Inspirational Woman: Amira Bouguera | Cryptographer & security engineer, ConsenSys

 

Amira Bouguera

Amira is a Cryptographer and security engineer at ConsenSys.

She co-founded the HellHound project, which allows developers to implement privacy by design in dApps.

Amira is at the center of the movement to create awareness about the value of privacy, put us in charge of our digital private data, and promote blockchain technology amongst enterprises and governments.

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

I am a cryptographer and security engineer at ConsenSys. I co-founded the HellHound project, which allows developers to implement privacy by design in dApps (decentralized applications). I’m also at the centre of the movement to create awareness about the value of privacy, to put us in charge of our digital private data, and promote blockchain technology amongst enterprises and governments.

I graduated from engineering school and specialised in cryptography and cybersecurity, and I hold a Master’s degree in applied math.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Several times actually. When I was little, I was always interested in problem solving and math, I just wasn’t aware of all of the career possibilities available for those who are passionate about math. I had a lot of ideas, but young people do not always receive a lot of guidance or information on the types of careers that are available in math and in the exciting area of technology. However, I always knew that I wanted to develop my own project and work in an international environment. My advice for young people is that it’s OK if you don’t know what you want to do later in life, and it’s important to experiment and follow your dreams. Even at university, it’s OK not to plan everything ahead, but if you are ambitious, determined and work hard you can succeed in whatever you want to do. I believe that in pursuing their career paths, women can achieve their goals. Traditional ideas are just an obstacle in the mind, and women are not obliged to follow them. I have always dreamed about the future and wanted to be independent in my career path. Your professional dreams can come true if you work hard to achieve them.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, I have faced a few challenges. For example. I realized I had to study abroad because, in my home country, the options were limited for studying the subjects I was interested in such as math and cryptography. Therefore, I knew I had to travel to learn more in these fields. To explore new opportunities and to follow my dreams, I had to study away from my family and that was one of the hardest challenges for me.

Several people tried to discourage me and one example was a math professor, but I listened to my heart and trusted my capabilities to succeed. I was fortunate to be surrounded by those who supported me, and especially my parents. During my studies, I had to prove that I was good at what I do. On occasion, I still face that challenge today at conferences. I enjoy working with men and most of them respect me and my expertise. However, there are some men who can underestimate me at the beginning until they develop trust and see that I have the skills in my field. I find that as women, we sometimes have to work even harder to prove ourselves.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

During my studies, I helped teach others and I have always been open and willing to answer questions and provide guidance or advice to others. I have not yet had the chance to mentor someone in a formal way and I would love the opportunity to be able to do that.

My parents and several others in my network have been helpful and supportive to me. My mother and father have been inspirational and great mentors, always encouraging me to not give up and to follow my dreams.

What do you want to see happen within the next five years when it comes to diversity?

What I see and what excites me in the blockchain field are people from different backgrounds, cultures, races, and genders working and collaborating together and it’s so positive. I would like to see even more of that in the coming years. Decentralized organizations allow the flexibility for people to work when they are most productive, from wherever they are located, and even though the collaborators are not in the same place, they can all work together on their projects. I would like to see more inclusive collaboration not only within ConsenSys but also in other organizations.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

Organisations should not put barriers to women at any stage of their career. There should not only be more encouragement for women to advance in their career, but also the flexibility to enable women to achieve a work-life balance. There are also inequalities in the workplace that need to be addressed. For example, it’s frustrating as a woman when you have the same skills and work experience as a man, and yet you face pay gaps based on your gender.

How would you encourage more girls and women into STEM?

Math and technology are beautiful fields, they are not scary, these are areas where everyone can excel. Girls and women should not be intimidated and think that these fields are only for men. When women want something, we can achieve it! Many successful women are professors and engineers and have fantastic and stimulating careers. My advice is not to listen to others with traditional views and to those who are negative and who tell you that you cannot do something, or that you are not good enough. If you really want something and work hard, you can achieve it. Having a vision of what you want to achieve for yourself, combined with hard work and determination are the most important things you need to reach your goals. You can achieve a lot by following your dreams!

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I’m proud that my career is on the right path. My project HellHound is advancing well and it’s one of my biggest achievements so far.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My goal is to make HellHound successful and to make it used by every dApp in the world. HellHound is a blind computation platform that allows developers to use cryptography tools to achieve privacy by design in their applications. I want to not only educate people on the importance of privacy and the right to keep your data private but also help make privacy by design used in every application.  If we can achieve this, that would be great!


Jennifer Cox featured

Inspirational Woman: Jennifer Cox | Security Engineer, Tenable

Jennifer Cox, TenableJennifer Cox is a Security Engineer at Tenable, a global leader in Vulnerability Management.

After studying Theatre Studies and Media Production, she began working in an admin role at a tech company based in south-east Ireland. Here, she started to learn the various tools of the trade and skillsets that enabled her to progress to a tech support role handling retail, payroll, and accounting software. After working there for 11 years, Jennifer sought a new challenge and joined Tenable in 2016 where she has achieved several promotions and awards, including PCR Top 25 Women in Tech in 2019 and 2020. She now works to empower organisations in the private and public sectors in EMEA towards best practices in Cyber Security, Risk Prevention, and Exposure Awareness. She is also an active member of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, is an advisory board member of the Leaders in Tech Ireland, Women in Technology and Science Ireland, and works hard to ensure diversity and inclusion within her industry. Jennifer is an accomplished and results-oriented individual with a strong track record of over-achieving on her goals. She loves the fact that the technology industry changes so quickly, so it’s impossible to get bored.

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

I’m from Wexford, in the Republic of Ireland, and I’m a mum to four wonderful boys.

I’ve worked in the tech space for 15 years now and currently I’m a Security Engineer with Tenable. Day to day I’m responsible for working with our existing customer base in Europe, supporting best practices in network security and helping to reduce their cyber risk.

A lot of the working day itself is taken up with scheduled calls with our existing customer base as well as with newer clients. We discuss their overall needs and aspirations regarding cybersecurity and, ultimately, my role is to utilise our products, our resources, and our team’s knowledge to enable the client to achieve all goals and confidently move forward regardless of what individual circumstance or bespoke requirements they might have.

Beyond that, I’m involved in a number of external opportunities. For example, I’m lucky enough to be an advisory board member of the Leaders in Tech Ireland, WITS Ireland (Women in Technology and Science Ireland). I’m also  involved in a number of projects that work to ensure diversity and inclusion within the cybersecurity industry, such as judging the Coolest Projects event for kids in the Royal Dublin Society. In 2019, I was invited to speak at the Women in Tech conference in the Convention Centre in Dublin in front of an audience of 1200. I’ve also launched a mentoring project in Tenable and my door is always open to anyone looking for some advice, guidance or just an ear to bend.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I wouldn’t say that I sat down and planned to have a career in tech - in fact, it was quite the opposite. My parents always thought I should teach and, at school, my guidance counsellor said that I should be an IT teacher. At the time, I was hopeful that I’d be pushed towards something more ‘exciting’ so I chose to ignore the advice given to me, as any teenager would, and went to college to pursue Theatre Studies and Media Production. Then Psychology. Eventually, I found myself back in the IT sector.

Tech has always been something that interested me and something that I’ve been good at. I’m actually really lucky that I have a career doing something that genuinely interests me and that I love.

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

I think one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is gender prejudice - there is no point in sugar-coating it. I have had comments made in meetings, with customers and privately, that extend to my intelligence, my capabilities, my priorities and experience. In previous roles, before Tenable I hasten to add, I experienced people assuming I was attending a meeting to take notes. I’ve even had it suggested that I wouldn’t be capable of handling bigger challenges as I might become emotional. Sadly, I also had it implied that my commitment was questionable when I was pregnant with the boys.

It’s probably unconventional but it just made me strive to be my best me, so I could prove the doubters wrong. Thankfully, with Tenable, I have learned that my ability to do the job is all that counts. If I earn a promotion, then it’s mine for the taking. That was quite the mentality adjustment. I’ve been promoted four times since I started at Tenable and I plan to continue that trajectory for now.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Last year I was invited to talk at the Women In Tech conference in Dublin. I thought I’d be in a room with 50 or so people if I was lucky. However, my talktrack was so popular that I was moved to the larger auditorium with 1200 people all listening to my presentation. That was pretty awesome. I’ve been featured on a few Tech Podcasts including a Women in Tech special with the Irish Independent Newspaper and the Women in Security Podcast with Lifen Tan. Every time I reach a new goal, I plan for the next one.

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

Telling me that I couldn’t do something was a sure-fire way of making sure that I achieved it - so thank you to all the nay-sayers over the years. I’d say I’m quite a determined person and when I set my sights on something then that’s what I’m going to do. With each promotion I’ve had at Tenable, I immediately start looking at the next step and working towards that - striving to be better, and do better, every day.

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

To anyone considering a career in the tech industry, particularly cybersecurity, I’d say take the leap and push hard. Set clear goals for the short and long term and push beyond them. If you want to be a developer, analyst, systems engineer, whatever it is, plan your path and do everything you need to and then some. The main thing is, consider NO limits.

When considering a tech qualification, know that by choosing a path that seems specific, it doesn’t necessarily rule out other directions. Ever since I joined Tenable, my own career has taken so many turns — all of them good — that it’s hard for me to keep track.

For older people who may be thinking it’s too late to do it: No, it’s not. Take a part-time course, go back to college, study with your kids. Believe in your own capability and take that first step. You’ll never regret the journey.

Personally, I also make a point of periodically reviewing my achievements - to measure myself on what I've done this year and how I can do better next year. I plan, I create goals, I agree to do things that push me outside of my comfort zone and I one-up on the last year.

I would also encourage anyone even thinking about getting into the sector to get in touch with someone in the field to act as a mentor - and that could even be me. It’s really important to have that support at the early stage of your career to help you understand, develop and grow.

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

There are still a ton of micro-inequalities that everyone partakes in every single day, often without realising it - and this isn’t isolated to working in technology. So, when we get to the point at which this doesn’t happen anymore then we will have truly cracked it.

As women working in tech — and this is also true for any industry — it’s important to know your worth. I can't stress this enough, and I’m not talking about financial recompensation. It’s about knowing your tolerance level - what are you willing to accept? In your work, in your colleagues’ behaviour, in your company's behaviour and don't accept an inch less than that. Where you see inequality, don’t be afraid to call it out and work with management and co-workers to be the force for change.

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

I think they can acknowledge the valuable contribution women have to offer.

If we truly want to have a more diverse workforce, then we need to widen our thinking. We need to be imaginative in facilitating the workforce (and potential workforce) we have at this very minute. So much can be done right away regarding re-skilling, up-skilling, encouraging back to work and mentoring that, if we’re serious about getting more women into tech, we all need to start considering and implementing.

There is currently only 17% 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 actually think that there is a lot being done already. Could there be more, yes, but everything has to start somewhere. The biggest thing for me is showing what a career in tech has to offer - and the exciting world of cybersecurity in particular.

As I don’t have a magic wand, and things aren’t going to change overnight, medium and long-term routes to getting more women into tech, and positively adjusting the balance within the industry, involves encouragement and engagement from primary school right through to university.

Another thing is Coder Dojos — programming workshops aimed at young people — these were gaining in popularity, and post-pandemic that will continue. In the meantime, these events are being run online so take advantage of them while geography is not a barrier. As a parent myself, I can heartily recommend getting kids involved if the opportunity presents itself. Let them see what can be done. I truly believe that even just minimal exposure to these capabilities at a young age can be enough to gain that interest.

But that doesn’t mean that adults are exempt. If you’ve an interest in technology, there are numerous courses and books that can get you started. Don’t be afraid to take the part-time course, go back to college, study with your kids. Believe in your own capability and take that first step. You’ll never regret the journey.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I’d start with anything that works on stress relief and self-confidence. I like to listen to mindfulness apps when I find my motivation slipping but on the opposite side of that I schedule, schedule, schedule. My day and evenings are all blocked off so that I’m constantly busy but if I need time-out I schedule that too. Funny, I know but it works for me.

I also love the podcast ‘Darknet Diaries’ because it makes the security aspect of technology sound so much more exciting — so even if you’re at the beginning of your journey you’ll find this interesting. I attend networking events wherever possible. Especially when there are workshops rather than speakers because they are more involved and if you are nervous or shy, it’s a lot easier to break the ice when everyone is uncomfortable. Obviously there are fewer events now and video call exhaustion means that I, like just about everyone now, attend fewer events than I would have online prior to the pandemic.  Leaders in Tech offer great sessions regularly and my favourite event is of course the Women in Tech Event in the CCD annually. There is nothing quite like the solidarity of it.


WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here