Samantha Humphries

Samantha Humphries | Exabeam

Samantha Humphries

Sam has over 21 years of experience in cyber security, and during this time has held a plethora of titles, one of her favourite titles being Global Threat Response Manager, which definitely sounds more glamorous than it was in reality.

Sam has defined strategy for multiple security products and technologies, helped hundreds of organisations of all shapes, sizes, and geographies recover and learn from cyberattacks, and trained anyone who’ll listen on security concepts and solutions. In her current regeneration she heads up marketing and security strategy for Exabeam in EMEA.
Her life in tech started much earlier, at age 6, when she had twice as many computers than her school (a ZX Spectrum 48K and a BBC Master), and was conned into QAing educational games on 5¼ inch floppy disks by her mother.

She authors articles for various security publications, speaks frequently at industry events, and enjoys mentoring new practitioners and speakers. Sam also volunteers at community events, including BSides, The Diana Initiative, and Defcon Blue Team Village.


Samantha Humphries featured

Inspirational Woman: Samantha Humphries | Security Strategist, Exabeam

Samantha Humphries Samantha has 20 years of experience in cyber security, and during this time has held a plethora of roles, one of her favorite titles being Global Threat Response Manager, which definitely sounds more glamorous than it was in reality.

She has defined strategy for multiple security products and technologies, helped hundreds of organizations of all shapes, sizes, and geographies recover and learn from cyberattacks, and trained anyone who’ll listen on security concepts and solutions.

In her current regeneration, she’s thoroughly enjoying being a part of the global product marketing team at Exabeam, where she has responsibility for EMEA, Data Lake, plus anything that has “cloud” in the name. Sam’s a go-to person for data compliance related questions and has to regularly remind people that she isn’t a lawyer, although if she had a time machine she probably would be. She authors articles for various security publications and is a regular speaker and volunteer at industry events, including BSides, IPExpo, CyberSecurityX, The Diana Initiative, and Blue Team Village (DEFCON).

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

I’ve worked in cyber security for over 20 years now,  and had a myriad of different roles. Including, defining strategy for multiple security products and technologies, and 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, and anything that has “cloud” in the name. 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 am also involved in an incredible initiative that the company started called ExaGals. The group creates a safe space for women in the company - and in tech more generally - and inspires a positive conversation, offers training and other opportunities. The cybersecurity industry has been struggling with a  skills gap challenge for many years,  plus unfortunately there is still a lack of women working in and entering the industry. I hope that by supporting programmes that open women and girls up to the possibilities of an education and career in tech, we can help address the skills shortage and introduce new perspectives and problem-solving skills to the industry.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

So, my IT career started when I was six. Sort of. My mum worked for a company that copied programmes onto floppy disks. Often, she would come home with educational games and I would play them, testing them out… practically doing quality assurance for free.

I had no plans to enter IT or security - I wanted to be a war correspondent, inspired by Kathryn Adie, a BBC News war correspondent. Just for some reason I thought that going to a war zone to report news was a really good idea…

Early in my career I worked as a business travel consultant, and eventually took on responsibility for a company named Network Associates (NAI - who are now known as the more familiar McAfee). My move to McAfee was mostly because I had a personal interest in computers and it was in the early days of virus infections. I thought it would be exciting to be in the thick of that. I was hired as their head receptionist with a promise that I wouldn’t have to sit on reception for too long - they asked that I at least gave it six months before looking for another role in the company. I moved to the sales department for a bit – then decided  having a quota wasn’t my favourite thing, but that I did enjoy helping the customers who’d bought from me with their initial and technical queries. So, from sales I moved into technical support, which made a lot more sense.

As well as doing product support, all of us were on the hook to help customers with virus outbreaks, which definitely isn’t something everyone is comfortable with, particularly when helping customers who are panicking. I have a strange sense of calm when everything seems to be going wrong, and I enjoyed being hands on and solving the problem. I ended up setting up a team in EMEA for handling malware escalations and outbreaks. Some calls could involve one or two machines down, or indeed the customer’s entire network, or anything in-between.

The next logical step was to move into McAfee Labs, where I had possibly the coolest job title ever - Global Threat Response Manager. This involved being the main escalation point in Labs for customers with outbreaks, plus managing a team of researchers, and dealing with a plethora of incidents. After 3.5 years of little sleep or weekends, I went to product management to help build solutions that would drive better detection capabilities.

I bounced from product management to product marketing, and today I spend my time talking to organisations about their security challenges and helping them to solve them. A bit different from finding myself reporting on recent events in a war zone… but tackling (cyber) warfare, nonetheless. Fortunately, with fewer bullets.

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

There’s definitely been an element of being in the right place, at the right time and knowing the right people. That said, being an extrovert has likely contributed, because I really do enjoy meeting people and attending events.

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 be 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. 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’ women, 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 has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’ve presented on the cybersecurity keynote stage twice at Digital Transformation Expo (DTX), and that was really special for me.

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.

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 good work ethic looks like.

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

I have had a really good support network, both professionally and at home. Also, sheer determination and a splash of bloody-mindedness doesn’t hurt.

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

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.

Also, I think accepting failure, and accepting that it’s inevitable. It’s probably the toughest thing, but it’s ok because it’s all learning. People will tell you my motto is “every day is learning day” and that’s true. Take failure for what it is: another learning opportunity. Learn from it and just do better next time.

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

Diversity in the industry is getting better, but it’s not where it needs to be.

There’s still a long way to go, and companies also need to avoid the pitfalls of tackling it. Diversity hires can be a problem; hiring someone for the purpose of ticking a box or meeting a quota isn’t good practice. With this you have two problems. Firstly, there's the concern that someone is being hired for a role who is not necessarily the best person for the job, purely to tick a box. Secondly, the notion causes doubt in the mind of any new hire who happens to be a minority, despite them being the best person for the role. One of the most effective things I've seen is hiring manager training, or open involvement in the interview process. Training around not hiring people who look like you, act like you, like the same things as you – I think that’s really important. Recognising your unconscious bias – because everyone has it – and being able to call yourself out and move yourself out of your comfort zone. This will ultimately mean better decision-making, diverse hires and balanced teams.

The bottom line is when faced with an obvious and unfair barrier at work, it’s not your fault. There are ways of dealing with it and communicating effectively. Sometimes you won’t be able to deal with it at the time and you’ll need to appreciate you’re not going to win in that moment, but wait until after and set up a meeting. Talk to people one-on-one, they’ll likely be more receptive to what you have to say without them acting up for an audience.

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

I think more companies need to embrace returners to work, offering opportunities to individuals who have taken a career break and are keen to get back to their profession or are able to cross-train. Particularly for women who have taken a break to have a family or look after children. The skills these women have do not disappear when they have a career break, if anything they will acquire new skills from motherhood that will be valuable to the work-world. These can be cross-purposed into a role. Particularly with a skills shortage, we can’t be turning away good candidates.

Creating safe spaces in the industry is crucial. This means offering individuals different spaces and environments that suit them and help them do their job well, or the facilities to make them feel comfortable. Ensuring there is the freedom and safety to be able to share concerns or discuss what’s on your mind is also crucial. It’s a positive movement that the industry needs.

Representation is essential and women need to be active in going into schools, universities and showing the next generation that this is what a computer engineer could look like. Representing diversity at that level is really important because it is still so imbalanced. This isn’t just a career for men, and we need to take action to get more women in the door to represent a more diverse workforce in technology.

There is currently only 15% 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?

First and foremost, equal pay. Organisations need to be encouraged to review their pay situations and be more transparent with their employees. Companies hide behind “well, that’s a woman’s fault for not asking for more money” and having rules not allowing their employees to talk about salaries. This only fuels the problem.  There needs to be less secrecy and more paying people the right money for the right job.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I would recommend going to meetups and events – virtual currently or in real life once we return to normal – particularly events where women and minorities have a platform. I’ve been involved in the Diana Initiative for the last three years now, which is a side conference at what’s lovingly known as the Hacker Summer Camp in August in Las Vegas. They do an amazing job creating a safe space focusing on diversity and inclusion, where you feel comfortable to go and learn, and be inspired by speakers at a conference that embraces all genders and sexualities. In addition, Ladies of London Hacking Society and Ladies of the North East Hacking Society are very good places to meet like minded individuals in the industry.

I also have a couple of book recommendations written by former colleagues of mine. First, Intelligence-Driven Incident Response by Rebekah Brown (and Scott J Roberts), secondly Cybersecurity Blue Team Toolkit by Nadean Tanner. Both are excellent technical books that just so happen to be written by inspirational women.


binary code, data scientist featured

Women in tech - the why, what and how of building a career in data science

binary code, data scientist

By Joanna Hu, Principal Data Scientist, Exabeam

With a growing number of organisations recognising the financial, social and cultural benefits of recruiting more women into data science, isn’t it time to explore the opportunities on offer?

Like many women who graduate with a tech degree, it took me a couple of years to figure out that data science was my niche. Thankfully, I eventually found my way and went on to forge a rewarding career in this exciting field.

With advancements like machine learning and big data now in the frame, I’ve been lucky enough to contribute to discoveries and solve real-world problems in healthcare, energy, and now – as principal data scientist at Exabeam – the cybersecurity industry.

I’m not alone in thinking that data science is a rewarding field to work in. Based on overall job satisfaction scores, the role of data scientist is ranked #7 in the Glassdoor ’25 best jobs in the UK for 2019’ listing – with an average base salary of £46K.

A long heritage

Historically, women have made a significant contribution to the evolution of computer science.  Before the invention of electronic computers, women were more prominent in the computer science field, and contributed a lot to the invention of the first electronic computers.  As well as Joan Clarke, who worked alongside Alan Turing to crack the Enigma cyphers during WW2, the other female codebreakers at Bletchley included Margaret Rock, Mavis Lever and Ruth Briggs.

More recently, there’s been trailblazers like Dame Steve Shirley, who first embarked on a technical career at the prestigious Post Office Research Station in Dollis Hill, where the Colossus codebreaking computers used at Bletchley were created. Founding her own software company in 1962, her team of female freelancers would go on to undertake many cutting-edge projects – including programming the black box flight computer used in Concorde.

Today, a new generation of women are forging their futures within the tech sector. Coming from a diversity of backgrounds, they’re making great strides in the field of data science – and many have done so without an initial background in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).

A field rich with opportunities

Make no mistake, data scientists are in high demand. A recent study found that 80 per cent of UK businesses are looking to hire a data scientist in 2019, and IBM estimates that by 2020 the demand for data scientists and analysts will leap by 28 per cent.

That said, while women represent 47 per cent of the UK workforce, they only hold around 19 percent of all available tech jobs. Clearly, it’s time to redress the balance.

That’s certainly the opinion of bodies like the Alan Turing Institute and organisations like the International Women’s Day (IWD) movement. Indeed, the IWD #BalanceforBetter 2019 campaign is making great strides in changing hearts and minds – by showcasing how women in tech are achieving impressive outcomes for themselves and others.

The good news is a growing number of companies now acknowledge there are significant gains to be won by addressing the issue of gender inequality in their tech workforces. As a result, they’re eager to hire more female data scientists. Indeed, Gartner projects that in the next three years, both women and men will equally populate the role of chief data officer (CDO).

Why companies want more women in data jobs

Research organisations like McKinsey have found that highly diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to outperform those that are not gender diverse. Alongside enhanced financial performance, reports by analysts such as Morgan Stanley, McKinsey and Gartner confirm that having more women in the tech workforce creates a more cooperative and collaborative atmosphere.

Their research findings also highlight how women are more aware of risk, which in the field of big data is a major plus. What’s more, women tend to excel at communication, team nurturing and problem-solving—all vital qualities when working in the field of data, where outcomes depend on asking the right questions, and listening to the answers.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the research findings illustrate how women are strong advocates for data-driven decisions and tend to be more solution-oriented than male counterparts.

I’m not a rocket scientist – can I make it in data science?

Absolutely. If you’re a curious person, are passionate about innovation, and have an interest in technology, then this may well be the career for you. Stephanie Glen’s recent blog – charting her life-changing journey from office cleaner to data scientist – highlights that as far as she’s concerned, a love of logic problems is the most important pre-requisite for the job.

Typically, the skill sets required include math, statistics, coding and system design. But, as a recent article in CIO magazine highlights, exacting true business value from data requires a unique combination of skills that includes storytelling and intuition.

Truth is, women with a passion for learning who want to try something new will find there’s a number of big-name tech companies out there that only too ready to help you develop the digital skills you need to embark on a career in data science. Plus, there are organisations like Girl Geeks that are proactively supporting women to enter and progress in the field.

Top tips?

If you’re already working in the tech field, or are ‘data science’ curious, then teach yourself the data science knowledge and network as much as you can.  Before deciding this was the path I wanted to commit to, I spent time talking to people about their work, went on workshops, joined weekend meetups and tried out small projects from the online courses.

These days, there are lots of resources available to women who want to make a go at it in this field. Find out about which new tools you’ll need to learn, then use your free time to hone your skills – pretty soon, you’ll become an expert.

When it comes to seeking out new job opportunities, follow good companies and people rather than high salaries. Ideally, you’ll want to work for companies that have intelligent leaders and care about their female talent. Most importantly, hunt down a great mentor and commit to continuously learning from superiors and peers.

Finally, believe in yourself and, no matter what roadblocks you face on the journey, don’t let anyone limit your potential.

Joanna HuAbout the author

Joanna has rich industrial working experience within data mining and big data analysis for healthcare institutions, energy companies, and retailers. Through her work she aims to help them identify frauds, predict risk and outcome, reduce cost, and estimate product qualities.

Joanna has a Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley, in Nanotechnology and a Ph.D. from University of Michigan in computational earth sciences. Before joining Exabeam in 2015 as a senior data scientist she worked at Ayasdi as a data scientist building and improving algorithms for client healthcare institutions to produce the best treatments for patients. Since October 2018 Joanna has been principal data scientist at Exabeam.


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2019 Cybersecurity Professionals Salary, Skills and Stress Survey | Exabeam

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The Exabeam 2019 Cybersecurity Professionals Salary, Skills and Stress report is based on a global survey of 479 security professionals.

The purpose of the survey was to gain insight on trends in the salaries of security professionals, education levels, job satisfaction and attitudes toward innovative and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

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HeForShe: Derek Lin | Chief Data Scientist, Exabeam

 

Derek Lin

Derek is a seasoned data scientist passionate in the art of building data-driven defence against cyber threats and fraud.

Derek holds numerous patents and peer-reviewed publications. He is currently the Chief Data Scientist at Exabeam, building out the data science capacity to Security Information and Event Management (SIEM). Prior to Exabeam, he was the Head of Security Data Science at Pivotal Software, leading consultation projects in data analytics for enterprise security and IT operations. He has also worked at RSA Security, architecting online banking fraud detection.

Why do you support the HeForShe campaign?

Any initiative that strives to create a level playing field, regardless of the game, should be encouraged. I have two young daughters and I see absolutely no reason why the choices they will make and the opportunities that will be open to them will be different because of their gender. Whether that’s in the classroom, on the sports team or in the workplace, I expect them to have the same opportunities as anyone else.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

The question is why not support gender equality in the workplace? There’s a reason why companies spend millions of dollars workplace diversity programmes. It’s been well reported that conforming thinking is not healthy for a company, or the teams within it. There have been numerous studies that show having more women in the workplace actually makes an organisation a better place to work. Ultimately a successful organisation needs diverse opinions and ideas – and women do add different, and valuable, perspectives on problems.

How welcome are men in the gender equality conversation currently?

Thanks to the continuing public education effort from promotion groups, organisations, and movements, I think men are in general more perceptive to gender equality conversation.

Do you think groups/networks that include the words “women in…” or “females in…” make men feel like gender equality isn’t really their problem or something they need to help with?

If groups/networks using these words make men feel like gender equality isn’t their problem, it’s all the reason we should support such groups/networks. I'm looking forward to the day when there are no reasons for groups to highlight women in particular, but until then we must continue to promote awareness of gender equality.

What can businesses do to encourage more men to feel welcome enough to get involved in the gender debate?

There are many things businesses can do to help men feel relevant, and comfortable, in these conversations. I think awareness and education are at the heart of it. One simple, but effective, idea is to tap into the large number of very successful female executives out there, and have them comes speak to your team to share ideas.

Do you currently mentor any women or have you in the past?

I am proud to say that the data science team in Exabeam that I am guiding is gender balanced, at 50-50% women to men.

Have you noticed any difference in mentoring women – for example, are women less likely to put themselves forward for jobs that are out of their comfort zones or are women less likely to identify senior roles that they would be suited for?

No, personally I haven’t. I have come across women from multiple different backgrounds with varying life experiences. Individual women do differ in their attitude to the workplace, but no more or less than men. To me each individual is unique when it comes to mentorship, regardless of gender, and take different paths to progress their growth in their organisation.