The IT Security Guru’s Most Inspiring Women in Cyber Awards aims to shed a light on the remarkable women in our industry. The following is a feature on just one of the many phenomenal women put forward for the 2021 awards. Presented in a Q&A format, the nominee’s answers are written in their own words with minor edits made by the editor for readability.
This year, the awards are sponsored by KPMG and Beazley.
Jennifer Valentine, Security Specialist Lead at Jamf
What does your job role entail?
I am responsible for driving a whole product experience that helps our customers find success with the Apple platform. As a subject matter expert in various security-related product offerings and operations, I use this expertise to analyze and improve operational strategies via cross-functional collaboration with product, sales, marketing, support, and training. Additionally, I am leading a $400m integration of a network security technology firm for product and engineering.
How did you get into the cybersecurity industry?
During undergrad, I read a book written by James Bamford titled ‘Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency’. I was fascinated and had an innate desire to preserve freedom, protect the common good, and solve difficult problems. I made a goal – not only to work for the NSA – but for its Director. I researched the best path to do so and decided my best bet was to learn a language.
After I graduated college, I enlisted in the United States Air Force as a Cryptologic Language Analyst and eventually made my way to the National Security Agency and worked for the Director, NSA and Commander, United States Cyber Command. In the Air Force, I worked with some of the most amazing individuals who shared a sense of purpose and worked tirelessly to solve challenging problems whose scope far exceeded personal gain. These experiences became the catalyst to develop a unified strategy to manage cyber security. In other words, coordinate and crowdsource actionable intelligence across public and private sectors to quickly and efficiently respond to cyber threats.
What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced as a woman in the tech/cyber industry and how did you overcome it?
We all face a variety of challenges as women in tech. For me, it’s the constant navigation through the professional labyrinth in a male-dominated industry. A straight path to the center is not always clear and requires intentional navigation through the twisting paths to overcome expected and unexpected challenges. It requires self-reflection. It requires growth and discovery. It requires creativity. And sometimes, when confronted with a dead-end path, it requires patience and persistence.
Set Goals. To navigate the labyrinth, I set professional goals that I want to reach in the center. Setting goals gives direction, and commitment requires action. As a result, it places value on those goals, driving the priority to achieve them. It allows you to take calculated steps; it allows you to measure your progress and evaluate your successes and shortcomings.
Be Teachable. We all need direction from those whom we can benefit from their experiences, who have already taken that journey. Mentors are critical for progression and can provide encouragement and advice along the way. Value their input, listen with intent, learn from their experiences, and apply what you learned.
What are your top three greatest accomplishments you have achieved during your career so far?
- Serving my country. In addition to U.S. military service, I supported the former Director of NSA, Commander, United States Cyber Command’s role on the President’s Commission for Enhancing National Cybersecurity by researching and writing recommendations that would be adopted into the final report presented to the President. Additionally, I co-authored ‘Clear Thinking About Protecting the Nation in the Cyber Domain’ that was published in the U.S. Military Academy’s journal, the Cyber Defense Review.
- Serving the community. Helped establish the notion, and implemented a solution to provide Collective Defense – empowering communities to work together to solve global cybersecurity problems. These same principles are now being used to establish DHS/CISA’s Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative.
- Serving others. I have a passion for teaching and helping others find what motivates them and what the value of work means to them. Work shouldn’t be a chore but a way to find fulfillment. Three years ago, I conducted a 90 second introspective exercise with one woman who asked me to assist in clarifying her goals. Today, she is the CEO of her own company.
What are you doing to support other women, and/or to increase diversity, in the tech/cyber industry?
At one point in my career, I was told to quit my job because I would never be successful as a woman. That knocked the wind out of me, as I looked up to this person, or thought I did. Rather than providing encouragement, their answer was for me to quit. Well, I’m not a quitter. I never want another woman to experience this or feel excluded, because being a woman is our superpower. I mentor women (and men) on the importance of changing the mold – engaging in constructive conversations around equality. I provide guidance on seeking out companies, like Jamf, who understand that diversity in thought is our collective strength and who actively work to build a culture of inclusion, not to meet a compliance benchmark, but to embrace cognitive diversity.
What is one piece of advice you would give to girls/women looking to enter the cybersecurity industry?
Speak up. You have already overcome many challenges and hurdles in preparation to enter the industry. Now it’s time to speak up and be unapologetically you. Don’t let an invisible barrier dissuade you from raising your hand and voicing your ideas. Remain persistent and keep pushing.