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HacWare CEO On Why Women’s Minds Are The Perfect Fit For The Cybersecurity Industry | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware


‘The other key thing that motivates me in this industry is that women are brilliant individuals in the way that our minds think. We’re looking at all the different outcomes to a solution, we’re not just looking at it from one angle and leaving it there,’ says Tiffany Ricks, CEO of HacWare.

Tiffany Ricks believes women are the secret sauce to the IT industry.

“We look at this industry, it’s a male-dominated industry, and I can tell you from being a part of this industry we have the new ideas that they’re looking for,” the CEO of HacWare told CRN. “There’s a new perspective that companies are looking for that we innately have. We understand details, we understand strategy and there’s so many areas where we can go that we can excel in. The industry needs you because you have a perspective that is missing.”

HacWare is a phishing simulation company helping companies identify and report phishing emails to make their IT environments more secure.

Her secret sauce is the advice she’d give to other women coming up in this space as it’s what motivates her to keep going and to keep innovating in technology.

“The other key thing that motivates me in this industry is that women are brilliant individuals in the way that our minds think,” she said. “We’re looking at all the different outcomes to a solution, we’re not just looking at it from one angle and leaving it there. Our mind really is a brilliant piece to cybersecurity.”

As a problem solver, Ricks always wanted to work in technology. Her love grew out of playing video games as a child and always wondering how the technology of the games actually worked.

For Women’s History Month, CRN is profiling women in the channel about how they came up in the industry, lessons learned and what they want to pass on to others coming up in the IT channel.

Ricks spoke about how she fell in love with cybersecurity, how she learned to market herself and what advice she gives to other women coming up in the space.

Did you always want a career in tech?

Yeah, I actually did. Well, if we talk about early days I thought I was going to be a veterinarian that went to the WNBA. Then I realized, in talking to my guidance counselor, I love technology and they told me how much I could make getting out of school. I was thinking, ‘Yes, I want to get into technology because it gave me the ability to solve problems.’ I’ve always been the kid who thought of ideas and wanted to solve problems. My dad was an entrepreneur so I wanted to create a business, but technology gave me that tool to realize I can start a business and solve problems. It allowed me to marry all the things that motivate me: innovation, solving problems and building businesses.

So how did you get into technology?

I got into technology really early. I was a gamer. I played games as a kid as I had a brother and majority boy cousins. So the only way that I could hang out with them was through gaming. What I loved about the games was how the characters looked so real and I wanted to know how they made these characters. I’m a millennial so I had a Gameboy and I would break the Gameboy open try to understand how it worked. I couldn’t put it back together so I made my parents very upset, but that led me on the journey of having this curiosity of how does technology work? How do they create these games? I went to school for computer science. I went to a historically Black college, Clark Atlanta University, which was a great thing for me because I started my journey in technology where I didn’t have to experience a lot of the woman issues and issues about my race. It was about just the innovation and the technology and how I can create. Then once I went to another university, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech, that’s when it got a little bit more challenging. It wasn’t just about tech, it was about, ‘Oh, you’re a woman, you’re a Black woman. Are you as smart as all the other classmates?’

Then I moved into starting my first two companies when I was in college and they were all tech-based companies. I left those companies and then started work for the Department of Defense. I started there as a software engineer and then moved into trying to look at the infrastructure and understand how a cybercriminal breaks in. What led me into that journey was I was managing a web server for the Air Force and we had what’s called a denial attack where cybercriminals attack the server and they tried to take it offline. My team and the Air Force team didn’t really know what to do. The only thing we knew was to cut the server off. That led me into this journey of cybersecurity. I didn’t want that to happen again, I wanted to make sure I understood how these attacks happen. That led me further along in my career of ethical hacking and what we’re doing today with HacWare.

Who did you look up to when you were younger?

In my family I looked up to my dad because he was an entrepreneur. I just loved watching how he was a photographer trying to turn that photography business from a concept into a scalable business and watching him spend long nights trying to make that work. I looked up to that and I can see a lot of myself going through that same pattern. On the media side, I looked up to Oprah. I loved this woman who had this weird name and came from very humble beginnings but would inspire people every day, get them to feel and get them to dream. I was like, ‘I want to be the Oprah of whatever it is that I do. I want to be like her.’ The second inspiration happened in corporate America. It was my manager and he inspired me because I was the youngest person in all the rooms but he believed in me, he gave me stretch goals that I didn’t think that I could accomplish. That allowed me to see what a leader does for their team and I wanted to be like that with my team.

Who were your mentors early on in your career?

I’m not like everyone else where I had mentors and I sought them out. I typically look for mentorship just through relationships. I will typically have an associate that I know does well in this area and I want to have a relationship with them to understand how they are doing this in business or how they are such a good speaker. What are they doing to become a great speaker? What are they doing to become a great business owner? So I didn’t have mentors but I tried to align myself with people who were inspiring that I could learn from and that’s still my journey today.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever gotten?

The best career advice was you have to market yourself. You have to be the one who is talking about your accomplishments. Me being from the south and just being an introvert, that was something that I never really liked doing. I thought that my work would speak up for myself. I pride myself on being a hard worker, like I can outwork anybody but oftentimes no one knows about that unless you’re the one who is finding those opportunities to talk about what you have done. I had someone tell me, ‘The reason why you’re sort of plateauing and this person is excelling is because they do a good job of sharing what they’re doing. They do a great job of communicating their facts.’ Once they told me it’s not bragging, it’s facts, like if you are communicating what is factual I could get on board with that. So I don’t feel like I’m this braggadocious person, I am just communicating the facts. I have done this and this is the outcome. That gave me the permission to market myself. That’s what I tell everybody that I communicate with. You have to be your own champion and that way it trains others to see you in the area that you want to go in. You have to communicate what you’ve done so they can see that picture.

What do you love about your job?

The thing I love about my job is I don’t like to be bored. My mind goes a mile a minute and I need to be challenged. I need something that is going to make me think. So the thing that I love about my job is that it requires me to think, it requires me to try to think outside the box and try to solve problems. That’s what gets me up in the morning. Every day is not the same day, that’s the thing that I love about my job. Sometimes that’s the thing that I hate about my job as I want an easy day sometimes. I don’t want to have to solve problems every day but truly that’s what I love about my job.

Do you consider yourself a mentor to others or have you found yourself mentoring others?

I do love when I can. There’s a lot that I’ve learned along this journey. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. The reason why I believe I’m here is, it’s not about technology, it’s really about helping people follow their dreams. I want to make sure that people understand if they put in the work they don’t have to be doing something that they hate every day. So having people around me who want to move to their next journey and don’t want to be stuck in something that they just hate doing, that is where I spend a lot of my time talking to various people.

What inspires you every day to make this industry better?

First and foremost the thing that inspires me every day is that the problem hasn’t really been solved yet. Like I am a problem solver. When we think about the industry that I work in, cybersecurity, people are the number one reason why we have phishing attacks that are continuously happening and why we’re continuing to have cyber incidents every single day. If we spend the time educating people on how to protect themselves and actually take it to move from awareness to action… that hasn’t been solved across the globe. That is what is inspiring me. I want to figure out a way where I can get to the point of I feel satisfied solving this problem and I’ve done everything that I can in this space. The other key thing that motivates me in this industry is that women are brilliant individuals in the way that our minds think. We’re looking at all the different outcomes to a solution, we’re not just looking at it from one angle and leaving it there. Our mind really is a brilliant piece to cybersecurity. My goal is to get more women into this space and in technology in general. Some of the best developers and engineers are women because we’re looking at the details and we’re analyzing the micro elements. I want to be that. As someone who is an introvert who can barely read, if I can get into technology and I’m doing well, so can you.

What’s been your secret to success?

Never giving up, perseverance. I study a lot of people who are successful and that’s the key ingredient across the board no matter what industry that you’re in. It’s having this grit inside of you of, ‘I may not know everything now but I’m going to figure it out. I’m going to find somebody that’s going to help me to figure it out and I’m not going to stop. If I get doors slammed in my face, I’m not going to stop. I’m going to find a way to keep pursuing.’ That’s the key ingredient to why I’ve been so successful in my career and why I’m going to continue to be successful. I’m not giving up and I’m going to put the work behind it.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?

To just relax. I need to take this advice every day, but just to relax. Everything that is going to come to you is going to come and as long as you do what you’re supposed to do, it’s all going to pan out. Take some time to just enjoy life, that’s what I would tell myself. I spent my college years, I had a little fun, but I worked three jobs in college so I would say, ‘Tiffany have fun. You’re young. You don’t have to have your whole life figured out.’

What are some professional goals that you still want to accomplish?

This changes all the time but a goal that I’ve had since I was a little kid is that I want to build a massive company. I want to build the next Google. I always said I wanted to build a big business, a multinational organization. I still haven’t accomplished that but HacWare is on its way. The other goal, and I don’t know that I’m going to stick to it, but I want to get my PhD. We’ll see if I actually do that.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to younger women coming up in this space right now?

You can do it. We look at this industry, it’s a male-dominated industry, and I can tell you from being a part of this industry we have the new ideas that they’re looking for. There’s a new perspective that companies are looking for that we innately have. We understand details, we understand strategy and there’s so many areas where we can go that we can excel in. The industry needs you because you have a perspective that is missing. And so let’s just start with step one, start with a passion or what is it that you want to do and then that will lead you into learning how to do it through technology. Start with step one and that’ll lead you through how to be successful in this industry.

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