April 4, 2024

Career Spotlight: Sandra Liu from 'Cybersecurity With Sandra'

Meet Sandra Liu, a cybersecurity content creator and influencer, and learn more about her journey, how she found herself in the cybersecurity world, and what she’s doing now to help others forge a career path in this space.

Cybersecurity content creator and influencer Sandra Liu shares her journey, how she found herself in the cybersecurity world, and what (and why) she’s doing now to help others forge a career path in this space. Thank you Sandra for taking the time to share your story and insights with us, and for all you’re doing to inspire and support the next generation of cybersecurity leaders!

To learn more about and from Sandra, visit her YouTube channel here, where she shares tips and resources on navigating careers in tech and cybersecurity. Happy learning!

1 ) What inspired you to pursue a career in cybersecurity, and what challenges did you encounter along the way?

When choosing my college major, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do and switched majors a few times before landing on Information Science & Technology (IST). I ended up really liking the classes in my major and took a few network security and digital forensics courses which was my first encounter with cybersecurity concepts. In my senior year, I attended a women in tech conference that led to an opportunity to join a cybersecurity rotational program after graduating. I was a bit unsure about what career path to choose but cybersecurity sounded the most interesting and that was one of the biggest reasons I decided on this career path. The biggest challenge was that I didn’t come from a cybersecurity background, but more of an IT background, so what I learned on the job was brand new to me compared to my other peers. I worked extra hard to catch up on different concepts and studied for a cybersecurity certification while working, which really helped bridge that knowledge gap. I was also a first-gen college student so I was just learning everything as I went from the interviewing process, negotiations, even just understanding what employers were looking for on your resume. I’m really grateful to have had supportive professors, mentors, and career counselors to be able to help me along the way!

2 ) How and why did you pivot to your current role as a content creator inspiring and supporting others trying to break into cybersecurity?

I always volunteered with organizations like TechGirlz and Girls Who Code throughout college and my early career, and I’d always been curious about making a YouTube channel. I never took action on it until after I graduated and decided to make a few videos just for fun. One of the videos I made was on how I started my career in cybersecurity and I ended up getting lots of questions about it so I just made more videos answering those questions about certifications, my experience, resume tips, etc.! The channel didn’t originally start out as a cybersecurity/tech channel but I found my community along the way and now am currently working on this as my passion project during my 1-year career gap.

3 ) Can you share a notable project or achievement in your career that you're particularly proud of, and how did it contribute to your growth in the field?

It was probably when I passed my Security+ certification back in my first year working in cybersecurity! Even though I’ve grown and learned a lot more since then, this was my first “official” achievement since starting my career in cybersecurity even though I didn’t originally have that cybersecurity background. I wasn’t the most confident in my cybersecurity foundational skills but passing this certification exam really gave me the confidence boost I needed in my early career. Not to mention it was the first exam I studied and prepped for since graduating college so I felt a bit rusty but happy I was able to pass on my first try! It made a big impact when I was applying to other jobs in cybersecurity, this certification along with my technical background was a big reason I got my last job working as an Information Security Analyst.

4 ) What advice would you give to young women interested in entering the cybersecurity industry, especially those facing barriers or stereotypes?

Cybersecurity NEEDS diversity of thought, diversity of backgrounds, and diversity of experiences. It’s what makes cybersecurity teams stronger and able to keep information and people secure. Never feel like you have to sell yourself short because your opinion is important and your perspective matters. I didn’t have the most confidence for various reasons when I started my career in cybersecurity, I was also very soft-spoken and didn’t like to raise my hand much or speak during meetings, but over time, I realized the things I have to say and the perspectives I can share are just as valid as anyone else’s. No matter what stereotypes or barriers are holding you back, this is your reminder of that!

5 ) How do you see the role of women evolving in cybersecurity, and what initiatives or changes do you think are necessary to promote gender diversity and inclusion in the field?

With the gap in cybersecurity talent widening, I think more organizations are going to be fostering the growth of cybersecurity talent internally through rotational programs and DEI initiatives to encourage more underrepresented groups into cybersecurity. I also think there’s a big need for women role models in cybersecurity; whether it be through sharing their experiences, mentorship, or volunteering with organizations like Project Cyber, these are going to be even more important going into this new age of tech and AI. Making these resources accessible is going to be a big conversation, whether it be getting middle school students access to a computer or adding computer/tech classes to public school curriculums to encourage an early interest in tech. There needs to be a broader change to introduce these potential career paths at a younger age to increase the number of women in cybersecurity. The NICCS initiative was announced to get more interest in cybersecurity roles but I think this should be expanded to support more DEI programs, especially looking at these stats for college majors by gender from a recent NICCS article, where only 4% of women choose to major in Engineering and Computer Science fields. I believe it will make the biggest impact if these initiatives are made at a level that impacts public education.