Savitha Gowda is the joint director at C-DAC. She holds a bachelor’s in engineering (electronics and communication) from University of Mysore, MS in Quality Management from BITS, Pilani and a Post graduate diploma in Cyber Laws and Cyber Forensics from National Law School India University (NLSIU). “In the past 25 years of my career, I had my share of credits, awards and appreciation. However to say, “Yes, I have arrived!” there is still a long way to go,” said Savitha. In an interaction with Analytics India Magazine, she discussed the cybersecurity landscape and how to get more women into STEM.
AIM: What made you pursue a career in STEM?
Savitha Gowda: My father was a hands-on person. Being an electrical engineer, he used to repair things himself at home, and I used to be his assistant, fetching tools for him. However, I was interested in medicine. Though all my preparations were to join a medical college, I was allotted a seat for engineering in one of the top 10 colleges in the first list of CET results. This college campus was beautiful and in my favourite town, hence I decided to join engineering. Technology became a passion only after I started my profession in technical presales.
AIM: What are your responsibilities as the joint director at C-DAC?
Savitha Gowda: I joined C-DAC two decades ago mainly because of its technological innovations. It has been a wonderful learning journey with multiple opportunities to upskill myself. Though my primary contribution is in product, service and outreach activities, I have donned multiple hats at C–DAC, Bangalore, in projects of national importance such as the National GRID initiative- GARUDA, PMG Disha etc. I have handled the information security education and awareness (ISEA) project for five years. Currently, I am managing cyber security consultancy activities.
AIM: What are the major challenges you have faced in your career? How did you overcome them?
Savitha Gowda: Looking back, my major challenges were while working in networking technologies, an area where one could hardly find any women back then. It required a lot of fieldwork to understand the site requirements and design the structured cabling system with relevant network topologies.
As a woman, the major strength at our disposal is resilience, upskill yourself so that you can grab on any opportunity that presents itself. I did the same. I did not know where to start when I was asked to work on implementing ISO QMS. I remember going to STQC and spending a whole day understanding the standards. After which, I was able to author the process manual, conduct internal audits etc. Later, I acquired a master’s in Quality Management from BITS Pilani. When I was assigned the ISEA project with a virtual team, it called for extreme leadership skills; I had to lead by example and thus upskilled myself to deliver lectures continuously for 2-3 hours. Another challenge was managing the cybersecurity audit team. It was again a new learning, and in the process, I completed a post-graduate diploma in Cyber Laws and Cyber Forensics from NLSIU.
To overcome any difficulties, one has to acquire knowledge, study consistently, upskill on trending technologies and work on the communication skills. Never lose an opportunity to learn. Any vulnerability could hinder the growth; hence it is important to mitigate them through self-SWOT periodically. This will boost self-esteem and motivate to go on despite all the hurdles.
AIM: Why do you think many women are still reluctant to get into STEM?
Savitha Gowda: STEM requires commitment; one should be ready to work late hours. While working on the campus-wide network requirements for DRDO, I stayed overnight at the office alone, worked on the technical bid and ensured timely delivery. Professions in science and technology require perseverance and constant upgradation. Like for a true seeker knowledge is everything, one must have an insatiable hunger for knowledge while working in STEM jobs.
AIM: What can be done to encourage more women to take up STEM?
Savitha Gowda: Women have ample opportunities today to pursue a good education. After studies, however, parents’ prime concern is to get them married. Even in my family, all the women are well educated: my cousin is a gold medallist in engineering, and another is an engineer with an MBA. Both of them chose to become homemakers. I feel it is important to enable the girls to dream big, catch them young, and make them aware of opportunities in STEM. Role models are the biggest influencers; we need more women leaders among the top brass in STEM. Girls can develop interest in this field if schools could work on developing analytical skills by making science and maths practical and simple to understand. Successful women in STEM should volunteer to mentor girls and guide them on various job opportunities. We need more communities like WiCyS (Women in Cyber Security) for peer support. Also, while recruiting women, tech-oriented organisations should appreciate the value they can bring to the table. Women manage both home and work– one is their responsibility, and the other is their passion. A little empathy from the organisation could go a long way in motivating women to walk that extra mile to prove their worth.
AIM: What do you look for while hiring a cybersecurity professional?
Savitha Gowda: Cyber security professionals are always in demand. Every emerging technology comes with its vulnerabilities and a need for security professionals. While recruiting, the first and foremost requirement in the candidate we look for is common sense and strong analytical and investigative skills. It isn’t easy to find a cybersecurity professional with good communication skills. Also, we expect the candidate to have basic knowledge of standards, best practices, and audit procedures. Certifications are always a bonus.
AIM: How do you see the cybersecurity landscape evolve in the next couple of years?
Savitha Gowda: Cyberspace, just like outer space, is strategically a vital domain to nation-states for both offence and defence. The threat landscape in Cyberspace is beyond frontiers, and the consequences cannot be contained at the perimeter by the regular armed forces. The threat vectors are evolving exponentially. With emerging technologies, the security landscape should also innovate itself. Despite numerous security applications and devices available, incidents are on the rise. Cybercrime is not an isolated event anymore. The threat actors are more sophisticated.. As we witnessed during the pandemic, we had a maximum of our workforce using remote access, and trust is not an affordable luxury. Cyber security is a booming market and requires trained professionals to fulfil the demand. To that end, MeitY, in collaboration with DSCI and Microsoft, has launched the project, Cyber Shikshaa, to create skilled and industry-ready women professionals. The cybersecurity landscape is evolving in a big way; women should come forward to take advantage of this opportunity.