better or worse?
There have definitely been some improvements in the industry when it comes to addressing the talent gap. Remediant is conscious and very intentional in diversifying our workforce. Women bring a different set of skills, particularly soft skills, to bridge the gap in a male-dominated field.
Q. How did you get into your work with STEM programs and the Women Society of Cyberjutsu/Cyberjutsu Girls?
Being involved with the Women Society of Cyberjutsu and Cyberjutsu Girls Academy has been extremely rewarding. I found the non-profit through a mutual friend and have been volunteering for the last few years now. They organize meetups and mixers, host job boards, and connect women in the cybersecurity industry. One of my favorite parts of the program is the Cyberjutsu Girls Academy where the STEM program meets once a month for girls, mostly but not limited to middle-school age girls, for an interactive learning workshop where they do everything from building web pages, programming robotics, creating mobile apps and more. The best part is seeing the excitement from the girls and their reaction to the reality of cybersecurity. They’re always amazed that women like me with long silver hair, who wear makeup and like fashion, work in cybersecurity. I love being able to reinforce the message to these young girls that they really can be anything and do anything they put their minds to.
Q: You have spoken at The Diana Initiative conference in the past. How did you become involved with that organization?
I was first introduced to The Diana Initiative by the Remediant co-founders, Tim Keeler and Paul Lanzi, as our company is a repeat event sponsor. I got involved by volunteering at the organization’s event between Black Hat and DEFCON. It was rewarding to spend the day helping with the resume workshop. I was very impressed by their work and efforts to support women in the industry. It also helps to diversify the talent pipeline when organizations such as this one offers support to those who are looking to enter the field.
Q: What advice would you give to women who are considering a job in cyber?
First and foremost, just go for it. As I mentioned, women can be intimidated by a false sense of being underqualified or lacking certain education and certification requirements, but a lot of times, those things can be learned on the job. What is most needed are the soft skills that many women can bring to the job: excellent communication skills, ambition, drive, and other natural-born talents.
I’d also encourage women to network with everyone! Given that there are new threats and technology solutions coming out every day, it’s imperative for practitioners to always be learning and networking with industry peers. The really cool thing about cybersecurity and technology is that it is a vast area and there is something out there for everyone.
Q: How can we inspire the next generation of female leaders in cyber?
We need to continue creating unique opportunities for women in cyber, as well as minority or underrepresented groups, so the industry is less intimidating. It’s critical to create hands-on opportunities for girls to expose them to the “cool” side of cyber. With social media and the internet in the palms of their hands and the mainstream media failing to show the reality of cybersecurity, it’s important to show there are really amazing aspirations in technology for girls. Not every cyber expert or hacker wears a hoodie in a dark basement.
Michelle Nguyen is Director of Enterprise Sales for Remediant, a San Francisco-based software security startup. She has spent the past 15 years delivering software and IT services to Fortune 100 companies across a number of vertical markets including healthcare, telecommunications, financial services and more. Michelle’s specialty is working with early stage cybersecurity startups to bring disruptive solutions to the market. Prior to Remediant, she was Director of Enterprise Sales at another security startup, Cavirin Systems, where she brought on the company's largest customers. Earlier in her career, Michelle held Senior Analyst roles at Lockheed Martin and CSC and also managed strategic accounts at Microstrategy.
In her spare time, Michelle advocates for Women in Technology and Cybersecurity through the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu. She is passionate about bridging the gender gap in tech at an early age, and volunteers with the Cyberjutsu Girls Academy, an interactive STEM program for middle school aged girls. She has been recognized as a 2019 Top 25 Women in Cybersecurity by Cyber Defense Magazine and her company, Remediant, is a major sponsor of The Diana initiative. Michelle is a graduate of Virginia Tech and holds a Bachelor's of Science degree in Finance.