In our series of interviews with “Women in Tech”, TECHx introduces inspiring women who have successfully gained a foothold in the IT industry. Today in focus: Anna Chung, Principal Research at Unit 42, Palo Alto Networks.
TECHx: As someone who came out of school with a Master’s in International Communication, I am curious to know how you moved to a career in a technical field like cybersecurity.
Anna: That’s correct! I trained to be a diplomat at university, majoring in International Affairs, with a focus in International Political Economics, and minors in Business and Chinese Literature.
My interest in the cybersecurity sector truly developed based on how international affairs and security work in parallel. Whether it is regional cooperation or digital economy, technological transformation can disrupt a stable and productive state of affairs. We have the ability as individuals or small groups to drastically impact across national borders.
My professional career began in 2010 within the cybersecurity sector at iSIGHT FireEye as a translator, when I realized the strong connection between cybersecurity and international affairs. Two months later, I convinced my managers that I could be a researcher by doing open-source intelligence (OSINT). Following this tenure of around 5 years, I wanted to go beyond diagnosing and analyzing security problems and joined Uber as a Technical Investigator and later lead the Global Fraud Intelligence Programme.
The journey within the cybersecurity field has been very exciting as it is such an ever-changing sector, offering the opportunity to work with law enforcement agencies, policymakers, researchers, and private sectors across the globe.
From a security point of view, there is great value in threat intelligence if it is shared rapidly on a wider level amongst vendors, governments and commercial organizations – creating the best examples of how international corporations can address threats in real-time. When it comes to international affairs, it is interesting to witness the tremendous opportunities, soft power of public diplomacy, and the influence of both non-governmental institutions and intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations.
TECHx: When you started your career in IT security, did you feel like it was an unusual career choice for women?
Anna: There is no doubt that women are a minority in this industry, and it has always been such an important issue of discussion when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and equality within the workplace.
My outlook for women looking to start a career in cybersecurity is to not be put off by this fact, assuming that there is a high barrier to enter, or even by the scientific image it represents sometimes. If working in technology interests you, my advice is to just be yourself – as your personality, ideas, perspectives, and diverse experiences are welcome at the majority of the workplaces especially entities such as Palo Alto Networks.
My journey as a Principal Researcher for Unit 42, Threat Intelligence Team at Palo Alto Networks, has begun on a very positive note – the energy and knowledge of the team has constantly supported me to fully explore this chapter of my career.
Moreover, as basic advice for the workplace, it is important for all women to be truthful and open, and constantly communicate to redefine what a friendly and safe work environment is – it is an inclusive space, and everyone should feel equally comfortable and respected.
TECHx: What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the tech industry?
Anna: Many people might think of technology as being a cookie-cutter setting – they believe there is a mold you have to fit with a specific set of experience, behaviors, skills, and maybe even genders.
However, every individual brings unique qualities to a role. Cybersecurity is a field that benefits from newer ideas and out-of-the-box thinking, and we need people with different backgrounds to join the industry to foster further.
The technology sector is a rapid and fast-paced industry, with highly driven individuals meeting their goals, and showing their added value to the organisation. As a woman, it is exciting to be in an environment that challenges you to innovate and encourages you to see other ambitious women thrive and excel.
TECHx: What advice would you give young women considering a career in cybersecurity or women who may consider changing their career path to a specific field of cybersecurity?
Anna: Cybersecurity is a young industry with tremendous potential in many fields. It is not just about being proficient in mathematics, engineering, or coding, but the job demands a much more robust and diverse skill set. Some key areas include threat actor profiling, underground economics, reverse engineering, incident response, digital forensic, statistics, malware analysis, artificial intelligence, data mining, privacy, legal framework, and cyber behavior analysis.
Individuals interested in any of these subjects can consider opting for their career paths to the cybersecurity sector. Rather than making an immediate job shift, one can first start by attending local industry meetups or online training to learn more about cybersecurity.
We offer many learning platforms for women at Palo Alto Networks, for instance, the Partners in STEM Education – in collaboration with Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) – is a programme providing access to cybersecurity education for girls and eventually priming female candidates to fill vacancies in the technology, IT, and cybersecurity fields.
Palo Alto Networks also provides free online training on many cybersecurity topics and skills, in an effort to help young females protect their digital ways of life, but also give access and hands-on experiences of the industry at no cost.
In addition, I have also been coaching young women on a one-on-one mentorship basis for several years, to understand their career progression, dreams, and goals to reach their next desired step. One of my main coaching goals is inspiring young women to respect all elements within the industry, regardless of the hierarchy, as each role brings a unique value to the table.