Saturday, April 13, 2024

Learning Journey in Cybersecurity: Priyanka Chatterjee Embracing Challenges with a Growth Mindset


Priyanka Chatterjee stands out as an exceptional leader in the dynamic realm of cybersecurity, where challenges are met with innovation. As the Director of Services & Operations at Sinevis Technologies LLC, Priyanka brings expertise and a profound commitment to transforming the industry.

Her journey began as a tech enthusiast with an Indian Internet Service Provider, navigating through global IT and banking services organizations before carving her path in the cybersecurity domain. With over two decades of experience, Priyanka has honed her skills in navigating the complex intersection of technology, business and security.

Beyond the traditional directorial role, Priyanka is a strategic architect, leveraging her technical acumen to lead the fastest-ever deployment of critical solutions for major telecom providers and financial institutions. Renowned for her adept leadership, she actively mentors the next generation, guiding them in entering and advancing in the cybersecurity field. Her responsibilities also include overseeing workstreams as a founding member of Women in Cyber Security Middle East, fostering collaboration and mentorship.

Recognition and Resolve

Progressing through roles in various service industries, she eventually carved her path by founding a cybersecurity services organization. Across two decades, Priyanka’s expertise has been sought by private and government entities in 20+ countries, addressing cybersecurity challenges.

Priyanka proudly states, “I’m grateful for being recognized among the top 10 Indian Women Leaders in the Middle East in 2021 and named a top 20 Finalist in the Cybersecurity Woman of the World Edition 2023.” Despite her accomplished journey, Priyanka remains committed to tackling cybersecurity challenges and addressing workforce imbalances. Recently initiating the ‘London School of Cyber Security,’ she aims to bridge the industry entry gap by offering expert-led courses and apprenticeship opportunities.

She shares, “I want to ensure that individuals aren’t struggling to kick-start their careers post-course completion. We may not reach millions, but our goal is to assist as many as possible.”

Driven by a passion to contribute, Priyanka’s journey resonates with professionals and aspiring enthusiasts alike. Her mission to empower others in the ever-evolving cybersecurity landscape is a personal journey and a shared endeavor for a safer digital future.

Beyond the Binary

The evolving nature of cybersecurity provided Priyanka with the right balance to be creative while learning about a vast amount—not just cyber stuff, but also what the various departments, such as marketing or finance, do, how people run businesses, how mergers and acquisitions are made, etc. Priyanka emphasizes, “I don’t think any other career path would have given me this kind of flexibility.”

Mentorship Triumphs

Taking the reins at Sinevis six years ago during challenging times, Priyanka shares, “I actively took over the operations when the company was undergoing significant issues.” Devoting two years to resolving operational challenges, she successfully stabilized the organization while simultaneously expanding its offerings and global reach.

Proudly reflecting on her journey, Priyanka states, “While professionally content with leading the organization out of turmoil, one of my biggest proud moments was Co-founding Women in Cyber Security Middle East (WiCSME).” Teaming up with eight cybersecurity leaders, she played a pivotal role in establishing this influential group.

Looking ahead to Strategy 2030, Priyanka envisions, “We want to serve an individual from the age of 4 and work with them through the age of 18-20 years to help enter the industry.” As a current member of the WiCSME leadership board, Priyanka oversees workstreams and actively mentors young professionals, aiding them in entering and advancing in the cybersecurity field. Expressing fulfillment, Priyanka notes that a number of my mentees have secured jobs at Big4 consultancy firms globally and also received promotions in their current jobs.

Strategic Solutions

Leading her team, Priyanka highlights, “While my team delivers solutions every day, special mention needs to be of a few projects.” She emphasizes the remarkable achievements, including the fastest-ever deployment of a database activity monitoring solution for one of North America’s largest telecom service providers and fully automated web application firewall deployment for a large Australian bank. These efforts not only showcased operational excellence but also shielded clients from significant regulatory penalties. Priyanka’s commitment to impactful solutions continues to make waves in the cybersecurity realm.

Breaking Barriers and Reshaping the Narrative

Having worked across continents, Priyanka observes, “Barriers could be regional, but common ones include stereotype, unconscious bias, lack of role models.” Reflecting on personal challenges, she shares, “I couldn’t find a job because interviewers thought I wouldn’t be willing to travel. I have since travelled across the globe.”

Highlighting industry challenges, Priyanka notes that people hesitate to consider women for certain roles as they are learning to unlearn conservative ways of thinking. External factors impact women, but she also recognizes internal barriers, saying, “I’ve observed women not putting themselves out there due to fear of the unknown or anxiety about handling it, influenced by past misconceptions on gender-based roles.”

This highlights both systemic and self-imposed hurdles faced by women in the industry. Her experiences resonate, making her an advocate for breaking these barriers and encouraging women to overcome both external biases and internal doubts.

Gratitude in Action

Thankful for her upbringing, Priyanka shares, “My parents challenged my siblings and me equally, eliminating the concept of gender bias in our childhood.” Growing up, she noticed societal biases, but her professional journey was shaped by mentors, including male figures, who ‘pushed my boundaries and helped me challenge gender biases.’

Gratitude propels Priyanka to pay it forward, as she states, “Now I try to do the same for younger females by encouraging them to take the risk and not stop themselves.” Recognizing the effort required, she emphasizes, “Nothing comes easy, so we will need to put in the effort.”

Going with the Industry, Adapting to Tomorrow

Increasing use of automation, Artificial Intelligence, and growing complexities of supply chain networks will be both a threat vector and an opportunity in the industry. The cybersecurity workforce will need to increase their agility and smart response mechanism to ensure we are able to protect the organizations and economy. On the government front, cyber-warfare will continue to increase, and in no time, there will likely be a growth in demand for cyber combat teams across all countries. Cybersecurity capabilities will impact global power dynamics.

Strategic Imperatives

While investment in cybersecurity technologies needs to continue, the key in 2024 is for leaders to invest in improving their strategy and frameworks on business engagement. They should invest in training their workforce on the business landscape and what they really need to protect. For example—Artificial Intelligence will increase business efficiency, but cybersecurity teams need to apply controls to avoid data leakage, ransomware, social engineering attacks and more.

Beyond Technical Know-How

While having risk management and some level of technical know-how is essential for a cybersecurity leader, to be an effective leader, an individual should have great salesmanship. They should be able to convey complex security issues to non-technical stakeholders, foster a security-aware culture and articulate the importance of cybersecurity initiatives throughout the organization. They should be actively aware of the business growth and IT strategy and build their cybersecurity strategy around that. They should be able to collaborate with both internal and external stakeholders.

The Value of Networks

Reflecting on her journey, Priyanka shares, “I’ve had mentors throughout my career who helped me push boundaries and expand my horizon.” Early on, technical mentors guided her, while more recently, she sought support for business and general professional mentorship. A pivotal experience was the HSBC Aspire program in 2016, where she worked with a personal coach. Expressing gratitude, she notes, “It was of tremendous value, helping me become more self-aware and navigate the growth path.”

Beyond formal mentorship, Priyanka cherishes her network, stating, “Apart from mentors, I also have my own group of sisters from Women in Cyber Security Middle East.” This tight-knit community serves as her ‘safety net,’ providing a space to ‘rely on and bounce ideas/thoughts.’ This underscores the importance of diverse mentorship and a supportive network in navigating the complexities of a professional career.

Collective Efforts for Inclusivity

Priyanka advocates for diversity and inclusion, emphasizing, “To achieve more diversity, we need to tackle external and internal factors.” She suggests increasing awareness within women about the industry and encouraging them to overcome their internal resistance. Priyanka underscores the importance of showcasing female role models and providing mentorship opportunities.

Externally, she proposes collaborative efforts, stating, “We should get more male allies, create industry collaboration, targeted outreach programs, partnerships with educational institutions, and participation in job fairs and conferences focusing on diversity in STEM fields.” Priyanka’s holistic approach recognizes the dual challenge of addressing both internal barriers and external industry dynamics highlighting the need for collective efforts in fostering a more inclusive environment.

Catalyst for Change

On a personal level, Priyanka proudly states, “I’ve increased the percentage of females in my business from 1% to 33% in the last three years.” Demonstrating her commitment to broader change, she Co-founded ‘Women in Cyber Security Middle East’ (WiCSME), a voluntary group with ‘2000+ members.’ Priyanka envisions WiCSME as a platform to bring women in the field of Cybersecurity in the Middle East to the forefront of the international stage, empowering them through connections with international thought leaders and peers to achieve their professional goals.

In addition to her organizational efforts, Priyanka actively mentors students and young professionals, contributing to their career progression within the industry. This multifaceted approach, from internal business practices to community initiatives, showcases her dedication to advancing women in cybersecurity on both personal and professional fronts.

Synergies in Security

Collaboration is of utmost importance in the cybersecurity space for a variety of reasons. Some of these include:

  • Sharing and understanding threat intelligence, vulnerabilities and attack patterns.
  • Establishing and promoting best practices and industry standards.
  • Building a strong and supportive cybersecurity building.

Cyber threats often transcend borders and a collaborative approach is crucial for global cybersecurity resilience.

There are several notable examples of successful collaborations in the cybersecurity industry that have positively impacted the field. Some of these are Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs), Cyber Threat Alliance (CTA), Open-Source Security Foundation (OpenSSF), and Cloud Security Alliance (CSA).

Guardian of the Future Generations

For Priyanka, staying motivated in cybersecurity is probably the easiest thing. She emphasizes, “With the level of technology penetration, it’s becoming all the more important to secure digital technologies, government systems, and society in general.”

Priyanka expresses her commitment, stating, “I want to do my part in building a secure world for my kids and their kids.” Her dedication reflects the increasing significance of cybersecurity in our lives and the responsibility she feels toward creating a safer digital future for the generations to come.

Strength in Support

For Priyanka, balancing priorities is about assessing who needs me most on the day. She acknowledges the challenges, noting, “Aiming for a perfectly balanced life is setting myself up for failure.”

However, she finds strength in her support system, stating, “Having a super-supportive partner at home is one of my magic potions that help me pull through the days without breaking.” Priyanka’s realistic approach and reliance on a strong support network resonate with the complexities of managing personal and professional responsibilities.

Building Tomorrow’s Defense

The future of cybersecurity is likely to be shaped by ongoing technological advancements, evolving threat landscapes and the collective efforts of diverse professionals. While predicting the future with certainty is challenging, some trends and potential directions for future cybersecurity include quantum computing challenges and efforts to develop quantum-resistant encryption standards, addressing the increasing threats on Internet of Things (IoT) devices, password-less authentication, etc.

Global Collaboration along with the development of common cybersecurity regulations and standards, will play a crucial role in shaping the future of cybersecurity. The future of cybersecurity will benefit from the collective efforts of a diverse workforce, including women, who contribute their skills, insights and leadership to address the evolving challenges and opportunities in the digital landscape. Encouraging more women to pursue and thrive in cybersecurity roles is crucial for building a resilient and inclusive cybersecurity workforce.

Making a Difference

Focusing on building the future workforce, Priyanka aims to bring them closer to opportunities and make a difference in the cybersecurity industry’s problem of the right skill/workforce shortage.

While acknowledging the challenges, she expresses hope: “I am hopeful that I would be able to make a difference in the lives of at least a few individuals, if not millions.” Priyanka’s commitment to bridging the skills gap in cybersecurity reflects her aspiration to impact lives and address industry challenges on a meaningful scale.

An Advice towards Connecting, Contributing and Succeeding

Priyanka encourages aspiring cybersecurity professionals, advising, “Pursue a solid educational background in STEMengage in cybersecurity competitions and challenges like CTFconnect with professionals in the industry.” She emphasizes attending networking events to meet like-minded individuals, mentors and potential employers and becoming an active member of cybersecurity communities and forums while seeking mentorship.

To succeed, Priyanka underscores the importance of confidence, persistence, and assertiveness, stating, “It’s essential to be confident in your abilities and assertive in pursuing opportunities.” She encourages individuals to speak up, contribute ideas and showcase expertise. In her empowering words, she highlights the possibility of being both pretty and empathetic while excelling as a ‘cyber warrior.’ Priyanka’s practical advice resonates with those navigating the path to success in the cybersecurity field.

Unlocking Potential

While keeping yourself up-to-date with the threats, vulnerabilities and ways of securing the digital realm, the key is to have the capability to approach challenges with a growth mindset, recognizing that learning is a continuous journey.

Embracing opportunities to step out of one’s comfort zone, taking on new responsibilities and learning from successes and failures will not only help keep one motivated, but also prevent work-related stress and anxiety.

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