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Profile: Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, Executive Director of the Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity at the University of Washington

Diversity talk: “If you are passionate about what you are doing, distracting nonsense fades into the background”

Gabriela Motroc
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, Executive Director of the Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity at the University of Washington.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, Executive Director of the Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity at the University of Washington.

    DYF

Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, Executive Director of the Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity at the University of Washington

Barbara Endicott-Popovsky is the founder and lead instructor for the Certificate in Information Security & Risk Management. She also teaches cybersecurity in several UW degree programs and is the executive director of the Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity, responsible for developing cybersecurity curriculum and programs. She’s successfully pioneered online delivery models for cybersecurity education, including online synchronous and Massive Open Online Course options. She won a Teaching Excellence Award from UW Professional & Continuing Education in 2008 and received the University Professional & Continuing Education Association’s Excellence in Teaching Award for their West Region in 2014. The Certificate in Information Security & Risk Management itself won UPCEA’s Outstanding Credit Certificate Award in 2014.

Endicott-Popovsky is a member of several national committees shaping cybersecurity education and has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed articles. She has a Ph.D. in computer science/information assurance from the Center for Secure and Dependable Systems at the University of Idaho.

What got you interested in technology?

I’ve been interested in technology since I was a small child. I was interested in space travel and astronomy to start: I built my own telescope, joined a moon watch effort, hung out at an observatory and the Buehl Planetarium in Pittsburgh, where I grew up. I was enthralled with the space race and followed every NASA spacecraft launch. I entered science fairs and met space leaders like Wernher von Braun and Willey Ley.

While employed at a major manufacturing firm, I identified a man-in-the-middle attack on a local area network. When I reported it to leadership, I was told I had a great career ahead of me and if I didn’t want people to think I was paranoid, I should keep these thoughts to myself. This was the beginning of distributed processing. We were taking computing power out from the perimeter defenses of mainframes and scattering it on the factory floor without recognizing the vulnerabilities we were creating. That started my fascination with cybersecurity and drove my curiosity about how others couldn’t see what we’d done to ourselves. This was a passionate pursuit that led to my next employer offering to pay for me to get my doctorate in computer science with an emphasis in cybersecurity. I was fortunate to have a major NSA Center of Excellence within driving distance, so I enrolled and studied under Dr. Deb Frincke, now director of research for NSA and a leader in the field.

A day in Barbara’s life

I’m Executive Director of the Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity at the University of Washington, and a professor. I spend my time creating innovative education programs, participating on national committees professionalizing cybersecurity, conducting research and leading a team of experts working on projects that are shaping the cybersecurity field.

I’m most proud of the student successes I’ve had. Over 800 students have taken my main cybersecurity program over the last 14 years and some have gone on to become chief information security officers, chief privacy officers, founders and CEO’s of cybersecurity startups, senior consultants, leaders in government, industry and academia. Over 76,000 students have taken my online MOOC (when I travel, I have people come up to me and introduce themselves as my MOOC students!) I’m proud of the differences I’ve made in many students’ lives, especially military veterans transitioning into civilian careers.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

In my classes at the University of Washington, about 40% are women. My daughter is a chief privacy officer for the City of Seattle. So women are increasingly showing up in tech. I do believe that the whole systems approach to cybersecurity appeals to women and I take a ‘rules and tools’ interdisciplinary approach to structuring my courses that women find accessible.

Challenges

I’ve had challenges in the workplace but have always assumed that’s the way of the world and not just directed toward me as a woman. I’ve personally only encountered a couple of instances of clear female bias; it may have been more prevalent, but I was so goal-driven and curious I didn’t let it deter me from my goals. I find if you are passionate about what you are doing, distracting nonsense fades into the background. I don’t focus on issues of bias or look for it because I’m too busy doing what I love. Finding your passion is essential, and what you were put here on earth to do. It takes you to where you want to go. Comparative mythology author, Joseph Campbell, has written extensively about this and I agree with his views.

Why are women particularly suited towards a career in cybersecurity?

It’s important to have different views looking at cybersecurity challenges. Every group brings a perspective. The Flaw Hypothesis Methodology makes the case for diversity, not as a political or social drive, but as necessary to make sure you don’t miss something. In cybersecurity you have to be right all the time; the adversary only needs to be right once. Different perspectives can turn up issues that could be overlooked by a monoculture.

What advice do you have for women who want to enter the cyber field?

Find your passion! There are 33 career paths and growing in cybersecurity and over 300,000 open job requisitions in the US alone. The opportunities are amazing—from the deeply technical to the managerial—and the pay is great. At the UW, programs such as our Information Security and Risk Management professional certificate provides guidance for students that they can apply beyond graduation. Learning in cybersecurity is ongoing given how the field evolves so quickly. Find what you love and jump in. Ponemon Institute in 2014 listed us among the top 10 places to study cybersecurity based on our incorporating pedagogical approaches that prepare people for the workplace.

Beyond getting a professional certification, what other advice do you have for women who are interested in breaking into the field?

Be sure you have a passion to work in cybersecurity. If you’re not passionately interested in cybersecurity you aren’t going to stay the course. Taking a certificate course from the UW or anywhere else isn’t the end of the road – you have to be committed to lifelong learning because of the dynamic nature of this field. It requires constant learning and reading. Futurist Alvin Toffler notes in his book “Future Shock” that the main trait of a 21st century worker that determines success is your ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn rapidly. When you follow your passion, you’ll be surprised how opportunities show up.

 

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Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of JAXenter.com and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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