Inspirational Woman: Christine Bejerasco | Chief Technology Officer, WithSecure

Meet Christine Bejerasco, Chief Technology Officer at WithSecure

Christine Bejerasco

Christine Bejerasco has been in the cybersecurity industry for 19 years. Christine has worked in various capacities during these times, from analysing threats, to building protection capabilities, to leading teams to effectively deliver these capabilities. Today, as the Chief Technology Officer of WithSecure, she looks at the intersection of threats, technologies and user-behaviour to build future-proof cyber security solutions.

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

I’ve been working in cyber security for 19 years, and 14 years of that has been at WithSecure™. I started out as an antivirus engineer, analysing threats and building detection and clean-up tools during the time when file infectors were still prevalent. I eventually shifted to focus on web security upon realizing that more threats have been using the web as an infection vector. All throughout my career, I have built protection capabilities, designed systems to operationalize protection, led and trained teams to continuously improve protection capabilities and racked up wins in defeating cyber threats.

Last year was one of the most significant in my career, when I was appointed Chief Technology Officer at WithSecure™. Now I’m at the forefront of driving the technological innovation that has made WithSecure™ a global leader in cyber security.

Today, I lead a team of experts that also have decades of experience under their belt, and we are providing space for the exploration of technologies related to the convergence of hardware and software, continuous cybersecurity education and security of AI. We are looking into how technology, threats and user behaviour is evolving to see what cybersecurity capabilities would make sense in the future.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Back in 2003 when I graduated in Computer Science from the University of the Philippines, I spent some time considering my options. There were a lot of entry-level coding and tech support positions that would have been steady work, but these roles didn’t light the fire for me. Then a friend tipped me off about an opening for an antivirus engineer. The idea of protecting networks and overcoming challenges really struck a chord and cybersecurity has been my path ever since.

My journey has been largely shaped by the changes in the IT world, and my own skills and experience have increased. For example, I shifted from combatting risks like drive-by-downloads to developing automated tools for identifying compromised websites as web 2.0 picked up steam.

In general, I like the combination of technical, inspirational, and bringing people together. As such, technical leadership slowly became a natural path for me, as well as educating various audiences related to cybersecurity.

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

Earlier in my career, I certainly faced some negative bias as a woman in technology. There was one notable experience where I was hired with a lower salary than my male counterpart, despite working in the same role and having similar backgrounds and experience levels.

At the time I chalked it up to my experience level and didn’t act on it, but today I’d definitely raise it as an issue. Happily, in this case, my salary was adjusted to match my male counterpart once my managers saw my skills in action. However, it’s not always the same case for every woman in the security industry. I feel like there are still a lot of challenges for women in tech. Although we’ve come a long way and the industry’s work culture is becoming more inclusive, there’s still a lot of progress to be made in terms of greater representation in leadership roles and support for women joining the industry.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I am most proud of what we have done in the Tactical Defence Unit (TacDef) when I was leading the unit in 2019-2021. In an organisation that built many different products that relied on common services, there was much firefighting and things falling between the cracks when I started. As TacDef serves four different business units within the organisation, the stakeholders were unhappy about the performance and employee morale (as measured by NPS) was low. Upon getting the head position of the unit, I knew that I had to make changes. Turning firefighting into continuous operations that include a high level of automation using tools that the organisation already had, has been a delight. Harvesting data from operations and making that visible to stakeholders also made it easy for them to understand what they are paying for.

One of the best parts is also seeing people’s potential manifest. Raising new leaders who started out not knowing what stakeholders mean, to those who have strong ownership of their areas and live and breathe continuous improvement has been a highlight. We rose above the firefighting and after a year we had products winning awards, employee morale is higher, and the naysayers who thought the organisation became too structured have seen very clear data on what we have been doing and where the progress lies. The unit got back the trust of the stakeholders.

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

The drive to continuously learn and to be outside of my comfort zone. In the areas that I get into, I may not be the smartest, but I am one of the most open to learning new things. I don’t believe I have all the answers, but I can absorb concepts quite quickly and relate them with each other and with previous knowledge. I also try to put myself in situations when I am uncomfortable and would need to stretch myself, which means that I may not always be in my element at the beginning, but once I learn the ropes, I have a wider range of experience to draw from that I can use in my work.

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

I think it’s important to seize any opportunities that come your way. For example, if a job opening comes up and you think you meet only half the listed job requirements, throw your hat in the ring anyway. A lot of technical jobs require exams to test capabilities, so you might find you impress the employer and come out on top.

I also believe it’s important to do something you feel passionate about – it can make a real difference in how you approach your job and the results you achieve. It was the idea of defeating bad guys that drew me to cyber security, and that’s still a big motivator for me today.

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

Tech is still a very male-dominated field, especially when it comes to particular niche areas like cyber security. There is still a tendency for women to have to prove their worth before being accepted at the same level as a man. In my experience at least, it’s often unconscious bias – the men are usually well-meaning and don’t intentionally set out to discriminate and keep women out of the field.

Overall, I think the experience of women in tech has become more positive, and this trend should continue.

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

Many companies inadvertently retain prejudices toward hiring and promoting women, just because that’s the structure they’ve always had. I think it’s important to take a step back and try to identify any areas that might lead to bias against women.

Women like myself in leadership roles also have a big part to play. The presence of a supportive mentor can make a huge difference in helping women feel more comfortable in a male-dominated environment and enable them to develop and demonstrate their skills.

There are currently only 21 per cent 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?

It’s slowly becoming easier for women to gain acceptance and keep pace with men, but we still need more ‘grass roots’ activity to encourage young women to enter the tech fields. I think educating girls at school age would make a big difference, especially when they are at that crucial point in deciding their career paths. We need to show them that tech can be an exciting and rewarding field they can excel in.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

  • BrightTALK – for online talks and updates.
  • Feedly – for cybersecurity news and updates. This will lead you to different websites with technical writeups that you can use for learning.
  • Wired Magazine – for comprehensive writeups on up-and-coming technologies.