Support in tech is vital to success, says tech leader

“I’m always a fan of celebrating women, and if I can play a part in helping someone, I’m all for it!” Sandy Venugopal, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at SentinelOne, told Cybernews.

She’s one of the deeply inspiring women in tech who juggles management, motherhood, and navigating the industry.

I spoke with Sandy about her experience working with the company. SentinelOne is a cybersecurity-focused tech company, which is new to her.

Starting out

Originally Uber’s CIO, Sandy gained a lot of experience in the field. She also has a strong academic and professional background that’s helped bolster her success in the industry. Yet, it was her work for LinkedIn that forged her career growth.

“LinkedIn is where I've really sort of grown in management ranks and seniority, as it’s certainly been a very meaningful and impressionable part of my career history,” she said.

However, before entering the industry, Sandy took up a STEM-orientated degree.

“I completed a degree in Computer Science, and that’s when I really got into tech. It was partly due to the fact that having this degree would typically land you great job opportunities, but I also just loved math.”

Pursuing tech

While her degree was one factor that helped forge her relationship with the tech field, Sandy recalls a point in her career that really cemented her fondness for technology.

“The one thing I really did get out of the consulting world was that love for technology. I loved how we could enable companies, teams, and individuals to work very differently than how they had before, that was the propellant for staying in technology. Then, the CIO role really came from enjoying being someone who is recognized for helping different teams operate and collaborate on different priorities and processes while helping them understand how they can utilize technology effectively.”

Sandy was set on the tech world, but cybersecurity wasn’t always on her mind.

“I envisioned myself in tech, but I would say cybersecurity came about as I grew into technology leadership roles, and I recognized that cybersecurity is such a critical part of that space.”

Women in STEM

Sandy observed a lack of role models in the consulting world. So, I asked her whether she felt there were more female role models in tech.

“It’s better than from my time in consulting. Maybe it’s changed since then, so I don’t want to say that’s still the case completely, but I would say that’s my experience. In tech, I have observed more role models in senior ranks; however, we still have a long way to go.”

This CIO mentioned that she has two young children at home. How did being in a pivotal role in a tech company impact her motherhood journey?

“I have been very open with my co-workers, colleagues, and teams that my family is my top priority. It’s never hidden; it’s not something I’ve ever downplayed. Hopefully, my openness has made it okay to say, “Hey, all of us have families” in various shapes and forms. It’s important to acknowledge that because no one will be in their jobs forever, everybody moves on, but family and home life are forever.”

Finding support in cybersecurity

While recognizing the importance of a strong support system while raising a young family, Sandy also believes that creating a supportive environment in the tech industry is vital to a successful business.

“I would say that building a support system at work has been very important, and that has hopefully helped other team members feel comfortable sharing some of their challenges and needs, asking for flexibility that might be needed to help balance home and work life.”

There’s also the issue of flexibility, with cybersecurity being an excellent environment for women, mothers, and parents to enter.

“To me, tech and cybersecurity are areas where women, mothers, and parents can thrive because the nature of the work is such that you can achieve success by being flexible. It’s very much outcomes, deliverables, and impact-based. It’s not that you need to be sitting at a desk from 9 to 5. The key aspect that gives the job flexibility is in the different ways you approach things.”

Systemic challenges

Despite her fondness for cybersecurity and the tech industry, Sandy did experience some barriers upon entry.

“That was a struggle. When I did my computer science degree, there was a very small handful of women in my classes. So there were certain thoughts like “Am I the anomaly here? Will I ever find a community of people I enjoy working with, or will I always be the odd one out?” It takes a hit to your self-confidence as you’re frequently left thinking you’re different from those around you.”

Sandy recalls what it was like being outnumbered by men in STEM and tech environments.

“The common thing would be that you’re a female in the room – so you can take notes. Or other stereotypical female tasks, such as getting things for men while they do their jobs. These were all very real things that happened.”

An enriching experience

However, despite the barriers, cybersecurity and tech in general is an enriching experience that any person can enter.

“Don’t doubt yourself. Give it a try, and you will find it to be very fulfilling. Make sure to approach a mentor if you’re struggling. Build that support system. Remember, nothing is ever easy.”

As we concluded the interview, Sandy spoke directly to women who want to enter the industry.

“I think women, in general, need to persevere through many challenges outside of technology. So, consider cybersecurity and the tech industry as a place where you can succeed and absolutely give it your best shot. There is such a variety of things you can do where your skills, aptitude, and attitude will contribute a lot of value to the industry. So, own it, be confident, and believe that you will succeed.”