What do you do on a day to day basis?
I am a Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst. I collect information about cyber threats that are happening around the world, in the surface, deep, and dark web (criminal underground), and report it to my organization. I currently work for IntSights, a provider of cyber intelligence. We serve our customers real-time intelligence about how threat actors are targeting their organizations.
What attracted you to information security?
I left the US Army and the National Security Agency to move home to Dallas, Texas. When I arrived home, I realized the best way for me to use my experience as an intelligence analyst and Chinese Linguist is to apply it to cyber threats. Everyday there is a new threat, a new vulnerability, hack, tactic, or breach to analyze. Hackers are people too, so everyday is a new challenge. Some days it feels like a puzzle or a game, but we are dealing with real-life scenarios that cost companies and people a lot of money. This is what draws me to info sec–the challenge and the opportunity to serve others and protect them.
Do you have a degree and/or certifications? Do you think that they are necessary to work in information security?
I have a Bachelors degree in International Studies and an Associates degree in Mandarin Chinese. In the past, I had taken Security+ and SANS Cyber Threat Intelligence courses (FOR578). I also have many Linguistic certs through the military.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
I have found that when you pursue what you love and you are good at it, you will become successful. When you become successful, there will be people around you that will try to hold you back (aka haters). Not everyone will be happy about your success and your achievements, and that is okay. I have overcome those sitations by focusing on what makes me happy, what helps me succeed, helps my company succeed, and I help others find what they love to do and what they are good at. I stay focused on my goals and don’t mind the people that try to tell me I’m not worthy of great opportunities. Personally, I have had to ignore the unnecessary criticism, and even leave negative job environments to pursue my dreams. I wish everyone well, but I cannot operate in an environment where people want to see me fail. Most often, it’s not personal–those people are just unhappy.
How do you achieve a work life balance to avoid burnout?
This is a constant struggle. I love what I do, but too much of one thing is never good. In order to avoid burnout, I have to plan self-care time into my schedule. Whether its a strict workout schedule, walking my dogs every morning, or planning a weekly movie night with my children, its worth it. We all need to switch to play mode to reduce stress. One of my favorite things is to schedule occasional travel (even if its for work). Getting out of my regular routine and visiting new places feeds my soul and gives me a much needed break from single parenting.
What is some advice that you would like provide to girls participating in STEM?
Its okay to not “get it” right now. When I was young, I struggled academically because of Attention Deficit Disorder. I thought I was not smart. I had no idea that I was just a “late bloomer”. Keep at it. If you can’t seem to understand coding, try something else. Explore less technical avenues like open source intelligence (OSINT), risk management, or cybersecurity journalism. If you love coding, go for it! Start a club, do a competition, create your own application or game. There is something for everyone in STEM, even if you aren’t super “technical”.
What resources do you recommend for women who are interested in breaking into your specialty area?
If you have a knack for finding information on the internet, you could have a future in Cyber Threat Intelligence! I recommend finding role models who do that job, follow them on Twitter or LinkedIn, attend local meetup groups related to the subject, and learn as much as you can from free resources. Cybrary is a great resource for studying, and most CTI companies have blogs and free resources on their websites. I publish my work on intsights.com and LinkedIn.com/cwillhoite.