Organised by Eskenzi PR in media partnership with the IT Security Guru, the Most Inspiring Women in Cyber Awards aim to shed light on the remarkable women in our industry. The following is a feature on one of 2022’s Top 20 women selected by an esteemed panel of judges. 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 and where relevant, supplemented with additional commentary by their nominator.
This year, the awards are sponsored by Beazley, BT, KPMG and KnowBe4.
Samantha Humphries, Head of Security Strategy EMEA, Exabeam
What does your job role entail?
I’ve worked in cybersecurity for over 20 years now, and had a myriad of different roles, from defining strategy for multiple security products and technologies, to helping hundreds of organisations of all shapes, sizes, and geographies recover and learn from cyberattacks.
In my current role at Exabeam I am responsible for security strategy, EMEA. I like to spend a chunk of my time speaking on webcasts and authoring articles for security publications, as well as speaking and volunteering at a number of industry events. I’m heavily involved in BSides, which is a security community initiative, and I am on the leadership teams for Newcastle and Lancashire.
How did you get into the cybersecurity industry?
I always had a computer at home and constantly tinkered with it to improve my skills. I credit my mum with this passion, as she decided when I was very young that computing knowledge might be valuable in the future.
A few years into working in business travel, I was the consultant for Network Associates. I learned about what they did and landed a reception role there that proved to be a foot in the door for my cybersecurity career. After that, I moved up the ranks, including a role in sales focused on encryption products and firewalls in a market that didn’t know it needed them. Then I moved to work in technical support, which marked the beginning of my technical career that spanned incident response product management, product marketing, and security strategy.
What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced as a woman in the tech/cyber industry and how did you overcome it?
When I had applied for my first role in product management, in the final stages I was head-to-head with someone who was heavily involved in architecting the technology I would have been responsible for. He was very good technically but didn’t really have so much of the commercial background that I have. I remember being the most technically pushed I’ve ever been in the interview! It was really challenging, but I pulled it off and got the job, proving to myself – and others – that I had the knowledge and can hold my own technically.
I am very fortunate to have never felt like the ‘token’ woman, nor have I lost out by being a woman. I think it has a lot to do with personality – I’m not a very shy or retiring person, even in very male dominated environments where there are lots of egos and opinions.
What are your top three greatest accomplishments you have achieved during your career so far?
I’ve presented on the cybersecurity keynote stage three times at Digital Transformation Expo (DTX), and twice on the briefing stages at Black Hat MEA too. Both of these events are really making an effort to showcase a diverse set of speakers, and being a part of this push is really important to me. I find it very frustrating when I hear event organisers bemoan the lack of diverse speakers. It’s simply not true, there are plenty of us and the pool is growing all the time.
Something that I do consider an achievement was – once upon a time – I was in a situation where I halted the release of a product because I didn’t believe it was ready. This was against the wishes of the Head of Engineering. It was difficult, and I had to go to the C-Suite to convince them to change their mind. I could have rolled over and just gone with it, but I could foresee it causing major problems for customers if it had gone out the way it was initially designed. I was really proud because, while it did cause a headache and took a lot of effort, it was the right thing to do.“We need to listen to Sam on this” was the most rewarding thing to hear after it all.
And honestly, another achievement for me is balancing my family life and work. My work is stressful and involves a lot of travel, and when I became a mum, it changed my work ethic completely. It’s a tough balance and can be heart-breaking being away from my kids, but it’s also really important to me that I show them what a good work ethic looks like.
What are you doing to support other women, and/or to increase diversity, in the tech/cyber industry?
I volunteer for the Diana Initiative, which has done an amazing job to create a safe space focused on diversity and inclusion in cybersecurity, while also playing a key role in organising BSidesNewcastle which is made available for free worldwide through a virtual setup. As a member of Women in Cybersecurity (WiCys) and the ExaGals initiative (which focuses on supporting and empowering the women of Exabeam), I consistently find ways of helping women in the technology community with mentorship, career development, education, and personal growth.
I also regularly write and present on a range of important topics, such as the gender pay gap, equality, diversity, and mental health, including at CyberSecurityX, Blue Team Village, and as mentioned on the keynote stage at Digital Transformation Expo (DTX).
And finally, I am part of the leadership team for our Exabeam CommUNITY Council, which has the ultimate aim of promoting and celebrating diversity. I believe in taking positive action, and that cybersecurity can be a wonderful career for everyone, but unless we take positive action we will struggle to see more diversity in the industry.
What is one piece of advice you would give to girls/women looking to enter the cybersecurity industry?
Find a mentor, definitely! My best mentor was Raj Samani, he’s the Chief Scientist at McAfee, advisor to Europol (European Cybercrime Centre), and speaks to organisations and professional bodies across the world. He is so inspiring and helped me to find my niche. Raj’s best advice was always about being an individual rather than a copy of someone else, and to find your niche, the space you want to own.
It’s a little cheesy to say this, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to people, talk, and learn from others. You’re not an island – there are people around you that will help you in your career and will be happy to, but you do have to ask.