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Tia would agree that it can be a challenge to find diverse talent in the cybersecurity space. She has noticed that the number of diverse candidates is typically limited. When Tia evaluates job applicants, her focus is on what an individual can do, is capable of learning, and what they are passionate about more so than the letters that come after their name. She believes that the apprenticeship model will work in the cyber security field because learning by doing is an effective way to learn how to apply theoretical knowledge in real life situations. An apprenticeship can go a long way in driving a candidates confidence and helping them understand what concepts are important to learn. To retain diverse staff, specifically in technical roles, it is important to keep employees aware of their contributions to the organization. People are also looking to be challenged and get feedback on their performance. Furthermore companies need to have policies in place to make individuals with diverse backgrounds feel welcomed and supported in the workplace.
Tia Hopkins is the VP of Global Solutions Engineering at eSentire and an Adjunct Professor in Cybersecurity at Yeshiva University. She founded Empow(H)er Cybersecurity, an inclusive organization focused on diversifying the cybersecurity talent pipeline by empowering, mentoring, educating, and providing career guidance and opportunities for women of color. Tia is a technology sales engineering leader with a strong technical background and proven track record for implementing and supporting a wide range of technology solutions. She is especially interested in cybersecurity as it relates to the human factor and how basic human nature largely contributes to the success of social engineering.
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Welcome back to the SnackWalls podcast. I'm Mike Roberts, your host, and we're here to talk about increasing and maintaining diversity in tech, beyond the perks. While companies think they can lure people in with unlimited PTO and dogs in the office. We're here to talk about how you keep them.
All right. I'm gonna throw it over special guest today in a few sentences. Can you tell us who you are and what it is that you do?
Tia Hopkins (00:28):
Yeah, sure. Um, my name is Tia Hopkins. I am the VP of global solutions engineering at eSentire. We're a cyber security organization. Uh, we basically, uh, provide SOCs as a service, services for our customers. So we hunt for threats, uh, on behalf of our customers. And, uh, I am also the founder of Empower Cybersecurity, which is a nonprofit organization I've just launched, uh, aimed at empowering women of color to be successful in the cyber security space.
Nice, cyber security is something that a lot of people are talking about. And, um, so I'd love to get your thoughts on some of these questions. Um, from my perspective, it's also an area that I don't have that much experience. I've been writing software for like 32 years. And I always think, you know, cyber security, is just a very different thing. It's not the same. So, um, let's just kick things off. I'm hearing from some leaders in tech that finding diverse talent is a challenge. What are your thoughts?
Tia Hopkins (01:21):
Yeah, I agree with it. Uh, I really try hard to, to build a diverse team. Uh, I think the challenge for me given that I'm a pre-sales engineering leader, that role in and of itself is a bit underrepresented in the tech space. So then when I take that a layer deeper and try to diversify the talent pool is just extremely, uh, limited in my last round of hiring, I've probably looked at a hundred resumes and I think two of them were women. So it's definitely challenging.
Wow. So what do you think contributes to that? Do you think it's a, the resumes are getting screened off? Um, or do you think it's a situation where just, just not enough people applying
Tia Hopkins (02:04):
For me specifically there, there's not enough people applying because in my case, the resumes don't get filtered before they come to me. I actually filter them and I filter based on experience. Honestly, I tend not to look at the name or just look at, you know, how much of a fit do I think this, uh, this individual is. And I think though that the limited number of applications is due to some, um, candidates self-selecting out, uh, maybe too early based on what they see in the job description. And, and, you know, that can be a result of maybe too much being in the job description or just kind of some of it's imposter syndrome. Maybe I can't do this job and there's just a lot that plays into it, I think.
Wow. So let me ask you this. What do you think about the push to remove the requirement for CS degrees for many of these types of software engineering roles?
Tia Hopkins (02:56):
I mean, I'll speak to degrees in general as it relates to any technology role. I think in my experience, so I have two master's degrees in cybersecurity and I learned much more by doing, um, theory is great. You have to understand how things work in a perfect world. Uh, but I think the missing piece in, in some, uh, degree programs is that element of, of teaching critical thinking, which is really what makes you successful in a role like that. So with it being a requirement, I see it more as a, I don't want to dilute it and say a nice to have, but I think a requirement, uh, is pretty strong because I'm more focused on what an individual can do is, capable of learning and their passion. Um, more so than I am, um, you know, alphabet soup letters, behind names, degrees, things like that.
Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. A lot of folks are, are with you on that. A lot of organizations are still like, Nope, got to have it, but I think it's, it's, uh, it's amazing to see how many large organizations are coming out and saying, it's just one piece of what we're looking at, but we're trying to evaluate candidates on a whole, whole variety of skills. So what do you think about the, uh, apprenticeship pattern for, for tech roles or for cybersecurity roles?
Tia Hopkins (04:12):
I mean, I think it's great, like I said, I learned by doing, and so on the one hand you have all this information that you can feed an individual, they can learn it, process it, articulate it back to you, but what's important is being able to apply it. And you don't know what you don't know. You don't know what real world problems you're going to have to solve until you're faced with them. So I think apprenticeship go a long way in driving confidence, um, creating more curiosity because when an individual's trying to land a job, and they're just looking at this wide world of information out there in front of them, it's hard to decide what to latch onto what to dig into, uh, you know, what to research more, but if you're in a real world situation and you have guidance, that's an important part of apprenticeship as well. It's just not, Hey, go do these things. Uh, you have some guidance, you know, what to pay attention to, and you start to achieve some success on your own. And then your guide is there to validate you. And that I think propels individuals forward. So, I mean, I think it's, uh, uh, would be a fantastic approach.
Nice, alright, go do it.
Tia Hopkins (05:18):
I'm working on it.
So, um, what advice would you share with companies that are looking to retain diverse talent? So let's say you get that, you know, you get that talent in, how do you make sure they stay?
Tia Hopkins (05:31):
Uh, I think I'll speak to this from a perspective of myself. What makes me stay in organizations? I like to feel valued. Uh, and I think that in technical roles specifically, you find a lot of individuals that are high performers. They, they like to know the value that they're adding. They like to know, um, what piece of the puzzle they're contributing to. So it starts there with them understanding that they do have a critical role, making sure they understand how valuable their contribution is, but then also they need to be challenged. They can't just come in every day and do the same thing over and over and over again, you know, that's only gonna last so long, the excitement of a new job and a new opportunity only lasts for so long. And if you're not challenged, it becomes old, uh, very quick. So I would say that from a performance perspective and feedback is incredible.
Tia Hopkins (06:21):
Just having someone constantly wondering how they're doing is, is uncomfortable. Uh, but then on the other side of that, when it comes to diversity, just making sure that policies that are in place in the organization and the support systems, et cetera, uh, make an individual with a diverse background, feel welcome and supported within the organization because sometimes things can be off putting to an individual that a company hasn't even thought about. So part of the effort in, uh, recruiting and retaining more diverse talent sure it's about knowing where to find the talent and, you know, taking a, a deeper look at diverse talent, but also making sure your company is ready, uh, for diversity, uh, in terms of the support available to, to, to this pool.
Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of folks go off with a great plan in mind, um, with a little bit of experience, uh, then they sort of realize that they're having to keep going back out and they're having to keep finding folks cause they don't stay. And then they sort of shift their attention to this second half, which is how do you create an inclusive environment so that when people do come into the organization, they want to be there, they can bring their full selves, um, to your point, they're going to have that feeling like they're a part of the team and they have a career path, they have a journey, they're getting some feedback and they're really valued as being part of the organization and not just tolerate it, which is what it feels like. Sometimes
Tia Hopkins (07:47):
I can relate. Yes.
So, um, who's someone like yourself that you think would like to be, you'd like to acknowledge and think would be a great guest on a podcast like this.
Tia Hopkins (07:58):
Um, there are so, so, so many, uh, fantastic individuals out there. If I think about, you know, and I'm shifting my focus to, to women of color, uh, of course, but I just think about, uh, uh, the amazing individuals that are doing so much in this space, but I think one that sort of bubbles up, uh, top of mind for me is probably Keirsten Brager. Um, have you spoken with that with Keirsten?
I have not. So that is she's now on the radar. If we can get her on the program and find out what's going on. All right. So final and most important actually, before we do that before you the most important question, I want to hear more about what you're doing in your company. So, um, where can we find out more information? Tell us a little bit more about like what you, what you got going on.
Tia Hopkins (08:44):
Uh, so for my day job, uh, esentire.com. You know, that's where you, you can find us, uh, we are pretty much the leader in the space where the creator of the space. So the, the actual space managed detection and response. So it's really an evolution of managed security services where historically organizations are dealing with alert, fatigue, and just, you know, chasing down false positives, et cetera. And we are taking the complexity out of that. So that's, uh, eSentire.com and then my nonprofit that is empowhercyber.org, and so that is my version of, of creating this, uh, you know, apprenticeship type environment. But, you know, it's not just about, uh, the technical skills. It's, uh, it's more about the individual and the confidence and what we find in a lot of women, especially women of color is the competence is there. Uh, but often the confidence is missing. And the unfortunate thing is that sometimes confidence can be mistaken for competence. And so we are looking to drive more confidence in these women that, you know, they can be successful, they can have a voice, they do have a seat at the table. So we're doing that through mentorship, um, educational programs, uh, professional development programs. And so, um, you know, the goal is to diversify or, or paint the pipeline, as we say.
Nice paint the pipeline. I haven't heard that before. That's good. I like that. Um, awesome. All right. So here we go. Tough question, but I think you're up for it. What have you been snacking on lately? What's your favorite snack?
Tia Hopkins (10:19):
Oh, man. It's just makes me feel so boring. I'm actually not much of a snacker, but when I do, when I've just gone all day without eating and I need to grab something, it's a, it's a Snickers bar.
Ooh, Snickers is good though. I like that Snickers was really like, I wasn't a big candy eater when I was young. Now I got all kinds of, you know, issues. So I'm not supposed to be eating sugar. Um, so I can't really eat Snickers bars now, but they were my favorite. There are a few other ones that I would like, you know, thats tasty, but the Snickers was the, that was the jam. If mom said, okay, you can have one, pick one. It was always Snickers. Yeah.
Tia Hopkins (10:58):
I never really got much of a sweets eater. I don't really do desserts or anything like that. But the, when I, when I do have a sweet tooth, that's, that's it. I don't even have to think about it.
Yeah. That's a good one. Awesome. Well, thanks again Tia for coming on program. This has been a wealth of knowledge you've shared and just a small bit of time. So thank you once again. Thanks for having me.
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