Fault Injection is a podcast from Synopsys that digs into software quality and security issues. This week, hosts Robert Vamosi, CISSP and security strategist at Synopsys, and Chris Clark, principal security engineer at Synopsys, interview Chenxi Wang at this year’s codenomi-con 2017, held at the end of July at the House of Blues in Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Wang is the founder of the Jane Bond Project, which, among other things, advocates for women in technology.
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Chris Clark: Hi, everybody. Welcome to codenomi-con 2017. I’m Chris Clark, principal security engineer.
Robert Vamosi: And I’m Robert Vamosi, CISSP and security strategist at Synopsys. And this is Fault Injection. And today…
Chris: We have a very special guest today.
Chenxi Wang: I’m Chenxi Wang. I’m one of the speakers tonight for codenomi-con, and I’m the founder of the Jane Bond Project.
Chris: Jane Bond Project. Tell us about that, for the audience members who don’t know what that is.
Chenxi: Well, is the name intriguing?
Chris: I find it very intriguing.
Chenxi: Thank you. That’s why I named it. Jane Bond Project is my strategy and research consulting firm brand. I found throughout my career that I always gravitate towards research where I ask interesting questions in trying to dig down deep to get answers and, from that, inform product strategies or inform product roadmap, and this is what I do today. The reason I named it Jane Bond is not only am I a woman, I’m also a big advocate for women in technology, I’ve done a number of different things in the industry to foster that, so I love the brand. It’s sort of encompassing technology, research, product strategy, and women in technology. What better than Jane Bond?
Chris: Why not? Over the last couple years, we’ve really started to see a shift with women in the industry, not only just coming in from a technical perspective but in positions of power—CEOs, other levels. How are you seeing that grow in the market? Do you think that’s been a natural progression? Do you think this is due to some of the grassroots efforts that you have been participating in?
Chenxi: I would say I haven’t seen a huge shift, unfortunately. I have seen more and more women taking on high-profile positions, but if you look at it from an overall statistics standpoint, in cyber security, we’re still at 10–11% women, which is low. For high tech, we’re looking at, I think, maybe 18–21%, depending on what research study you read. But at cyber security we’re still at 10–11%. So we have a lot of work to. But I think you see women taking on more high-profile positions is one of the first steps. And then we’ll break that glass ceiling, which will hopefully engender more appeal for junior talent to come in and build a more diverse community.
Chris: Makes sense.
Robert: Are you starting at the college level, by any chance? Recruiting people in that way?
Chenxi: I don’t personally do recruiting. What I do is I try to foster communication. I run a Facebook group called Equal Respect that is for women in technology to have discussions. We have a lot of companies come in and post, “Hey, we’d love to hire a woman or a minority for this position, and here’s the job description.” We foster that kind of discussion as well as mentorships. But in terms of which level you should start, gosh, you should start as young as possible. I’ll give you an example. My son’s in second grade, he’s going on to third grade, and he actually will be mad if I say he’s a second-grader. He’s like, “I’m a third-grader.” At his grade level, they are teaching them programming. He’s programming in Scratch and everything. And a lot of girls are participating. They do the same thing. Third grade. I have another friend who has a daughter in high school, in the same district. They have AP programming classes. She’s the only girl in the class.
Robert: No. Wow.
Chenxi: Only girl. And I look at this, and I say, “What went wrong from third grade, where everybody is participating, to high school, where there’s only one girl in the class?” Something’s wrong. We have to fix this leaky pipeline. So I’m interested in finding out education methods that appeal to a broader base, and also I think the way we portray our industry needs to be changed.
Chris: Right. Sure. That makes sense.
Chenxi: I don’t want everybody to think of security as a guy in a hoodie, hacking the computer. He’ll get up in the morning, sit in the basement, hacking. I don’t know how many junior, senior school girls are going to look at this and say, “Hey, I want to be that guy.”
Robert: Where’s the role model in that?
Chenxi: So I want to build more diverse, more positive role models and identify those and bring those out. And Jane Bond is going to help me do that.
Chris: I think that’s why I really like the name Jane Bond. I have a little niece who—I wouldn’t say she’s a technology expert, but she by far knows more about technology than I ever did at her age.
Chenxi: More power to her.
Chris: And somebody who wants to be a ninja. I mean, how many young ladies do you know want to be a ninja? They’re typically playing those classical roles. As we start seeing that occur, I think we’ll start to see some of that momentum start to change. I think it’s starting to. I really like the idea of the program that you’ve started driving that.
Robert: So I’m just wondering if the 3rd grade is more enlightened than, say, the 10th grade and that this is not a generational thing but the period of time between those two grades, that there are more positive ninjas and so forth in the media today than were, say, 5, 10 years ago, when these 10th-graders…
Chenxi: That is true. And I’m also seeing a shift in the grade school teachers are doing a great job of focusing on personal development and not focusing on any kind of gender-specific roles, which I think does wonders. We need more of that.
Robert: I think STEAM programs are helping. Because they are rather gender neutral in how they approach it. This is a fun, creative—hey, there’s art in there too. Make it very interesting so it’s not just this wonky Tinker Toy–type environment that maybe we all grew up with.
Chris: Well, and it’s interesting because some of those topics are so robot focused, initially on. So now they’re starting to move away from what you were talking about, those Tinker Toy kind of scenarios to other scenarios that include other scientific disciplines that bring in more of the diversity.
Chenxi: So one of things is the kids are growing up with today, every single industry is becoming a software industry. So if you are interested in biology, oh, you need programs to analyze biological data. I think getting that concept into the different disciplines and having kids grow up with it is very key.
Robert: So we’ve talked about the next generation. How did you end up here?
Chenxi: Long story. Do you have time?
Robert: I do, actually. Well, I know there’s a bit of being an analyst along the way.
Chenxi: Well, I grew up in China. I was always a very science- and engineering-focused person. And when I was in first year of college, I actually won a scholarship to come to the U.S. I got a full scholarship—which was great because I would not have been able to afford it—to a liberal arts college, of all places, in Pennsylvania. It’s called Lock Haven. I finished my bachelor’s degree there and was able to get admission to a CS graduate program in the University of Virginia. I ended up doing my Ph.D. there. And after that I got a job as a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon, so I was doing research and teaching computer security at Carnegie Mellon for like six years. And then I moved out to industry because I really wanted to have hands-on work. So then I became an analyst, went to startups and now having my own business. That’s how I came about from a girl in China to here.
Robert: A modern success story right there.
Chris: That is a path. But it also brings up an interesting point. We talk about software is in everything. Just recently I was asked, what makes a good software engineer? What are the skills that are needed? Most people think, “Well, I have to be a developer. I have to understand C++ or some programming language.” That’s just not the case anymore. If you want to be effective, yes, eventually you get there, but there are so many disciplines that make up the software stack that we look at today.
Chenxi: I also think that the platform of programming is becoming more and more higher level. You have more abstracted things that you can leverage. In the past people used to write machine language programs. You don’t do that anymore. You go from C and C++. Now, you have even higher-level languages, where the building blocks are already there. I look at my son’s programming in Scratch. All the little blocks are there, and he’s learning how to put them together. He’s learning the logical thinking, the structure, which is what you need first. I’m thinking that in 10 years, when he is doing full-fledged programming, I’m hoping that he doesn’t have to deal with memory pointers or initializing a variable or putting a value. He doesn’t have to deal with all that. It all should be done for you. All he needs to focus on is the high-level logic. And I’m hoping that will get more and more diverse talent into high-tech industry, into computer security.
Robert: Also he’ll probably come home and be, “Mom, I’m the only boy in my AP programming class. What up with that?”
Chenxi: That’s probably not going to happen. But I’d be happy having close to half girls in those classes.
Robert: Thank you very much for your time. Appreciate it.
Chenxi: Thank you for having me.
Chris: Great having you here. You brought up some very interesting topics, and we hope to have you again on our podcast and dig into some of those other topics even more.
Robert: Thank you. Take care.