Neither Judith Hurwitz or Kelly Shortridge set out to become IT leaders. But that’s exactly what they did.
Maybe you’ve read one of Judith Hurwitz’s eight foundational books on emerging technologies, or heard one of Kelly Shortridge’s many thought-provoking talks on cybersecurity. If you haven't yet, you're about to, because these women have built incredible reputations for themselves.
Here's why it matters: neither Judith or Kelly spent the first twenty years of their lives thinking about the IT world. At 20, Judith was pursuing an English degree, and Kelly, economics. Without a formal background in IT, these women managed to get ahead of the pack and start shaping the way we think about technology.
If our two heroines spent the first chunk of their lives unaware of their brilliant futures in IT, it isn't too late for you, either. Whether you just learned what DNS stands for (this was me about a year ago), or only realized 'cloud' isn't just a weather pattern, you're more than capable of overcoming the learning curve. You have a future in our industry if you choose to, and for inspiration, here's how Judith and Kelly jumped in.
Some Quick-But-Jaw-Dropping Background:
Judith is the founder and CEO of Hurwitz & Associates, a consultancy that specializes in helping businesses position emerging technologies, like cloud computing and big data. She has spoken on international stages and advised businesses all over the world. She's also written the book Smart or Lucky? How Technology Leaders Turn Chance into Success, and co-authored the likes of Cloud Computing for Dummies, Hybrid Cloud for Dummies, Big Data for Dummies, and a handful more.
Kelly is the VP of Product Strategy for Capsule8, an attack protection vendor for production Linux environments. She also helps the Information Security industry wrap its head around the behavioral game theory and resilience aspects of cybersecurity. Kelly's spoken at events like Black Hat USA and the NYPD Cyber Intelligence & Counterterrorism Conference, is a regular guest on the Risky Business podcast, and writes on platforms like TechCrunch and Medium.
Kelly’s Story: Banking on InfoSec
“I, as the youngest person in the room, was tasked with getting the team ‘smart’ on those industries.”
Kelly’s career began in investment banking. After graduating with an Economics degree from Vassar College, she signed up to work with a behemoth investment bank. Then, at the eleventh hour, Kelly decided to join a smaller, more tightly-knit boutique firm called Teneo Capital instead.
“It was pure luck,” Kelly recalls, that she ended up looking at InfoSec within her role. “One of the senior advisors at that firm suggested we start a practice covering InfoSec and analytics shortly after I joined. I, as the youngest person in the room, was tasked with getting the team ‘smart’ on those industries.”
During her time at Teneo, Kelly fell in love with learning the technical side of InfoSec. She found herself drawn to the curiosities in behavior dynamics associated with the industry. So, she quit finance to co-found a cybersecurity company called IperLane.
"...so many people miss out on knowledge by prioritizing their pride in appearing smart instead."
There, she realized her knack for product management and drilled further down that path. Eventually landing at Capsule8, Kelly now focuses on understanding, solving, and anticipating the problems of the Capsule8's customers and market. The level of technical knowledge required to do this should not be lost on you at this point: Kelly's job is literally to decide the direction of a cybersecurity product.
Fun fact: she remarks that while devouring reading material was helpful, the fastest way to get up to speed is: listen to others.
“I still practice this sort of learning-through-osmosis today,” she says, “by asking brilliant people lots of questions (and then pulling the resulting threads that emerge). I’ve found power in being honest when you aren’t familiar with something — so many people miss out on knowledge by prioritizing their pride in appearing smart instead”. Kelly credits her success to her voracious curiosity and persistence, reminding women in our field to keep asking ‘why’ until we’re satisfied with the answer.
Judith’s Story: A Surprise Program
“It wasn’t easy for a woman growing up in an era where prospective employers would ask me if I wanted to be a secretary."
Armed with an English degree from Boston University, Judith was planning on pursuing a Master’s in journalism. That is, until someone invited her attend a small, specialized program in science communications instead.
Having no idea what science communications was until that point (FYI–it’s the art of explaining complex technologies, data, and science to the public), Judith took a chance on the program.
"I found people who were generous with their time and helped me."
Judith eventually became an Assistant Editor at an emerging technology magazine called Mini-Micro Systems. Her job was to teach others about the industry and where it was going. To concurrently teach herself about computers and technology, Judith aggressively sought out experts in the field. Like for Kelly, these experts helped get Judith up to speed on the technical aspects of what she was passing on to her readers. "I found people who were generous with their time and helped me," the now-writer of foundational computing guidebooks remembers.
Judith admits there were challenges, as well. "It wasn’t easy for a woman growing up in an era where prospective employers would ask me if I wanted to be a secretary”. Her tenacity and ability to make sense of the complexity she was learning won out, however, and Judith soon became an industry analyst with IDC.
She enjoyed the game of figuring out emerging technologies, and went on to launch her consultancy in 1992. She planned for six months before launching it, and her effort paid off as she's helped businesses around the world position new tech. Seven years later, Judith raised venture capital and went on to successfully start two more companies. Saying this is a huge deal is an understatement, given that only 2% of VC funding currently goes to women.
Stories like Judith’s and Kelly’s are important to tell. They shed light on those who have accomplished incredible things before us, and prove just how much we all have in common.
These stories can also remind us to appreciate those who have supported us in our careers so far. The statistics may be dismal, but each of us has a colleague, a boss, an industry peer, or even a complete stranger, who welcomed us into this world. Someone who took the time to explain what DNS is, or walk us through an incident response plan, or whatever it may be. Those people, along with International Women's Day, deserve celebration.