Meet Tanya Janca, Director of Developer Relations & Community, Bright Sec

Tanya Janca

Tanya, AKA SheHacksPurple, is the author of bestseller book ‘Alice and Bob Learn Application Security‘. She is also the founder of We Hack Purple, an online learning academy, community and weekly podcast that revolves around teaching everyone to create secure software.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am a software developer turned application security professional. I loved building software, but when I found out about all the security problems that could happen within software, I became fascinated with solving that problem. As I was switching careers from software development to application security, I found that training was extraordinarily expensive and out of reach for me personally and professionally. To get around this, I started speaking at conferences so that I could get in free. I started writing blogs, then my first book, Alice and Bob Learn Application Security, and eventually  I started my own training company, called We Hack Purple. We made affordable security training and a free online community that anyone, at any level, could join and participate in. We Hack Purple was recently acquired by Bright Security, and that is where I work right now. My current role is ‘Director of Developer Relations and Community’, which means that I speak at conferences, write blog posts, and nurture the community that I built at We Hack Purple. Essentially, I get to do my hobbies and get paid for it! Life is very good!

I am also currently working on my second book, Alice and Bob Learn Secure Coding.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

No, I never sat down and planned my entire career, I feel like planning 25 years in advance is a bit much. That said, I did plan We Hack Purple very carefully. It was important to me to create something that I never had available to me when I started my journey into application security. I wanted a place that was friendly for women and people from other underrepresented groups in tech; it was/is important to me to create a place where anyone could feel welcome. Although I haven’t planned every detail of my career, so far I have two long-term goals; to help new people join our industry, and to help the entire world to create more secure software. I feel like I’m doing a decent job of both, but there is always more to do!

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Over the course of 25 years, I think that every person would face at least a few challenges. I would say that my biggest challenges have been around having access to training that helped me do my job better, that I could afford, and that I could understand. I am learning disabled, I am dyslexic. This doesn’t mean I can’t learn, but it does mean I learn a bit differently than everyone else. I can’t sit in the classroom for eight hours and have someone drone on in a boring way and be able to absorb all the content perfectly. I need to build things, I need to teach it to someone else, I need to write about it. I have found that teaching others is one of the best ways for me to cement a new concept or idea into my mind, permanently. This is the reason I’m so passionate about teaching others, and that I teach and write in such an unusual way. I have had many, many people comment that my style of training, presenting, and writing is very different. I always try to explain complex topics in multiple different ways. I like using pictures, stories, analogies, ideas, code; anything that I can think of to show you, in as many ways as possible, so that you can understand. I also tend to be extremely patient as well, because sometimes something is a really big challenge for me to learn, and I remind myself that maybe the other person is facing a similar challenge, and so I restart or re-explain, because I know I would need that if I were in their shoes.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I would say that writing a best selling book, and starting my own successful startup, at the same time, is likely my biggest public career achievement. That said, I also led the security for Canada’s 42nd general election (2015), hacked the prime minister’s website (pentest) and performed top-secret counter-terrioism activities for Canada that saved several lives, so it’s a tough call. Some jobs are harder than others and important in different ways.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?  

Hard work and perseverance. Never giving up.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology? 

Try everything that interests you! Build stuff, break stuff, repair stuff. Figure out which is the most interesting, then focus on it and hone your skills. Then brag about it so people know you’re good at it.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Of course, there are barriers, because sexism still exists. To answer the second part of your question, this task is too difficult for just one person to do, because eliminating sexism (and all the other prejudices that create similar barriers, such as homophobia) is something we must do together, as a society. And we need to eliminate all of them. We can’t keep racism but eliminate sexism, it just doesn’t work that way. They all have to go.

That said, standing up for yourself is the best advice I have for an individual. Point it out when people are inappropriate, ask for your fair share, and find a new job if you are being regularly treated unfairly. If you’ve brought up issues and management isn’t doing anything, leave, they do not deserve you.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

They could start promoting women at the same rate as men. They could approve travel and training just as often as they do for men. They could provide childcare solutions for all parents. They can offer mentoring for women in the workplace. They can look at their statistics of women and non-binary folks versus men, and actively work to fix the gap. They can interview the women and other people from underrepresented groups and ask them how they can improve, then follow the advice.

There are currently only 21% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry? 

I would wave my wand and remove prejudice. All of them. Life would be grand. I truly think everyone would be happier, even white cis heterosexual men. I don’t think prejudice and hatred helps anyone.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I would recommend joining WoSEC, We Hack Purple and WISP, then attending the Diana Initiative. Also Women’s Cyberjuitsu! They are also fantastic!