Women Changing Cybersecurity: In Conversation with Aileen Ryan
Published: 09/03/2022

Women Changing Cybersecurity: In Conversation with Aileen Ryan

  • Yasmin Duggal, Cybersecurity Content Specialist, Netacea

3 minutes read

In celebration of International Women’s Day on 8th March 2022, our Cybersecurity Sessions podcast panelist Aileen Ryan, Senior Director of Portfolio Strategy at Siemens EDA, shares her insight, wisdom and experience on being a senior woman in a male-dominated industry.

How did you get into cybersecurity?

I actually stumbled into cybersecurity. I had a career pivot in 2017 when I was approached by semiconductor startup, UltraSoC. While cybersecurity wasn’t our only industry focus, we offered the cybersecurity industry a unique offering, so we pivoted to cybersecurity and safety – preventing breaches across the automotive and aviation industry. We sold the company to Siemens, and I’ve worked with the company now for 18-20 months.

What does your day to day look like as Senior Director of Portfolio Strategy at Siemens EDA?

Our technology is a silicon design – which means it sits in the silicon layer of the hardware – and responds super fast to detect anomalies. My role is to link with all the other teams and infiltrate all product divisions to deliver our ‘defense in depth’ strategy.

When you’re dealing with automotives and aviation, nanoseconds make all the difference. The threat landscape is changing so rapidly and the lead time on manufacturing transport means you have to add every weapon to your arsenal now to mitigate as much future risk as possible.

So, you said you stumbled into cybersecurity, do you have a technical background?

I went to university to study electrical engineering in 1987, which happened to be the year of women in engineering in Ireland; there was a government initiative to encourage female students into the subject. Out of 120 students in my class, 12 were women, which was an increase of 8% from the previous year. It’s bittersweet though, because unfortunately after my year, the percentage of females on my course dropped back down to 2%.

After my undergrad degree, I studied for a Master’s in computer science, then moved into engineering roles at phone companies Motorola and Huawei. From there, I progressed from doing the engineering myself to managing engineers, to later working on the operational side, before I was approached by the startup in 2017.

Do you think it was that government initiative that pushed you to pursue engineering?

I think it was a mixture of that and stubbornness [laughs]. My talent lay in math and physics, so I always knew I’d go down that route, but as for engineering specifically it was probably the spotlight on women in engineering that made me choose that path. I wanted to go to the best university in Ireland for electrical engineering, and I remember my careers advisor asking me what my second choice was, and I responded with, “I don’t have one”. He asked what I’d do if I didn’t get the points to get into that course at that university, and I stubbornly replied, “I’ll get the points”. I’d backed myself into a corner, so I had to see it through then!

How have you been involved in encouraging more women into cybersecurity and celebrating female success in the industry?

Siemens has been really supportive in me becoming part of the Women’s Leadership Initiative of the Global Semiconductor Alliance (GSA). The alliance ran an award called the Female Up and Comer Award, and I wanted to put forward a young woman from my own team, but we knew we needed to look across the hundreds of thousands of employees at Siemens. I ran an internal competition to pick our candidate, and when I asked the CEO to be involved, I received a huge response in the end. He thought it was a great idea that as a business we sponsor the Women’s Initiative. It did a lot for female representation in the business; the candidates have since been featured in the team newsletter, and we’ve shone a spotlight on females in the business who might not have otherwise been recognized.

Listen to the full conversation with Aileen Ryan, Uma Rajagopal (Amazon) and Paulina Cakalli (Netacea) in the Cybersecurity Sessions #5: The Women Changing Cybersecurity. Available now on Spotify, Google, Apple, Pocket Casts and YouTube.

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