Women in tech: “You need to have passion and a thirst for learning.”
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 Sivan Nir, senior analyst in the Skybox Research Lab.
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 Sivan Nir, senior analyst in the Skybox Research Lab.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Sivan Nir
Sivan Nir is a senior analyst in the Skybox Research Lab, a team of dedicated vulnerability researchers who aggregate and analyze vulnerability data from more than 30 public and private vulnerability data sources. Sivan has more than 10 years’ experience in business intelligence data analysis. Sivan holds an MBA and a bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology Engineering.
What first got you interested in tech?
I think it was more of an intuitive choice with me. Even before high school I simply came to realize that I’m more comfortable with the exact sciences. I’m not sure that it was tech that attracted me at first but rather science and math. During high school, I realized how broadly applicable the scientific foundations are in real life and then technology became a point of interest.
How did you end up in your career path?
I studied physics, computer science and math in high school. I went on to major in Biothechnology Engineering at university. Choosing a tech related career path later on was only natural. I started out as a process engineer before I realised it wasn’t for me. The analytical skills I acquired in my studies helped me to become a business intelligence and analysis team leader. I later went on and completed my Masters in Business Administration and took a position as a product manager. Later, I got the opportunity to join Skybox Security and lead the cyber threat research team.
Personally, I never felt held back from choosing science and engineering as my career. This was certainly not an easy path. Demanding studies, long working hours, impossible schedules, intense work pace, and endless research are all part of the bundle, but I do not see these as obstacles, but rather challenges.
A strong support group
Working in technological fields should be seen as exciting with a bright future — and not intimidating.
I grew up in a very supporting and caring environment, I was encouraged to choose my own path. For me, this meant grabbing the opportunities given to me to follow a technological path. Higher education was always encouraged in my family and both my sisters and I hold advanced degrees in different fields. My dad was an electrical engineer, from a young age I was interested in his work and he would teach me things and let me help out in fixing things. He was defiantly a great influence on me.
Did someone ever try to stop you from advancing in your professional life?
The short answer is no. But I think I’ve been very lucky in that sense more than anything else.
A day in Sivan’s life
I lead a team of highly skilled security analysts who daily scour dozens of public and private security data feeds and sources, including investigations using the dark web in order to create threat intelligence. We develop our own tools and framework to be able to accurately carry out these tasks and on a daily basis. I find it very fulfilling to brainstorm with my team on ways to improve and to keep up-to-date on security news. The ever-changing threat landscape keeps my career interesting. No two days look alike.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I’m proud to lead a bunch of exceptional people that love what they do and are really great at it. There is also a professional sense of fulfillment, I know for a fact that our efforts are making a difference. We help companies deal with their ever-changing cyber-threats and prevent cyber-attacks.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
Oftentimes the cyber security field is viewed as masculine and this can sometimes deter women from trying to enter the field. But this shouldn’t discourage women from applying for any managerial or technical positions, especially not those associated with cyber security.
Additionally, since the cyber security field is so new and dynamic it thrives on diversity, not only gender-wise but also background wise. My own team comes from all walks of life, which is one of the main reasons why we’re so successful at researching and understanding the context of cyber threats. A conceptual change is needed; it’s not only men with a computer science degree or equivalent that can thrive in this field.
Moreover, I think young women need to be encouraged to make more tech-oriented education choices when they’re still at school. Working in technological fields should be seen as exciting with a bright future — and not intimidating. Internship programmes for young women are also a way to help encourage more women to enter the field.
The fact is, undergrad STEM ratio in Israel is about 2:5 in favor of men. North American figures are similar and UK is even more behind with 1:7. In a way, it is a vicious cycle; tech is seen as a male-dominated sector and thus attracts fewer women which, in turn, re-establishes female underrepresentation in tech.
You could try and explain this phenomenon going all the way back to early childhood and gender roles (Barbies vs. trucks), but the truth is that in most disciplines, girls do better than boys in high school and I really think it’s a shame fewer women pursue tech careers.
Could you name a few challenges women in tech face?
Throughout my career I’ve noticed that women usually have to push a little harder for opportunities and recognition. But this shouldn’t discourage women from applying for any managerial or technical positions, especially not those associated with cyber security.
Unfortunately, sexism is also still prevalent. I’ve been very fortunate and have not encountered sexism in the places I have worked. Additionally, the salary gap between men and women in the industry is still very frustrating.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
Our world faces multiple challenges and we need every tool to understand these threats and craft workable solutions. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are at the forefront of creating tools and innovative solutions. In order to achieve the best solutions, diversity is needed. That includes women.
Do not let the complexity and the knowledge gaps discourage and overwhelm you.
Diverse teams are more effective at problem solving, when different voices, viewpoints, expertise and life experiences are brought to bear. Having women involved as innovators, decision-makers and community actors will lead to better solutions to the ever-changing challenges.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
I hope it won’t take a long time and by the time my 2 & 5 year old daughters reach high school, the STEM fields will be as obvious of a choice as the humanities and social sciences.
What advice would you give to women who want a career in tech?
You need to have passion and a thirst for learning. You should have a strong sense of curiosity along with a stubborn need to solve problems and find answers. Find a way to familiarise yourself with the technical skills you’ll need in order to succeed in this industry. Do not let the complexity and the knowledge gaps discourage and overwhelm you. You should be able to fill in the technical gaps as you go. I also recommend making time for networking with other industry professionals.
Also, take the time to find the right position for you, taking into consideration the work environment and the specifics of the project or product you’ll be working on. You should find yourself enthusiastic about your work.
Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:
- Women in tech: “Different backgrounds enrich processes and products”
- Women in Tech: Frederike Busch — “I don’t believe in structural discrimination”
- Women in Tech: Dagmar Schuller — “There were one or two obstacles along the way”
- Women in Tech: Lisa Mo Wagner — “The most important thing when starting out is to be more self confident”
- Tips for Women in Tech: Andrea Pretorian — “Setbacks and ‘failures’ are really learning opportunities”
- Women in Tech: Swarali Karkhani — “Women in tech should try to step out of their comfort zone more and speak up more often without having imposter syndrome.”