#MIWIC2024: Zinet Kemal, Cloud Security Engineer – Best Buy

Organised by Eskenzi PR in media partnership with the IT Security Guru, the Most Inspiring Women in Cyber Awards aim to shed light on the remarkable women in our industry. The following is a feature on one of 2024’s Top 20 women selected by an esteemed panel of judges. Presented in a Q&A format, the nominee’s answers are written in their own words with minor edits made by the editor for readability and where relevant, supplemented with additional commentary by their nominator.

In 2024, the awards were sponsored by BTThink Cybersecurity Ltd. and Plexal, with Eskenzi PR, Assured and Women in Cybersecurity UK & Ireland Affiliate as partners.

Zinet Kemal, Cloud Security Engineer at Best Buy

What does your job role entail?

As a cloud security engineer I help design and implement security measures to protect an organisation’s cloud-based infrastructure and data. This includes identifying and mitigating risks, implementing security controls, and monitoring for security breaches.

Collaborate to support a secure and scalable transformation and migration from the data centre to the cloud.

How did you get into the cybersecurity industry?

So I came to the US 10 years ago and I had a law degree and career in the legal field prior to my cybersecurity life. My journey into the cybersecurity industry began late 2017, during my undergraduate studies. At that time, I was pursuing a Computer Science degree and chose an elective course titled “Introduction to Information Security,” which was an elective class to the program. This course, and particularly the professor teaching it, became the gateway to my career in cybersecurity.

The professor, recognising the potential in his students, offered to coach any interested candidates for the upcoming Minnesota Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC). The opportunity was too good to pass up, so I, along with several classmates, signed up. Preparing for the CCDC was a significant commitment. Over five months, I dedicated my Saturdays to self-study for the competition. This was alongside my full-time class schedule, a part-time IT internship, and the responsibilities of caring for my three young children at the time.

The hard work paid off when I was selected as one of the eight students to represent our university at the MN CCDC. Participating in the competition was an eye-opening experience. It provided me with a practical glimpse into the cybersecurity industry, from understanding the roles of blue, red, and white teamers to learning how to defend against simulated cyber attacks in a business environment.

Our team’s effort and dedication were rewarded when we secured 3rd place among Minnesota colleges and universities in the 2018 competition. That achievement marked a turning point for me; I was hooked. Motivated by this success, I dove deeper into the field through continued education, earning certifications, and gaining experience through internships. By 2018, I had landed my first professional role in cybersecurity. My entry into this industry was a blend of academic curiosity, competitive challenge, and relentless pursuit of professional growth, setting the foundation for my career in cybersecurity.

What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced as a woman in the tech/cyber industry and how did you overcome it??

Navigating being a mom of 4 and rebuilding my career in a whole new continent in a male dominated field from scratch is one. But I witnessed and continue to witness how women are assumed non-technical no matter the degree, security certifications and credentials I built, folks don’t even know these biases sometimes. Not getting the proper respect and getting ignored or not being included in important meetings or work intentionally or not being considered.

However the way to overcome it is to build your brand and be your best advocate. Champion yourself before anyone does then no matter what you know where you stand you are grounded. You will then have a whole tribe built that is your advocate on your behalf. Your brand will speak for itself because you consistently built that with patience and hard work.

What are you doing to support other women, and/or to increase diversity, in the tech/cyber industry?

I’m deeply committed to supporting women and increasing diversity in the tech and cybersecurity industries, using my journey and achievements as a springboard to inspire and empower others. Here’s a glimpse into how I’m contributing:

  • Writing Impactful Children’s Books – My children’s books, such as “See Yourself in Cybersecurity” and “Oh, No … Hacked Again!”, are crafted to encourage young minds, especially girls, to envision themselves in cybersecurity roles. These stories foster empowerment and introduce online safety, aiming to spark curiosity about cybersecurity careers from a young age by intentionally including girls as the main characters. I am also the author of “Proud in Her Hijab” teaching about girls empowerment.
  • Authoring Significant Works – As a co-author of “Securing Our Future: Embracing The Resilience and Brilliance of Black Women in Cyber”, I’ve had the honour of contributing to a work that highlights the accomplishments, challenges, and untapped potential of Black women in the cybersecurity field.
  • Educational Initiatives and Speaking Engagements – Through my role as a TEDx speaker and LinkedIn Learning instructor, I share valuable insights and experiences with a broader audience. My aim is to demystify the field of cybersecurity, making it more accessible and inviting to women and underrepresented groups, and demonstrating that a fulfilling career in cybersecurity or Tech is within their reach.
  • Advocacy and Recognition – The numerous awards and recognitions I’ve received, such as the 2023 Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal 40 under 40 and the 2023 SANS Difference Makers Award for Best Book of the year etc allow me to use my platform to advocate for diversity in cybersecurity.
  • Community Engagement & author visits – By participating in cyber podcasts and engaging with the community, I offer insights, encouragement, and mentorship. My involvement in these activities is geared towards supporting those entering the field, fostering a sense of community and belonging.
What is one piece of advice you would give to girls/women looking to enter the cybersecurity industry?
Drawing from my own journey and the lessons I’ve learned along the way, my advice to girls and women looking to enter the cybersecurity industry is; Find your unique voice and let it guide you. Starting out as an immigrant from Ethiopia, transitioning from the legal field to cybersecurity, and balancing the demands of being a mother of four, my path was anything but conventional. Each step of the way, I learned the importance of embracing my own story, my own struggles, and my strengths. This industry thrives on diversity of thought, background, and approach. Your unique perspective is not just valuable; it’s essential. Cybersecurity is vast and multifaceted, and there’s a niche for everyone. That’s why i also wrote “See Yourself in Cybersecurity” for our youth. Whether you’re drawn to the technical aspects, like ethical hacking, or the strategic side, like policy development, there’s a place for you. Use your voice and your experiences to carve out your space in this field. Don’t shy away from challenges or opportunities to grow and learn, even if they seem daunting at first.
The path into cybersecurity is as unique as you are. Embrace your journey, stay curious, and never stop pushing the boundaries of what you can achieve. Your voice has the power to inspire change and innovation in tech or cyber.
Links to my books & TEDx – https://zinetkemal.com/

The post #MIWIC2024: Zinet Kemal, Cloud Security Engineer – Best Buy first appeared on IT Security Guru.

The post #MIWIC2024: Zinet Kemal, Cloud Security Engineer – Best Buy appeared first on IT Security Guru.

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Author: Charley Nash