As a new mom, I’ve come to a few realizations as to why I think moms can be really innovative and outright great when it comes to solving problems in computer security. I realize these anecdotes and experiences can apply to any parent, so please take this as purely from my personal “mom” perspective. This is not to say moms are necessarily better (my biases aside), but, I do think there are some skills we learn on-the-fly as new mothers that can become invaluable in our security careers. And vice-versa – there are many skills I’ve picked up throughout my security career that have come in really handy as a new mom. Here are my thoughts on some of the key areas where I think these paths overlap:
- We are ok with not being popular. Any parent who has had to tell their kid “no,” ground them, or otherwise “ruin their lives” knows that standing firm in what is right is sometimes not easy – but, it is part of the job. Security is not all that different. We often tell people that taking unsafe shortcuts or not building products and services with security in mind will not happen on our watch. From time to time, product teams are mad when we have to go over their heads to make sure key things like SSL is enabled by default as a requirement for launch of a new service. In incident response, for example, we sometimes have to make hard decisions like taking a service offline until the risk can be mitigated. And we are ok with doing all of this because we know it is the right thing to do. However, when we do it, we are kind but firm – and, as a result, we are not always the most liked person in a meeting, and we’re very OK with that.
- We can more easily juggle multiple tasks and priorities. My primary focus has always been incident response, but it was not until I had a child that I realized how well my job prepared me for parenthood. A security incident usually has many moving pieces at once – investigate, confirm, mitigate, update execs, and a host of other things – and they all need to be done right now. Parents are often driving carpools while eating breakfast, changing diapers on a conference call while petting the dog with a spare foot (you know this is not an exaggeration), and running through Costco while going through math flash cards with our daughters. At the end of each workday, we have to prioritize dinner, chores, after school activities, and bedtime routines. It all seems overwhelming. But, in a matter of minutes, a plan has formed and we are off to the races! We delegate, we make lists, and somehow it all gets done. Just like we must do with our security incident response activites.
- We trust but verify. This is an actual conversation:
Mom: Did you brush your teeth?
Mom (knowing the kid has not been in the bathroom in hours): Are you sure? Let me smell your breath
Kid : Ugggghhhh… I’ll go brush them now…
I hear a similar conversation over and over in my head in security meeting after meeting. It usually is something like this:
Engineer: I have completed all the action items you laid out in our security review
Mom (knowing that the review was yesterday and it will take about 10 hours of engineering work to complete): Are you sure? Let’s look at how you implemented “X.”
Engineer : Oh, I meant most of the items are done
Mom: It is great you are starting on these so quickly. Please let me know when they are done.
Unfortunately, this does indeed happen sometimes – hence why I must be such a staunch guardian. Security can take time and is sometimes not as interesting as coding a new feature. So, like a kid who would rather watch TV than brush his teeth because it is not seen as a big deal to not brush, we have to gently nudge and we have to verify.
- We are masters at seeing hidden dangers and potential pitfalls. When a baby learns to roll, crawl, and walk, moms are encouraged to get down at “baby level” to see and anticipate potentially dangerous situations. Outlet covers are put on, dangerous chemical cleaners no longer live under the sink, and bookcases are mounted to the walls. As kids get older, the dangers we see are different, but we never stop seeing them. Some of this is just “mom worry” – and we have to keep it in check to avoid becoming dreaded “helicopter parents.” However, we are conditioned to see a few steps ahead and we learn to think about the worst case scenario. Seeing worst case scenarios and thinking like an attacker are two things that make security professionals good at their jobs. Many are seen as paranoid, and, quite frankly, that paranoia is not all that dissimilar to “mom worry.” Survival of the species has relied on protection of our young, and although a new release of software is not exactly a baby, you can’t turn off that protective instinct.
It was really surprising to me the similarities between work and parenthood. Being a parent and being a security professional sound so dissimilar on the surface, but, it is amazing how the two feed each other – and how my growth in one area has helped my growth in the other. It also shows how varying backgrounds can be your path to a successful security career.
Lindsey Wegrzyn Rush
Sr. Manager, Security Coordination Center