According to the Computing Research Association, a group comprised of members from across academe and industry, women represent only 8 to 13 percent of the cybersecurity workforce. The Department of Computer Science and Engineering is doing its part to close that gender gap, running an intensive two-week summer program introducing female high school students to the field. (So popular was the first two-week session that a second was added.) Run by Professor Linda Sellie, who acknowledges the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the program touched upon programming, digital forensics, and more.
Among the highlights of the program were visits to the New York Offices of Google and Facebook, where the young women had a chance to network with accomplished female engineers, among them Eleni Gessiou, a Facebook security expert and former School of Engineering student, who not only arranged the visit to the social media giant but returned to the MetroTech Center during the program to teach UNIX commands and, not incidentally, serve as an incomparable role model. “They were a very talented group with tons of potential, and they now know that they can reach out to me in the future if they ever need to,” she says. The visit to her employer, she explains, was as enjoyable for her as it was for the students: “It was so much fun to see the girls interacting with different Facebook employees and asking questions,” she recalls. “I can already imagine them applying that curiosity to the technical problems of the future.”
Sellie asserts that cybersecurity is a fantastic career path for women, saying, “Women tend to want to do jobs that help the world,” and Gessiou firmly concurs. “Working in cybersecurity is equivalent to protecting millions or even billions of people at the same time,” she says. “Doing the job well requires a certain level of empathy and compassion toward people, and I believe women can be just as capable if not more so in bringing those qualities to their work. Protecting people has been my motivation every day, and although there are always challenging times, it’s completely worth it.”