My Story About Diversity In Cybersecurity. By Melissa Wooten

My Story About Diversity In Cybersecurity. By Melissa Wooten.jpeg

By Melissa Wooten

As part of our “Share Your Own Story” initiative for folks who have something to say but can’t seem to write an entire article, you can answer a few questions about the intersection of diversity, technology, life, and your role in connecting them. Your response will be reviewed and possibly published as a ITSPmagazine Chronicle here on DiverseIT.

Tell Us A Little About Yourself

Life-long learner, challenge acceptor and answer seeker. 

My path to a career in cybersecurity was not linear, but rather filled with bumps, curves and adventures along the way. Always up for a good debate, I originally set out on a path to become a lawyer. After receiving a degree in Government and International Politics from George Mason University, I wanted to join the workforce before embarking on law school.

Not having a specific job in mind, I researched jobs outside of my comfort zone that would fulfill my need for a challenge. I landed a job as an IT Analyst for a federal agency in the Network Operations and Security Center. I dove in feet first and have not looked back since. Eleven years later and a few title changes, I couldn’t be happier with my cybersecurity career choice.

A Recent Challenge

My biggest challenge is myself. Like many females, I too fall victim to the idea that I am not good enough, experienced enough, and don’t know enough —thoughts that seem to elude our male counterparts. 

When vying for my current position at RiskSense, Inc. (a job previously only held by males), I had to erase my doubts and charge full steam ahead. I inserted myself in meetings where I would learn the responsibilities the job entailed, I took on new responsibilities that would set me apart from others, I asked questions, and I read and read and read — anything I thought would give me a leg up. 

I gave them no choice; I proved I was good enough. I proved I knew enough. I proved I was experienced enough. And I am now running a team of experienced security researchers who are leaders in their fields and I helped get them where they are today.

What Inspired You

I HAD/HAVE to overcome this challenge, not only for my own personal success, but for the future female leaders and innovators of this industry. 

I also want to continue the legacy that so many females have paved before me, by the likes of Grace Hopper, Dorothy Vaughan and Margaret Hamilton

I am passionate about innovation, and diversity breeds innovation.
— Melissa Wooten

What Do You Enjoy Most About The Work You Do?

What started off as a challenge has turned into a career — from IT Analyst to Information Assurance Analyst to Penetration Tester to Director of Security Services. 

The landscape of cybersecurity changes so rapidly: different vulnerabilities, new exploits, new defense tactics. It’s exciting to be part of a field that is so dynamic and evolving rapidly. 

Every day is a challenge and every day is different — different clients, different problems to solve — and I love it all.

If You Had a Magic Wand…

I would blur the lines about what society perceives to be the differences between males and females. We would all be able to see that our similarities are much stronger and more important than our differences.
— Melissa Wooten

Making the Company More Diverse

Diversity breeds innovation. Innovation breeds success. These are statements that I and RiskSense regard as true. 

Recently we have begun collaborating with teams overseas on various projects. This has brought a breath of fresh air into our company. It has allowed me and others to collaborate with people from different cultures, genders, races and religions and truly see the value of diversity. 

Since my four-year tenure at RiskSense, I have witnessed the growth of hiring females increase leaps and bounds.

Advice to Other Minorities in Tech

You are good enough. You are smart enough. You belong. It is OK to push the envelope.

Diversity in the workplace is critical and it is just as critical in your personal life. Surround yourself with people with different interests, different sexes, different sexual orientations, different cultures, different races and different religions. One day those interests of others might inspire you to pursue something you hadn’t originally sought for yourself. 

Take ownership of your success and take ownership of your failures. Both will help you grow. 

Never be afraid to ask questions, even if your voice shakes. You are also paving the way for future generations.
— Melissa Wooten

One Final Word

I hope to inspire other women to take the leap and pursue a career in InfoSec/Tech/Cybersecurity/Privacy. 

I hope my generation is the generation that erases the challenges that women face in technology. 

I hope that all women have the platform to share their stories, build up other women and inspire the generations before them and the generations that will come after them.

Do you have a story to tell? Click the button below to answer a few questions about the intersection of diversity, technology, life, and your role in connecting them together.


About Melissa Wooten

Melissa Wooten is Director of Security Services at RiskSense, Inc.

Find Melissa on LinkedIn.

Find RiskSense on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Learn more about RiskSense here.