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Women in cyber security - Kylie McDevitt

8 March 2019

Network engineering, common sense and top-grade resilience have propelled Kylie McDevitt into her role in the heart of cyber security in Australia’s capital.

Kylie is the director of a security research and engineering team within the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) and is also founder of BSides Canberra – the largest hacker forum in Australia. Better known by her Twitter handle @kylieengineer, she has much wisdom to share about studying and working as a minority since the 1990s.

‘You will have bad days. You will be undermined and minimised. You will be talked over and mansplained to,’ Kylie said.

‘Forget all that and remember why you are here, doing what you love. No matter what people say or think. I put my headphones on and lose myself in tech.’

Reset expectations

After completing a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours, specialising in telecommunications and digital systems, Kylie worked as a designer and then senior engineer, had three children, completed a Masters in Computer Networking, achieved multiple Cisco certifications, and has worked as a network and security specialist since 2009.

‘There is an expectation that because you are female that you have better social skills, higher emotional intelligence and can represent and lead other generations,’ Kylie said.

‘This is sexist. I had someone tell me that as a female I had a duty to behave better, be kinder and nicer than everyone else. I don’t. I’m shy, I’m introvert and I don’t owe any more to the community than any other person doing their job in tech.’

Engineer in the middle

Kylie, who heads up the Emerging Technologies section in her work area in the ACSC, knows that leadership and access to meaningful projects matter. And so do words, which are key to our perceptions.

Kylie was pivotal in getting the ‘man-in-the-middle’ reference changed to ‘person-in-the-middle’ in the latest Information Security Manual issued by the Australian Government.

This is a win for her, for the sector and for us all – at a time when organisations need to tap all parts of the community to get the skills that are needed to meet the growing demands of cyber security.

In fact, the ACSC will be replacing all non-inclusive gender language in ACSC technical publications.

‘There is a lack of women in tech roles, and if one person is enabled by a Women in STEM event, or inclusive language, or simply reading this, then we’re all winning,’ Kylie said.

Credit where credit’s due

If you’re already in the industry, Kylie advises that you step up and take credit for your work.

‘For many years I would allow other people to take credit for my work,’ she said. ‘When my name was forgotten in the credits, I would dismiss it and say it’s okay. It’s not okay.’

‘Don’t be afraid to be proud of your work. Don’t be modest and accepting. Women have the right to be as proud of their work as men do. And if they leave you out of the credits, tell them to do the right thing and correct the situation.’

Women need to help themselves and others.

‘Don’t compete with other women. We have enough to deal with,’ Kylie said.

Women: get involved

International Woman’s Day on 8 March 2019 is an opportunity to celebrate the work that women do in cyber security and encourage more women to become involved. If you’re looking for an industry that is intellectually challenging and gives you a role in helping to protect our community, look no further than cyber security!

The Australian Government is committed to increasing women’s participation in cyber security and invites you to put forward your initiatives that help achieve this. Visit the Women in Cyber Security page of the Department of Home Affairs website.