It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in STEM — especially in specialized tech fields like cybersecurity. But even as cybercrime continues to skyrocket, increasing the demand for qualified professionals, the field is still primarily a “man’s world,” says 2021 scholarship winner Oriana Lau.
With only 20-25% of cyber jobs held by women, Lau is on a mission to prove the value of a female perspective, paving the way for fellow veterans, young girls in her community and everyone in between.
Learn how this combat medic turned cloud engineer is forging a new, inclusive future, one impressive career leap at a time.
“You can’t just be successful and then leave everybody behind,” Lau says. “We’re all supposed to help each other grow and help each other learn.”
From combat to combating cybercrime
For some, the interest in cyber is almost innate. For others, the calling comes later in life, years into an entirely different career. For scholarship winner Oriana Lau, however, it was a little bit of both.
While she initially pursued a bachelor’s degree in project management, Lau always set her sights on a tech career. She enlisted in the U.S. Army with hopes of getting hands-on experience in the industry. At the time, however, her preferred position wasn’t available.
After fulfilling her duties as a combat medic, Lau looked for a program to help her transition into IT and kickstart her civilian career. “Tech was always what I wanted to get into,” Lau says, “I actually came across a cybersecurity program, but it was only offered at a different army base.”
Though slightly different from her dream job, Lau opted into the Cloud Application Development program, an opportunity she knew would get her one step closer to cyber.
This specialized training helped her land her current job as a cloud engineer at Bravo Consulting, a Virginia-based firm specializing in cloud, analytics and content services. And while she’s happy to be here, she can’t wait to start combating cybercrime. “It’s really fun, and it’s really interesting,” she says. “I think this is a really good field to get into.”
Applying her protective instincts
As Lau makes another life-changing career transition, she hopes to open the door for minorities along the way. Different voices, she says, bring different perspectives that the cyber world needs to prevent attacks and protect data. Being a woman and a veteran, however, this mission is a little more personal.
As a woman, Lau comes armed with ambition and experience, unlike that of her male counterparts. As a veteran, she offers a unique and valuable skill set that other professionals in the field cannot.
From paying close attention to detail to making smart decisions under pressure, Lau explains how her military training makes her the ideal candidate for a role in cybersecurity. “Military members and veterans are trained to defend our country and protect critical missions,” she says. “After transitioning out of the military, they can translate these skills into defending systems and protecting sensitive information from attackers.”
How to thrive as an up-and-coming cyber pro
As Lau launches her career in cybersecurity, she shares five key pieces of advice from her mentor and personal experiences to help others find success.
- Accept that you will not know everything
Staying ahead in cyber requires a keen awareness that you’ll never reach mastery. Even after doing the same task over and over again, Lau explains that you will still learn something new every time. And that’s a good thing.
- Stay passionate about learning
With new tools and technologies emerging every day, Lau says you must continually gain new skills and seek to understand other aspects of tech. That way, you know how everything connects and can offer outside-the-box solutions when needed.
- Adapt and overcome
In a field where crime evolves just as fast as technology, Oriana stresses the importance of flexibility. She says that learning to do something one certain way won’t serve you, especially since that one way is bound to change.
- Always give back
While Lau is always striving for professional success, she never loses sight of what’s most important: connecting with her community. “You can’t just be successful and then leave everybody behind,” Lau says. “We’re all supposed to help each other grow and help each other learn.”
For Lau, giving back is organizing and facilitating workshops for Cyberjutsu Girl’s Academy (CGA), a non-profit organization that helps middle and high school-aged girls get hands-on experience for all things tech and cyber related. However you choose to volunteer your time, Lau says this circle of knowledge sharing is vital to growing and enriching the cyber community. After all, she adds, you may need help one day, too.
- Never, ever give up
When faced with a challenge, Lau reflects on a motivational phrase her mentor once shared: “You are not a failure until you stop trying.” This piece of advice, she says, is what helped her transition from the Army into her current role as a cloud engineer, an achievement of which she is incredibly proud.
“There have been a lot of struggles,” she admits, “but I feel like you can get through anything if you are open-minded, keep pushing yourself and keep learning.”
Forging a path for the future
When she’s not at her day job, Lau is a full-time master’s student pursuing a degree in cybersecurity and information services.
Alongside her coursework, Lau plans to study for her OSCP certification. She believes this achievement will equip her with the skill set she needs to transition into the offensive side of cyber — ideally in penetration testing or ethical hacking.
Until then, she’ll use Infosec Skills to sharpen her current skills, explore new territories and bolster her knowledge base. That way, she can educate and empower others once she’s reached SME status.