If you want to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.
I’ve always loved this concept, made famous by Maya Angelou. Understanding the people who came before us, and the decisions and actions they made, can help us better understand how we arrived where we are today. And this understanding inspires us as we head into the future.
It can also make us feel less alone in a world when we sometimes feel like we may not fit in.
In 1998, I wanted to become a network engineer. I was fascinated by the internet and wanted to understand how it worked. I bought a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) study guide and an IT dictionary and studied them side by side. When I walked into my first CCNA class at age 22, I was the youngest student by 20 years — and the only woman. The other students’ looks seemed to say, “Are you lost?”
I was taking my seat at a table long set by other pioneering women in the computer science and cybersecurity world.
If those other students had studied history, they would’ve known I wasn’t lost. I was taking my seat at a table long set by other pioneering women in the computer science and cybersecurity world.
Many founding principles of computer science — and later, cybersecurity — were developed by women. From as early as 1843, the concepts of computer programming were conceptualized and documented by Ada Lovelace, a 19-year-old woman. Lovelace is often referred to as the “first computer programmer”. Her vision for how machines could be capable of calculating programmable equations later influenced Alan Turing (often considered the “founding father” of artificial intelligence) who, as a young man, read Lovelace’s work.
As computer science matured into the 20th century, more women began entering the field, playing pioneering roles in the development of emerging industries like cybersecurity. Two examples, both inductees to the Cybersecurity Hall of Fame, come to mind: Drs. Susan Landau and Dorothy Denning.
Landau “works at the intersection of cybersecurity, national security, law, and policy.” Her work continues to be foundational to the development of public policies that govern cybersecurity and privacy, many of which are foundational in everyday use of computer and telecommunications systems. Most notably, Landau’s 2016 testimony before Congress in the dispute between Apple and the FBI helped to strengthen cell phone security and push the FBI to develop 21st century electronic surveillance capabilities.
Among many other innovations, Denning developed a model to detect anomalies in user and network data, thereby creating the first intrusion detection system (IDS). The concepts in this first model are still in use in modern IDS platforms today.
Since picking up my first CCNA book, I’ve worked in all kinds of roles in both networking and cybersecurity. I’ve seen this industry evolve and grow from access lists to ZTNA, RIP to MPLS, data centers to the cloud, and spreadsheets to Axonius. That evolution happens by bringing together people who think differently, and enabling them to innovate together.
It’s true that more women are joining the cybersecurity field, but there’s still work to be done to ensure more female representation. Most estimates show that women only comprise 24% of the cybersecurity industry.
We’re trying to change that at Axonius by actively seeking out female innovators, programmers, developers, sellers, and marketers. We support a Women’s Employee Resource Group to help our women advance — not only within Axonius but in the world. And we teach them about the women that came before us.
Knowing about women like Ada Lovelace, Dr. Susan Landau, and Dr. Dorothy Denning gives us strength and inspiration as we walk into that next classroom or write that next line of code. We study them because we know that, if we understand who came before us, we’ll better understand where we’re going.
To learn more about the Women’s Employee Resource Group and explore open roles at Axonius, check out our careers page.