The cybersecurity industry faces a significant talent shortage, making it a great venue for anyone who is looking to join the field or to upskill or reskill in cyber. Cybersecurity also presents great opportunities for women since the industry is striving to increase gender diversity. Indeed, even though women comprise nearly 50 percent of the global population, they make up only 24 percent of the cybersecurity workforce – a far cry from gender parity.

Whether you have a technical background or not, there are interesting career pathways for you to consider in cybersecurity. As a testament to this, I recently had a conversation with Nathalie Rivat, VP of System Engineering at Fortinet, about what attracted her to a career in cybersecurity and what her experience has been.

What inspired you to pursue a career in cybersecurity? Can you tell us more about your career pathway?

I have an engineering master’s degree in telecommunication and had an internship in networking as it was one of the most dynamic and promising environments to work in at that time. I eventually joined a network vendor and there I had the chance to be part of a task force working on emerging technologies such as IPSec. I realized that cybersecurity was evolving and expanding even faster than networking technologies and I joined a start-up with a security specialized vendor. That was Fortinet in 2004.

Over the past 9 years, I’ve witnessed the company grow its product portfolio and become an industry-leading cybersecurity company. When I first joined Fortinet, I started as an EMEA Systems Engineer, then I moved to a Consultant Systems Engineer position. From there I built a team and gradually evolved to a VP position managing a team of Experts Consultant System Engineers for EMEA and APAC regions.

What does your current role consist of and what is it about your work that excites you? What is the achievement you are most proud of?

I lead a team of Consultant Systems Engineers (CSEs). This has been a fantastic role as I’m at the crossroads of sales, pre-sales, product management, engineering and training teams and am exposed to different areas of the business. My team helps shape the development of product lines based on customer feedback. CSEs play a key role in product evolution as they work with engineering, reporting what customers and prospects require and how our products can best meet those needs. Building a flexible team that can onboard any technology and product line is not easy. I’m proud of all the contributions my team makes to such a large part of Fortinet’s business.

It is also fascinating to see the early days of new product lines and be responsible to onboard teams in a sales territory, identifying where to sell and how to sell. It is even more exciting to have this role in a company that has kept the agility it demonstrated in its early days, continuing to accelerate its innovations in various product areas.

How have you dealt with challenges throughout your career?

When I started my career as a young networking engineer before joining Fortinet, people were tempted to have negative preconceptions and they wanted to test and evaluate my capabilities. I still remember a few testing phases I was put through designed to see how I was reacting to technical pitfalls. As one of the rare female engineers, I was more visible and more exposed to judgment, unfortunately. Once I had proven myself, I felt like I probably gained even stronger trust from others compared to my peers.

What has your experience of being a woman in cybersecurity been like?

Following mainstream misconceptions has never been an option, whether in my professional or personal life. Women can do anything. There are few women working in the field of cybersecurity, and even fewer if we only consider engineering positions. Being a woman in cybersecurity in a technical role is breaking the stereotype. I never accepted to let stereotypes decide what my life should look like and what I should do for a living. I hope that my own career path helps inspire other women to pursue a senior management position in cybersecurity and not be intimidated to take the first step, whether they are just starting their careers or have been in the workforce for years.

What advice would you give others looking to start a career in cybersecurity, especially women?

A recent article I read tries to give some explanations for the underrepresentation of women in cybersecurity. There is nothing insurmountable. Don’t be afraid. Women can do anything, whether that is becoming a firefighter or cybersecurity engineer. Be passionate and motivated, and the rest will follow. And don’t think that, as a woman, it will necessarily be more difficult.

The cybersecurity field is constantly renewing itself and there is so much work to do and so many opportunities to seize. There is this never-ending cat-and-mouse game with threats that will always keep us busy and constantly require innovation to battle new variations of attacks. There is no better field to join for anyone who loves working in a very dynamic environment and who likes challenges.

For hiring managers at cybersecurity organizations, I encourage that diversity and inclusion be top of mind. Diversity helps organizations as different individuals bring their own approach to problem solving with different perspectives. Diversity is achieved by hiring different characters and it is greatly improved with gender diversity. The staff shortage we are facing is a huge concern. Hiring more women in cyber would bring diversity as well as help to address the global skills shortage.


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