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Profile: Sara Boddy, Senior Director F5 Labs

Women in Tech: “The industry is always on the move, it never gets boring”

Dominik Mohilo
women in tech

Four 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 Sara Boddy, Senior Director F5 Labs.

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?

Four 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 Sara Boddy, Senior Director F5 Labs.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Sara Boddy, Senior Director F5 Labs

Sara Boddy is senior director at the technology company F5 Labs. At the F5 Cloud and Security Solutions company, she has worked for four years in the active IT security analysis department, the F5 Labs Threat Intelligence Team. Her entry into technology: computer games.

When did you become interested in technology?

I entered the security industry in the late 90s, three weeks after graduating from high school. Back then, security automatically equated to network security – and college programs didn’t exist in this area at all. In fact, very few colleges even offered computer science. I got a job as a receptionist at Conjungi Networks, which was owned by two boys in Seattle. They were some of the most advanced security thinkers at the time. We were one of the few companies in the area doing firewall implementations, vulnerability assessments, penetration testing, or incident response.

What did your career path look like?

My superiors at Conjungi saw potential in me and let me manage the backup tapes. After a few years, I performed basic configuration on SonicWALL firewalls, wrote work instructions, and edited vulnerability assessments for customers. Things really got interesting when the company was involved in a covert operation with the FBI on a major hacker extortion case involving one of our customers. I was perhaps 21 years old at the time, and it was an exciting job for me. I knew then that I wanted to work in this field for the rest of my life. Four companies and 20 years later I am still working with Ray Pompon, who was the lead investigator in this case at Conjungi.

At the beginning of my career, consulting was my main focus. This meant working directly with clients on various types of projects – not just basic security control and implementation. Any kind of failure in the security area I have seen from a consulting role. That was a really good experience in the early days of my career.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

My managers and mentors have always given me a lot of support, so I really had no reason to look for an external role model. I believe that women in the STEM sector are really good at networking and mutual exchange. We support each other.

Has anyone ever deliberately put obstacles in your way?

I have had the great good fortune to work for men in my career who have always been committed to my successes. I never had to fight for a promotion, and I always had leaders who saw potential in me and who pushed me. This has helped me grow. I realize that not many women receive the same support.

I wanted to move from defense to active threat analysis and help others. I was the first member of the F5 Labs team and now, four years later, I am part of a team of eight researchers who have published over 300 studies, articles, and thought leadership blogs to date.

A day in Sara’s life

I left my former employer when one of the former managers founded the F5 Labs Threat Intelligence team. I found that fascinating. I wanted to move from defense to active threat analysis and help others. I was the first member of the F5 Labs team and now, four years later, I am part of a team of eight researchers who have published over 300 studies, articles, and thought leadership blogs to date.

What have you developed?

After 12 years of professional experience, I got a job in the internal security department of the Leaf Group. I stayed for seven years and rose from Security Manager to VP of Information Security and Business Intelligence. While I was there, the company went public, so I was able to build a SOX (Sarbanes Oxley Act) program from scratch.

Why are there so few women in the tech industry?

In my experience as a child, computers were simply not interesting for many girls, partly because they were marketed more for boys. I still believe that computers and gaming are based on sexist design. I mention gaming specifically because many children are so passionate about computers. These products are still not developed or marketed with girls in mind and I think this contributes to a lack of interest from women. Also, I don’t think there is enough awareness of what this area is really about.

What stereotypes have you already encountered with regard to “Women in Tech”? What problems does this create?

I think the need to prove their value or expertise is something that many women in this industry have to struggle with. Like any woman in this field, I have come across people who think that I have no experience as a woman.

Every time I appear in public, I still tell myself, “I have something to say, but nothing to prove”.  Women in the STEM sector must be self-confident and have thick skin.

Women in the STEM sector must be self-confident and have thick skin.

Why should more women work in the tech industry?

Simple: It’s really cool!

The industry is always on the move, it never gets boring, and you can make a difference on a global scale. People often don’t realize that we depend on the Internet for a functional everyday life – and that it is a very sensitive ecosystem that needs a lot of help. We urgently need more women in this area.

What does the future look like – will the diversity debate soon be history?

I’m speaking here on behalf of the STEM sector: the financing of STEM subjects and institutions by the technology industry is very important. I also believe that we can help overcome the gender gap if we tell great stories about what this industry can do.

It may be some time before we see significant progress in terms of gender balance within the industry at all levels, but I am sure that this will happen. Girls are already learning to code in elementary school – and something like this will also change the conditions of competition.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?

It is important to get involved in the local community. If you know other people in the industry, you can get a better picture of the industry and support each other when new job opportunities arise. Companies in general should also be more willing to hire people at entry-level. At F5, we are always looking for smart, curious and ambitious people, especially when they are at the beginning of their career. I have had great success hiring people right out of college. They have always been very eager to learn and have a fast career, have a very creative approach to security and are less prejudiced.

More Women in Tech:

For even more Women in Tech, click here

Author
Dominik Mohilo
Dominik Mohilo studied German and sociology at the Frankfurt University, and works at S&S Media since 2015.

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