Women of Tech Meets: Dana - a Security Software Engineer
A very talented lady who has gone from strength to strength on her journey of discovery and knowledge. Currently working at Microsoft on the Windows Defender ATP Team, who knows what her future will hold.
Today I met with Dana, a beautifully enthusiastic Software Engineer with a very unique story.
Dana’s career as a Security Software Engineer began in the Israel Defence Forces. She was selected to join an elite cyber intelligence unit (“8200”) as a Data Scientist, researching cellular and data network topography. She was rapidly promoted, then leading the Data Science training program with direct command over a team of instructors and 25 students, proudly earning her an award for Ground-breaking Achievements in the Intelligence Community.
After her three years of service, Dana joined an exciting start-up company as a Data Scientist, researching big data to identify social network opinion leaders within clients datasets. These experiences sparked her curiosity about the origins of data in communication networks, and inspired her to dive deeper into the computers’ stack.
Dana enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, studying towards a Computer Science degree with a concentration on Operating Systems. Dana was fortunate to be able to apply her academic skills to real-world problems through internships with Google, developing tools for YouTube from their Zurich HQ, and Microsoft, where she developed the Xbox store recommendation system. In addition, Dana was active in the Jerusalem start-up ecosystem, co-founding several Hackathons - DataHack and HUJI.
For the last three years, Dana has been working at Microsoft on the Windows Defender ATP team; researching and investigating Operating System threats and vulnerabilities, developing detections in their post-breach security product. “I felt like this was the right place for me, I really liked to be lower in the stack and working on the Windows Operating System was a great fit for me, it was exactly what I was looking for. I love the combination of working on the Operating System and Security.”
Dana describes her work as “Modifying the Windows Operating System to send telemetry to the cloud, and developing rule-based cloud detection algorithms, which for example has resulted in over 10,000 alerts on enterprise targeted cyber-attacks in the last 6 months.” She has presented her work at conferences around the world, including BlueHat, Grace Hopper and BlackHoodie.
Dana’s passion for Computer Science extends into her personal life, where she has volunteered to teach Cyber Security to high school students, and mentored young women persuing STEM education and careers.
What was it for you that sparked your interest in tech?
“My first time learning about computer science was in High School, in Israel you choose your majors quite young, and I had no idea what to choose when I was 16. I went to a presentation day to learn about the different options - I went to look at all of them to try and understand. When I was on my way out the Principal said to me ‘Dana I saw you looking at the computer science class, are you interested in computer science’ and I said ‘maybe, I am feeling quite confused, what do you think?’ and she said ‘oh, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you, because you’re a girl and it’s a boys class’ - so I did it. It was the best gift I could get, I am thankful for that teacher.”
You have achieved some incredible things already, so I am interested to know what your long term goals are?
“In the next few years I can definitely see myself working towards being an expert in my domain. I am a very technical person, and I want to enhance my technical skills. I would like to be a thought leader in the security community”
In terms of day to day in the workplace, what coding languages are you using frequently?
“Around 50% of the time I am coding in languages like C, C++, the rest of the time it is in languages like SQL, C#. I work on several environments as I have to investigate the operating system on one hand and developing my own detections as well.”
Are there any particular challenges you feel you face in the workplace?
“It can be challenging sometimes to find friends, especially female friends - I am the only woman in my team, which is fine, I get on well with my team but do sometimes miss the social environment of having more women around me.”
Is there anything that you think employers could be doing more of to make themselves more inclusive of women in the workplace?
“In the Security and Operating Systems domain, it can be an intimidating field just to get into, it does take time and you have to undertake a lot of training to get there.
If there is a way for employers to make it more accessible and reachable to women then that would be a good start to having more women work with us. Reach out to women, hold workshops.
I volunteer for some programmes that help women to learn about Cyber Security and Reverse Engineering so I can see the difference it makes giving people that support."
How do you keep on top of learning about new technologies or new ways of doing things?
“I am constantly learning, I immerse myself in books, read blogs, tweets, watch videos - YouTube. I am learning new things on a daily basis and enjoy immersing myself in the tech community."
Is there any advice that you’d like to give to someone who may be just starting out on their journey in tech?
“Be curious. Don’t be afraid to pursue more knowledge and the understanding of more technical skills. It can be easy to give up, but you can pursue this knowledge and get better.
Be brave enough to ask for help.”
What do you love the most about working in tech?
“That I have no idea what my next day is going to look like, every day is an adventure, every day I investigate something new, a new attack - people can be very creative.” Dana says, laughing. “New attacks that I am investigating are very creative and I get to learn a lot, every day.”
Was there anything in particular that drew you to your current employer?
“The projects - I find it very powerful to work on Windows and know that my code is basically everywhere, It feels very impactful.”
It was so amazing speaking with Dana, hearing about her incredible journey and accomplishments so far. This lady will go on to achieve great things. Best of luck to you Dana.