October 25, 2022

Creating Community for Female Security Practitioners with Larci Robertson

by Hacker Valley Studio

Show Notes

Larci Robertson, Sales Engineer at Cyberreason and Board President of Women of Security, brings her expertise and experience in cyber threat analysis, community building, and networking to the pod this week. Larci talks about her time in the Navy, her desire for female friends, and how the combination of those two things led to her joining Women of Security (WoSec). In this episode, Larci walks through the importance of women-led cyber spaces and how mentoring gives back to the community in a ripple effect. 

 

Timecoded Guide: 

[00:00] Searching for friendship in Women of Security spaces 

[06:56] Diving into the Dallas cyber community with WoSec 

[14:00] Finding mission-focused purpose in threat intelligence analysis 

[17:57] Transitioning from the military into security and technology 

[24:10] Encouraging women to stay motivated in the cyber industry  

 

Sponsor Links: 

Thank you to our sponsor Axonius for bringing this episode to life!

The Axonius solution correlates asset data from existing solutions to provide an always up-to-date inventory, uncover gaps, and automate action — giving IT and security teams the confidence to control complexity. Learn more at axonius.com/hackervalley

How did you get introduced to Women of Security? 

After leaving the Navy and moving to Dallas, Larci struggled to find community amongst other women in tech. She worried the women she knew outside of the industry wouldn’t understand her unique struggles, but the women she was meeting in cyber felt few and far between. Reaching out to Women of Security felt like an encounter with destiny, which inspired Larci to start her own WoSec chapter in Plano and find her voice as a community leader. 

“I wanted to find those women and get more women into security, but also have somebody to hang out with that was in the same industry, same page, we're all kind of going at the same pulse of what we've got going on in our lives.” 

 

What are the challenges for women transitioning into the technology field, whether they're coming from the military or from another industry? 

As a woman in threat defense analysis, Larci understands the hurdles and complications that come with transitioning into the field. Originally gaining her security experience in the Navy, Larci explains that she, along with many women she meets in the industry, undermine their past experiences and doubt their full potential. This often leads to less job applications from women when positions open up, perpetuating the gap for women in tech. 

“I want to tell women, and I do tell them all the time, don't look at that job title. Read through the actual like, what they want you to do, and maybe you understand it in a different way. Don't worry about that stuff. Let them tell you you're not qualified, don't do it to yourself.” 

 

What comes to the top of your mind about the power of community when thinking about WoSec? 

Community inspired Larci to be a part of WoSec, but it also left a lasting impact on her friends and her family. Not only has Larci witnessed many female friends achieve career heights they never dreamed possible, she’s also seen Women of Security inspire her own daughter. Initially believing her job was “too technical,” Larci’s daughter now better understands her own potential to succeed in cyber and tech, which has given her so much confidence in her future. 

“I'm seeing people get their first jobs in cybersecurity, and it's really exciting. And then, they'll turn around and help somebody else. I feel like that's happening a lot more. I see it because my group is doing it, I think we're all emulating each other in that way.” 

 

For any women listening right now, what would be that piece of advice that you have for them to keep them energized while they're in the field? 

Money is a motivator for many individuals transitioning into the cyber industry. While Larci understands why she meets many women looking to make more money in cyber, she also encourages those women— and anyone else listening to this week’s show— to find a purpose and passion for their work. Money motivation doesn’t last forever, and Larci wants to build a community of women who understand and enjoy their purpose in tech.  

“I feel like no matter what you do, if you have purpose in what you're doing, you're going to stay and you're going to have that drive. On top of that, you gotta have fun with this. If you're not having fun at what you're doing every day, I think you're doing it wrong.” 

--------------- 

Links: 

Keep up with our guest Larci Robertson on LinkedIn and Twitter 

Learn more about Cyberreason on LinkedIn and the Cyberreason website 

Connect with Ron Eddings on LinkedIn and Twitter 

Connect with Chris Cochran on LinkedIn and Twitter 

Purchase a HVS t-shirt at our shop 

Continue the conversation by joining our Discord 

Check out Hacker Valley Media and Hacker Valley Studio 



Transcript

Hacker Valley Studio 00:07
Who says tech can't be human?
Larci 00:11
And I want to tell women, and I do tell them all the time, don't look at that job title. Read through the actual like, what they want you to do, and maybe you understand it in a different way. Don't worry about that stuff. Let them tell you you're not qualified, don't do it to yourself.
Hacker Valley Studio 00:30
Welcome to the Hacker Valley Studio podcast.
Axonius Ad 00:35
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Jason from Mindbody 00:55
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Ron 01:06
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Chris 01:25
What's going on, everybody? You are in the Hacker Valley Studio with your hosts, Ron and Chris.
Ron 01:31
Yes sir.
Chris 01:34
Welcome back to the show.
Ron 01:37
Glad to be back again. Sometimes, when we jump into a podcast recording, I'm shocked by how long overdue some guest appearances are. And this guest is no exception to that. Our guest is a friend, a threat intelligence expert, and also an amazing sales engineer. This episode, we brought in Larci Robertson. Larci is a Sales Engineer at Cyberreason, and also, Board President of Women of Security. Larci, welcome and thank you for joining us on the podcast.
Larci 02:09
Hello, gentlemen. Thank you for having me, I'm happy to be here.
Chris 02:12
We are happy to have you. One thing we have to get into right away is honestly, the women in security stuff that you're doing. We just did the CISO XC and it looked like you basically were pulling everyone together at that event. We'd love to hear about how you got introduced to the organization. How's it been and what you guys are up to today?
Larci 02:33
I met lots of CTI people on Twitter and different groups that we're in, and a lady was telling me about, she's starting this group in Chicago and I said, "This sounds awesome." She said she was just meeting up to have brunch and make some friends and I wanted to do that, too. I mean, I moved from Korea in 2016, from a military lifestyle of myself and my husband, into the Dallas area and didn't have any friends. I realized over the last 15, 20 years, I have to actively seek that out, working in technology in jobs that don't have a lot of women. So, I've done a lot of different things. Some history on that, too. Even when I was in the Navy, I wanted to make new women friends, because I just didn't have any in the workshop that I worked in. So, I actually became a Mary Kay salesperson, just so I could hang out with other women. So, it's been a long history of me finding ways to connect with other women.
Larci 03:34
And then, fast forward. You know, I have the military spouses’ groups, and then, moving to Dallas, I tried the meetup online with people, but those are kind of random people, but you do what you got to do to meet new people. And then, I found out about this group, Women of Security and I looked for one in my area, there wasn't one. I was about to go to RSA, so I reached out to the people that actually started at, Tonya Janka started it and she's in Canada. She met with me. We did like, an interview type thing on the phone with a few of the other chapter leaders. And then, I met with them at RSA. We had a big, huge Women of Security meetup, and I knew I needed to be a part of this. So, back in 2019, I guess that's when that was. April 2019, I started Women of Security here in Plano, so I could make some friends and, of course, in the industry, because I did that meet up, went and saw and met those people, they were great, but we just didn't connect, we didn't have anything in common. Some people just might not want to talk to tech nerds, so I wanted to find those women and get more women into security, but also have somebody to hang out with that was in the same industry, same page, we're all kind of going at the same pulse of what we've got going on in our lives. So, that's what my purpose was to go out and make new friends and get more women into security, so I could have more friends that weren't just men. I love you guys, but sometimes you just need some girl time.
Larci 05:02
So, that's kind of how it started. I'm pretty happy that we've gotten so many people new jobs, helped some people get hired, get mentors, mentees. We really support each other online. We've got chapters all over the globe, that are doing some amazing things. And it was tough through the pandemic, but coming out of that, it's gearing up again and we're getting things moving, and people are more excited to get out and see each other. I was energized by the CISO XC, everybody coming together and, of course, the whole organization and all the people that were part of that. I don't know if even most people even knew, but when you signed up to sponsor that event, you basically were donating to multiple charities, and my group happened to be one of them. We use that for keeping the website going and zoom fees and the legal fees for the nonprofit, and hopefully, we'll be able to get to a place where we can give out scholarships for training and help more women get into the security roles that want to transition from different things.
Larci 06:03
I'm getting a lot of those women coming to my group right now, saying, "I'm a teacher, but I'm not excited about anymore, it's not really paying the bills, and I want to try something new," and transitioning to a new industry, or even stay at home moms saying, "I've been doing this training, I need to know more people and tell me how to get there." It's one of those things where you can't really reach out to your husband, your boyfriend, your spouse's friends, that's in tech, because more than likely, it's a man and that's probably not really comfortable environment to do that. And so, that's where we come in, and I advertise, send your friends, send your coworkers, send your sister, send your mom and your wife, send your girlfriend to my meetup, so they can find out what we're doing and see if they're interested. We do a whole lot of "a day in the life" of whatever role that is. Because we found that if I have 10 people that show up for a meeting, we all have different roles.
Ron 06:56
I love the fact that your purpose is seeking out community. I really identify with that purpose as well. I'm always looking for ways to connect with people, whether it be on the podcast or through social media. Along the way of building any community, I would imagine that you run into gaps. Maybe you would like to have someone join that's not currently in, or you have too many of a certain demographic in the group, and that's always okay, but maybe you want to have a little bit more diversity. What elements can you share about Women of Security? What are some of the strong areas that everyone can get excited about today, and what are you hoping to see, as the group and community continues to mature?
Larci 07:38
Right now, I think the major thing that's doing us good is that we're very unstructured and very
welcoming to every woman, and even let the guys come, if they want to come and support us.
Typically, we have some teaching moments for anyone to come. The idea behind it is, of course, we want to make sure that the ladies are comfortable with hanging out with other ladies. Our community here in Dallas is amazing when it comes to security, there are tons of opportunities and typically, it's 10% women, maybe, if you're lucky. I don't want to change that by saying, please, in my group that will change that dynamic. But I still want to say please, yes, it really is for women of security, but if you wanted to come and learn what we're teaching that day, if you'd like the topic and you want to come and participate, I'm not going to turn you away.
Larci 08:23
Occasionally, very rarely, we will have a topic that I will actually say "no men allowed," and it's only because sometimes, that topic might be something that will keep the women from talking about it, and then, we don't really get to the point of what we were doing. I've only had one particular time where I had to turn the men away, and I felt so horrible, but it needed to be done. We were talking about going to conferences, the big ones, as a woman and how you handle that, and what the do's and don'ts and the what to expect and all that. I didn't want to have the guys there that might have an influence on what people said to each other. So, that's it. Other than that, I don't mind, we're not going to tell the guys not to go, because you guys do get more women into cybersecurity as well and we can't do it alone. I partner with different groups in the community, the Dallas Hackers Associations are huge about helping us. I work with one of the women in my group, she has her own group as well and we partner together and make sure the words out on where to go and where you would fit. Maybe my group is not a good fit for you, and I tell them about that. Like, here's where we have, we have the homeschool project and we're all working together, supporting each other and putting that out there to have someone to make a friend with, because nobody wants to, especially these days when we're all working from home, not have those connections because you will get burnt out and you won't have anybody to talk to or meet up with at the conference to bounce these ideas off of so that everybody's learning or share them. We all want to see each other successful, I think, in this community.
Chris 09:56
One thing that I've always noticed about you, whether you're talking about this stuff you're doing with WoSec, whether you're talking about cybersecurity, security engineering, or threat intelligence, is strength. Honestly, everyone has a little bit of strength in them, but it might be more noticeable in others, and I can definitely see the strength that you have. Was there something in your life or your career where you had to muster the strength and develop it? Or, was this something that's always been a part of who you are? How is it showing up in cybersecurity?
Larci 10:28
Alright, Chris, you know, I was in the Navy and that does something to you. 10 years in the Navy definitely made me very strong, but also leaving that environment that was very supportive of everything you do, you have a built-in support system in the military, and leaving that. Ultimately, I still had that when my husband and I were traveling around with his career, leaving that though, oh, that was tough. Even just moving around with it, without my normal Navy support group, finding new jobs, that was a huge hurdle for me coming out of the Navy. I'd been, in the steady, same job for 10 years, and then, had to stop and pivot to the next thing. What am I going to do? Threat intelligence isn't exactly a job you can do in every location in the country, so that was something I had to like, really think about. How am I going to do this? What do I want to do? What do I need to train on?
Larci 11:23
So, figuring that out and pushing through and looking for a job and using that networking idea, because I definitely didn't do any networking outside of the Mary Kay, of finding those ladies, as friends. I didn't do any of that ever. I didn't have to. So, leaving the military and finding work again, alongside another military spouse, and moving every two years, having to change your job every time, I got really good at networking and really good at interviewing, and seeking out those organizations with veterans that helped you get ready for that. The struggle is real, transitioning from military to civilian life, and not really knowing what the job is going to entail when you get there, it's a surprise and it is scary and I wanted to, at this point.
Larci 12:13
Just a few years ago, when I moved to Dallas, no more military support group anymore, I struggled but I hustled and I'm so glad that our community here is so active, because it opened a lot of doors in the veteran community as well as the security industry. I knew I wanted to do security, but I didn't know they were doing threat intelligence, until I'd gotten the job and realized that's not the job I wanted. I thought I was going to be an incident response person and it didn't end up being that way. And then, I started looking around for more jobs and found out, "Oh, my goodness, corporate America has threat intelligence analyst, I would love that." I had no idea, I didn't know. And once I found that and got back
into it, I was amazed and I just want to tell everybody about it. Everybody should know that if you worked in intelligence, or did anything like that in the military, there's probably a job in security for you out there. You are going to be blown away at what you already know and the experience you have. Even just being in the military without it. Intelligence, whatever. The day you join the military, you're starting some sort of security practice. It might be physical, but it's there. That is one of the things. I always say, "You have experience." Don't say, "I don't have experience in security." Yes, you do. Let's think about this for a minute. And then, we kind of pull it out of them, right? And then, they're like, "Oh, you're so right." Yeah, you have plenty. If you served for four years, six years, you've got that and you just got to translate it into what you're learning now, what that is now, because we did a lot of that from day one at boot camp. I mean, the rules and the regulations of things that you had to do every single day, it's what we do every day now.
Ron 14:00
It sounds like cybersecurity, the military, the process of moving and building a community is just so ingrained to who you are. I've got to ask, what makes cybersecurity so important to you? It sounds like a lot of the things that you think about, during your work life and outside of work life, really revolve around community and women in cybersecurity.
Larci 14:24
My life kind of revolves around it, because I'm a very social person, I like to get people together. I like to see people successful. I want to throw a party every time they say something great has happened, and I want to celebrate with people cybersecurity. I love it, the drive of threat intelligence, of finding that thing, hunting that thing, or solving that problem, that drives me and knowing that what we're doing today, it's literally helping to secure people's livelihoods, their paycheck, their jobs. It's not just the computers, somebody that needs to use that computer and if they can't, they might not get paid soon, right? I'm driven by mission-focused purpose. I think that's what gets me excited about doing it every
day and I don't lose that, and I know getting more people involved in that too, and seeing their
successes and it's life changing. For some people, they might have pivoted from something that just in the financial part of life, of building your way of life, it changes things. I know, even for me, it did. Going up from military paycheck to what we're doing today— Sometimes, I want to just pinch myself, right? I want to help other people get that too, because everybody seems to think that you have to be this extreme technical math, all the time on the numbers and whatever, for cybersecurity. It's not like that, you just need to be able to have grit and ambition to learn something, and then, actually do it.
Chris 15:56
Grit, ambition, networking, all really, really important things to keep in your toolbox. I would imagine that all of the networking you did, all of the interviewing you did probably set you up for your position now, which is sales engineering, taking that technical and bringing in that human component. What was that transition like for you?
Larci 16:18
It was kind of suggested. And you're right, because I become so familiar with talking to new people, especially interviews, because I practice so much with different ways of doing that. I think it definitely set me up for success in this, but also, just all the experiences I have are helpful for telling a story of how you can make this work, or how this might work better for you. Those experiences are huge for me, because it gives me credibility. So, I'm not just a parrot being told what to say to my potential customers. I've done pretty well with that, and showcasing my expertise into almost everything I've done with threat intelligence, with working with business leaders to talk about how different business units can capitalize on all of security's functions, try to help get them to give more support towards the cybersecurity. So, we're not just a speed bump, because that seems to be the thing, we're just the police getting in the way of what they're trying to do. Using all the experiences that I've had in every
organization, every unit I've worked in, has been very beneficial in getting that done. As a sales engineer, I think I'm having a lot of fun with it as well, because it's not near as stressful, I think I don't think it is, maybe I'm doing it wrong. But I feel like if I'm having fun doing this, then it's fine. But it's fun. It's fun. I mean, there's some there's stress and everything. But it's a different kind. I miss the little digging in and going in hunting for the bad guys, that stuff kind of still gets me excited, but now, I get to teach people how to do it, so, there's like the handoff. And hopefully, they go and hunt those bad guys and tell me about it someday.
Ron 17:57
I would imagine hunting bad guys, learning about cybersecurity, and even witnessing women
transitioning into the field, you probably gain a lot of wisdom and advice for women and people in general. But what are some of the challenges for women transitioning into the technology field, whether they're coming from the military or from another industry?
Larci 18:20
I think the number one thing that I see all the time is self doubt, and not thinking that they're good enough. I mean, it's been a known thing that men typically see a job post and they apply, they may have 25% of what's required, but they read through it and they go, "I think I can do that." I did it to myself too, and I learned because, even one of the roles that I applied for, quite frankly, I did not qualify for that job. But you know, I said, I've done enough to know a little bit and I can learn and I applied and you know what? I got it. I won't say I faked it till I made it. No, I figured it out. I used Google, I used my resources, I found a friend. I did it, and I want to tell women, and I do tell them all the time, don't look at that job title. Read through the actual like, what they want you to do, and maybe, you understand it in a different way. Don't worry about that stuff. Let them tell you you're not qualified. Don't do it to yourself. You're just standing on your own foot. So, that's the number one thing that I see. Most people are afraid to apply to those jobs or afraid to talk to that company about what they have, what they're capable of,
what they can bring to the table. We got to teach women to toot their own horn and tell them that they're better than what they think they are and don't let yourself hold yourself back. You are definitely your own worst enemy in this case, because some of these jobs that are open out there, they're begging for people just to apply. You've just got to get there. And then, of course, showing up to an interview a lot. A lot of it is, of course, your capability is going to be a necessity, but they just want to know that you can work on their team, right? So, you're not jerk, I don't want to work with jerks, nobody does. Can you show up and work as a team and get the job done?
Chris 20:20
You didn't fake it till you made it, you figured it out. That sounds like a T-shirt. That's a good rule to live by, because we shouldn't be expected to have all the answers when we go on to a new role, because that means that we're not growing, we're just going to go from the same role to the same role. But it's where we have that delta, where growth really comes into play, and I think that's incredible. When you think about community, you think about all the things that community can provide, I'd love to hear a story that comes to the top of your mind about the power of community. When did community either pull through for you, or someone that you cared about, that would be interesting for folks to hear about?
Larci 21:01
I feel like as a community and in this industry, as a whole, across the board, we're all supporting other women in security and getting more women in. I'm seeing it all the time. Like, I have many people that have transitioned in and are exposed to different roles that they had never heard of, and I'm getting those ladies now, in my group, saying, "Hey, this is what I do. What do you think about it?" "Oh, yeah, I could totally do that. Here's what I used to do," like just talking to each other and cheering each other on and saying, "Yes, I think you can do this." And this is why being that person and being willing to mentor these people that are wanting to come in, I'm seeing people get their first jobs in cybersecurity, and it's really exciting. And then, they'll turn around and help somebody else. I feel like that's happening a lot more, and if you don't know people that are doing that, encourage other people to do it. I see it because my group is doing it, because I think we're all emulating each other in that way.
Larci 21:58
I'm hopeful that the domino effect will eventually just keep going and there won't be near as much effort needed to put into this. That's across the board, not just my women's group, but any transitioning veterans or people needing a change of pace in their life. I mean, I've had some people in my teams where I'm blown away at the things they've been doing, and then, they decided to get into tech. I had an intern a couple years ago that was a gymnastics coach and now, he's doing cybersecurity and it's just crazy. It's cool to talk about, I encourage having him encourage other people. You can do this, you can learn, it's not as hard as everybody thinks it is. Or, you don't have to be a hacker and all those things that are expected.
Larci 22:40
I think, whenever we share that, even in my own— Here's the other part, I guess I should have told this story, I have two children. I have a 20-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son. During the pandemic, I, of course, had to work from home. And so, that is a little crowded workspace, but the exposure that my daughter got to me working actually sparked something in her to say, "You know what? I think I could do that. I thought what you were doing was extremely technical, and I would hate it. I see you get excited, I see you in your meetings," and she's gotten a little more involved now. So, she's going to my meetups and learning what other women are doing and learning from my colleagues that she meets and finding out what they're doing and just kind of spreading. So, that support, in the community that's showing me support, is also showing my daughter, which I hope is same thing for other parents and
their children. I'm sure that we all want our kids to follow in our footsteps, but they fight it and they fight it. Sometimes, well, you know what? What job isn't that bad. They want to be their own person, but I'm very excited. So, I would say that right now, in my own life, the community of support towards me, towards my women's groups, towards everybody in security that she's gotten exposure to, is a win for me because she's got a goal. Now, she has a goal. She didn't know what she wanted to be when she grew up. Neither did I, at her age, and that's okay. But now, she has something. That's my win for my community because she's excited about it and I've gotten other people to get her excited, too.
Ron 24:10
That is amazing. And you know what? I'm trying to be more like Larci myself. I'm probably a little like your daughter, stubborn in my own ways, but whenever I see you, whenever we meet up in person, there is this constant source of fuel or energy that you have, you're always so excited. I think there's a lot of value that you provide, bringing women in, but I think there's also that piece of helping people stay into the field, keeping them sharp, keeping them refreshed, keeping them energized. For any women or people out there that are listening right now, what would be that piece of advice that you have for them to keep them energized and hungry and fueled, while they're in the field, after they've found their community?
Larci 24:50
Find that connection of purpose, of mission. It's not going to be always about the money. I'm not going to be mad at people that get into this job for the money, but I'm gonna be mad when they leave because they didn't ever find their purpose, and it's frustrating. They spent all that time, they took those roles that somebody else really wanted, and then hated it. So, you got to find that purpose, because I feel like no matter what you do, if you have purpose in what you're doing, you're going to stay and you're going to have that drive. But on top of that, you gotta have fun with this. Like, if you're not having fun at what you're doing every day, I think you're doing it wrong. I don't know what you're doing. You have got to find a way to make it fun.
Chris 25:27
I love it. Live your purpose and have fun. Larci, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to hop on the mics with us. We're gonna drop all your information, and even the information for WoSec, down in the show notes, wherever you're listening to this. Larci, thanks again, and with that, we will see everyone next time
Hacker Valley Studio 25:53
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