Women of Tech Meets: Fareedah - Security Awareness & Threat Intelligence Super Woman
Dressed wonderfully in bright bold colours with beautiful bold earrings, her confidence matched her outfit.
I recently caught up with Fareedah
Fareedah started our conversation by saying how happy she was to be a part of the project, and how she hopes it will contribute towards helping people to understand that there really are so many fields you can work in, in tech. “I speak to people who are in their 40’s and they’ve never gotten in to tech because they thought it was all code, projects like this help to show people that you can work in tech and be very technical, a little technical or not technical at all and still have an impact.”
Fareedah currently works in Security Awareness and Threat Intelligence, she describes her job as “creating awareness for end users who either may not know much about technology or those that do but maybe don’t follow a lot of security practices, and then threat intelligence aspect is just taking threats that are going on around the Cyber World and publishing about them - either for technical people or for people who are not technical, it’s about publishing in ways that everyone can understand.”
In addition to being employed, Fareedah has also recently set up Sekuva which is her own company where she provides Cyber Security Coaching services to clients. “I really love it! I had no idea that it was ever something that I would want to spend my time on, like all the time. When I finish work, I go home and work on my business. I spend a lot of time researching, looking into new threats, new techniques, new security practices, working on step-by-step training modules, stuff like that.”
Security Awareness is quite a unique area to be working in, how did you get into that?
“I knew from quite a young age that I wanted to be a psychologist, a teacher or something in tech. This was because my closest family members were in those fields and you know, you’re influenced by your environment growing up.
After some teaching experiences, I established that I didn’t want to go into formal teaching, and I didn’t feel like I wanted to do psychology - because it takes a lot to be able to take in people’s feelings, it’s a labour of passion, and so that left me with technology.
I didn’t have any interest in hardware, which was my dad’s domain, but he had suggested to me about Cyber Security - I’d researched the field for about 3 months and it sounded really interesting to me, so I switched my major from IT to Cyber.”
And in the long term, do you see yourself staying in the security awareness area or branching out?
“I see myself putting a lot of my energy into my business and focusing on providing value to my clients. I’m really loving cyber security awareness and education and my goal is to coach as many non-techie or digital savvy people as possible on staying secure online. Security awareness is huge and has a lot of opportunity to grow, there aren’t many people like me in the field. And I have the passion and the will to stay here and provide the representation needed for people like me.”
So, how does your business set up work, do you contract yourself out to clients where you go and work with their staff at their directive or do you provide specific services as an independent consultant?
“I take on clients in almost a consultancy or coaching like basis depending on what they need support with, I might help them one on one but it’s typically in a group coaching setting that is attached to an online course.. The idea behind what I offer is that I will coach a small business owner on the fundamentals of cyber security so that they have the knowledge and skill set to keep their business as safe and secure as possible.
It works well for me, and I’m flexible with working with individuals and families and occasionally changing somethings up depending on the support someone needs.”
What moments or achievements of yours are you particularly proud of?
“Oh my god, there are a lot of moments.
The very first was when I initially entered the field as an intern, and of course the day that they told me they were going to give me a full time job, I was quite thrilled.. I think another proud moment for me was having that first interest in my company’s services, that someone wanting to be my first client. It was such an incredible feeling - someone trusts me to do something like this, it was exciting.
I’m also really proud of just going for my dreams and doing it all afraid and imperfectly. I’ve gained a new found confidence in myself that I didn’t know I could have at this point in my life.”
Are there any challenges that you’ve faced in the workplace, especially your experience in male-dominated environments? And how did you overcome them?
“I have so many labels on me, that I often don’t know which one a person is responding to. I’m black, I’m a woman, I’m a Muslim and I wear a hijab and cover my hair, and I look way younger than I am - so I never know which part of me people are responding to.
My entire life I’ve had people nitpicking to an extent on each of those labels, that now I have become numb to it. This is me. Nowadays I often don’t realise it's happening until later on when I get home and it crosses my mind.
I don’t remember anything specifically that anyone has said to me, but there have been moments for sure. People can be so belittling and patronising.
Don’t get me wrong, things do hurt me, everyone just deals with it differently.”
Is there anything that you think is a particular deterrent towards women who may be thinking about having a career in the tech sector?
“What I have seen in my experience is that the level of gatekeeping into this sector is huge, it’s like there’s a bunch of guards saying ‘nope you can’t enter this field unless you have this and can do this’ and that deters people.
Being in a male dominated industry, male characteristics are more favoured and shape what we think the industry should look like.. It can portray the message that women are automatically subordinate or not good enough from the offset.
But I think the biggest thing I’ve seen in my experience is not accepting everyone’s talents”. I’d asked Fareedah what she had meant by this, and she elaborated; “there are abilities that people prize more than other abilities, and so people with certain abilities are viewed as more intelligent - I think it’s a normal part of our culture in general but it’s almost enhanced in the STEM field.
In some ways we’re doing ourselves a disservice with this gate keeping mentality, if you look at cyber security for example and what we’re fighting against in the broad sense, are bad people who are free to use whatever skill they have to get the job done, they don’t seem to have that same gatekeeping that we have. In my own personal opinion, it can sometimes make us slower to respond to advancements or correct and perfect processes because we’re being so restrictive and dismissive. It’s like people have to earn the right to enter the field. It’s definitely changing slowly, but we have a long way to go.”
Is there any advice that you would like to give to someone who is perhaps starting out early in their career?
"If I had to give one piece of advice, I would say have a growth mindset because without that none of your dreams are possible. Other than that, just knowing everyone is human and makes mistakes, it helps to remember that everyone has started somewhere, and do deep instead of broad networking. Get to know people and connect with them.”
What do you love the most about working in tech?
“I love proving myself wrong.
As a woman, you grow up and are put into lots of brackets of how things should be, I love proving to myself that I can do things outside of those brackets and do it well, and be happy and live the life that I want to live. It’s the best possible thing that could have happened.
For me, it’s not about proving other people wrong, but proving myself wrong, and that’s more beautiful to me.
I also love that tech is moving so quickly and that there is always something to learn. Knowledge is like shiny things to me. I’m always chasing it.”
Do you actively do any coding or programming in your job?
“No, I have done coding in the past but I didn’t feel like I could do it for hours a day. It’s a lot of fun don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t give me that spark that Security Awareness did, my heart is connected to that.”
Is there anything that you don’t like about the tech sector?
“I don’t like the expectation that everyone who works in tech is and has to be technical.
Being technical should not be the pinnacle of everyone’s skill set. I am a huge, huge advocate for everyone’s intelligence being understood as, there are different kinds of intelligence and we should respect and honour that in each other. “
Is there anything that you think employers could be doing more of to support women to want to work in the tech sector?
“Lower the gate, have guides instead of guards. Walk people in instead of warding them off.
I have been really lucky; I have had support but not everyone does. When I first got my got my full-time position, I could see myself being with my current employer for the long term, partly because they’re so supportive of me and my skills.”
Do you have any tips or tricks for women out there who may be in that process of job hunting or seeking out new opportunities?
“I have come from a slightly different route, so I’m not sure that I would be the best person to answer a question like that. One thing I would say, is that Twitter has helped me throughout my career. I have a mentor and a coach that I found through Twitter and they have helped and supported me every step of the way in my career, my business development, and with writing articles.
The internet can seem like a dark place, but there is a lot of light too, and there are a lot of people on Twitter who would be happy to help you.”
It was really great catching up with Fareedah! I wish her every success with her business and ongoing development as an individual. I personally think given the way in which tech is being integrated into nearly every aspect of our lives, knowing how to go about your business in a secure way is crucial, whether that’s in a business or personal setting, and to dedicate oneself to improving the knowledge of others in relation to that, is a very admirable and inspiring thing to do. Good luck Fareedah!
You can find Fareedah on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/CyberFareedah
You can find out Year Up, about a program that helped Fareedah get into the cyber security field here: https://www.yearup.org/