Welcome to another edition of Women in Tech! In this interview, we speak with Samantha Van Stokrom, Solutions Engineer at Netskope, a global cyber security company offering solutions to address the challenges facing businesses in the digital age.
As someone who is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Cyber Security and Law, Samantha shares her insights on the biggest cyber security challenges facing businesses today, and how Netskope is addressing these challenges through its innovative solutions.
She also offers advice to women who are interested in pursuing careers in cyber security or technology, and shares her own experience as a woman in tech. Finally, Samantha discusses her career goals for the future and the challenges facing the cyber security industry in the years to come.
As someone who is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Cyber Security and Law at Deakin University, what inspired you to pursue a career in this field, and how has your education prepared you for your current role at Netskope?
I guess it started with the environment I grew up in. My dad used to build his own computers, and we were regularly playing video games with my brother. Technology sparked my curiosity from a young age, and I developed a general interest in it.
I wanted to see how I could convert this interest into a path forward, and was lucky enough to get a scholarship to enter Deakin University’s cyber security program. In the early days, an external speaker showed us some interesting hacking and security tricks, and I was hooked. It gave me more certainty that this was for me. I’m still finishing my studies, but I can already say it gave me great theoretical foundations to accelerate my learning on the field at Netskope.
Can you share with us some of the key cyber security challenges that businesses are facing today, and how Netskope is addressing these challenges through its solutions?
It’s a tricky environment for businesses at the moment. Throughout the pandemic, they had to rush and adopt digital tools that would ensure they could maintain operations in a remote working set up. When they did, cyber security wasn’t necessarily top of mind because there was an urgency to adapt if they wanted to survive.
But fundamentally this accelerated adoption of technology exposed them to more attacks, and hackers were quicker to identify and seize this opportunity than businesses were to shut it down. Therefore at the moment, the latter are playing catch-up and this is partly why we are seeing all those data breaches in the media.
Netskope’s technology does a lot, but if I had to sum it up; it helps businesses secure their workforce’s access to essential data – wherever the user might be, or wherever the data might be stored – and it does this while improving the user experience (which is often the exact opposite when introducing better security). So it’s really relevant to overcome the challenge I just mentioned.
You secured your role at Netskope through a successful internship. Can you tell us about your experience as an intern, and how it helped prepare you for your current role as a Solutions Engineer?
The main benefit from my internship was finding a supportive environment and team that helped me grow professionally and personally. I’ve learnt a lot about my job, observing how theory is turned into practice on the field and learning with subject matter experts. But I also discovered what it means to have a job, the codes and communication in a business environment or how the day-to-day looks like. Overall, it helped me set my expectations and succeed in my full time role.
This is why internships through university are really beneficial. They provide an opportunity to get some experience on the field and prepare us for full-time roles, but also more security in securing a role afterwards. Unfortunately, the opportunity is not given to everyone.
As a woman in tech, have you faced any challenges or barriers in your career, and if so, how have you overcome them?
I have to say I have been lucky so far. I have found an employer with a great culture. Even though the team is male-dominated, I feel that I’m offered the same opportunities, care and consideration as my male counterparts. If anything, I feel very supported by my male co-workers, and a few of them are mentoring me on different aspects of my job.
What advice would you give to other women who are interested in pursuing a career in cyber security or technology?
We meet challenges at every stage in life, and there will probably be some on the road to a career in this industry. My best advice to other women is to show resilience and be resourceful when dealing with those challenges, and keep moving forward because there’s potentially a rewarding career in the end.
From a cultural perspective they should be themselves and not feel like they have to fit in or adjust their codes and behaviours just because they have more male co-workers. Kindness also goes a long way.
Finally they should avoid believing all the cliches. My own experience shows me that a male-dominated workplace can be an enjoyable workplace for us too, and I’m convinced women can thrive in cyber security. Also, cyber security is not everyday coding. There is a diverse array of jobs across legal, marketing or advocacy, consultancy, education, sales or HR in cyber security. At the end of the day, it’s about trying to make people and organisations safer online, which is an interesting challenge.
What are some of your career goals for the future, and how do you plan to continue growing and developing your skills in the cyber security field?
Eventually I’d like to explore the legal aspects of cyber security and see if this is a path I would enjoy. But for now, every day is a learning opportunity for me. Whether through actual training we undergo, internal conversations or the work we do for clients, I keep on discovering the various ways we can build defences against cyber criminals. And in a way those criminals also push us to learn and do better. They constantly come up with new tactics to compromise organisations or scam people, and on our end, we have to innovate to counter them, and anticipate what they may come up with next time. This is a battle of the minds, and also why I love working in this sector. Everything is in perpetual evolution, and therefore learning opportunities are infinite.
Finally, what do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the cyber security industry in the next few years?
I think there’s two big challenges dominating industry discussion in cyber security. First up is a very clear skills shortage, to the point that some organisations just don’t have the resources to get their cyber security projects across the line. It’s urgent we find more people to join our ranks, and I think there is a massive opportunity for women here.
The other is AI – ChatGPT has caught the attention both for the ways it can help attackers but also because of the help it might give to the resource crunch in the defence teams. I think we will start to see some interesting discussion about how we make use of AI to improve security posture within Australia’s organisations.
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