Reaching the Pinnacle of Cybersecurity Expertise
Sailaja Vadlamudi, Application Security Lead for SAP Labs India & Director of Security & Data Privacy
Sailaja Vadlamudi, an established Security & Data Privacy professional with 18+ years of experience in the industry. Currently, she is working as the Application Security Lead & Director of Security & Data Privacy for SAP Labs India.
Sailaja is a speaker to several nationwide and global forums for Security and Privacy. She educates the audience on the importance of security and privacy in this technological epoch. These forums comprise academia, corporates, start-ups, enterprises, and law enforcement organizations.
Read the excerpts from an interview with her on her career journey and achievements in her domain.
Stepping into the Technological World
Technology is so instrumental in achieving the impossible and Sailaja is lucky enough to witness technology’s magical evolution from telegram (not the current telegram) to telephones to the internet and now with just a touch/gesture, the entire universe can be accessed via a device.
Technology has always fascinated her because of the huge transformation happening in the field of technology, and its huge opportunity for learning and exploring to build an enriching world. It opened up many jobs globally by boosting economies. It helps in converting imagination into reality, thus inspired the world to go beyond the limits, boldly, even to reach the untapped zones.
Managing Career Challenges
During her career journey, she moved into bigger roles in Security and Privacy, yet the majority of the times, she was the only women in the room. She felt an indirect resistance from peers during the early phase of her career, which was obvious from their body language.
In a few instances, she was not even welcomed to important product/business discussions. But, nothing could stop her, not even the insecurities of others around her. Being a confident woman, she used to pull a chair and added value to the discussions that brought in thought leadership to the table.
Within a short period, people started realizing her strength and caliber, which invigorated the peers to add her into the discussions by default. Thus, she created her own space by working beyond the gender disparity.
Sailaja also came across several instances where disagreements with peers led to heated arguments too. Disagreements also led to discussions that dug deeper into the topic, but it was not about winning the game all alone but together. Sailaja always believed in being a go-to person. Using her expertise in her domain, she expanded the horizons across teams and business units as she believed in building bridges not burning them.
According to her, stakeholder management is the key and one size does not fit all, know your team and their needs, speak the message in their language. For example:
- For executives, articulate how security and privacy are business enablers
- For product management, show the increase in business value and align with their user stories
- For developers, provide security backlogs to work on them.
Sailaja also gave equal importance to the family and made sure that they knew her time is very critical for the business and it adds value to the business, but at the same time, it impacts people’s lives in positive ways. She believes that every challenge brings an opportunity, quickly grasp the message behind the challenge/change.
Underrepresentation of Women in Tech
Sailaja opined that women by their very nature are NOT so vocal about their needs and this holds true in workplaces too. In the majority of cases, it’s observed that women never discuss with managers about their readiness for the next level, instead, they expect their efforts to be recognized.
Women don’t feel comfortable to apply for a position if they don’t meet 90% of the requirements listed, whereas men do apply at a 60% match. In the midlevel of their career, women need to balance maternity, which holds them back to climb up the ladder in most cases.
Women lack sponsorships and they even miss out to have mentors. One more perception is that the higher they go they will have to stretch a lot by working long hours and join on many late evening social gatherings.
On a lighter note, Sailaja made it a point that Amazon stopped using an AI recruiting tool after realizing that it was consistently downgrading female candidates. So, it is also critical to develop tools that bring in more women representation in the tech world.
Advice to Next-Gen Women Leaders
Be confident and believe in yourself, speak for yourself and promote yourself. Be poised and brave to choose the path, less traveled. Keep abreast of the latest advancements in technology in your chosen area of specialization. Invest in yourself by continuously upskilling yourself, but at the same time, be ready to grab the opportunities that challenge you. Be fearless because when you are fearless, opportunities are limitless.
Founded Women in Cybersecurity and Privacy (WiCSP), an initiative to educate and sensitize women and girls about cyberspace, and also encourage then to take up cybersecurity and data privacy careers. Mentored several women by giving them opportunities to speak in various cybersecurity and privacy forums.
The thought behind WiCSP is that her parents believed that educating a girl is important that over-investing in assets for their future. They supported and helped her to achieve her dreams. To be more precise, she has been working to live their dreams.
India is leading in STEM with 50% girls, but when we translate it to technology jobs, women only make up to 14% out of it. Hence, we are losing them as they are not taking up any job roles.
Through WiCSP, they are adding a few cents for the better representation of women in cyber roles. The mission of WiSCP is to raise awareness and empower girls to get started in the Cybersecurity & Data Privacy career by offering training and mentorship to increase the number of women in the cybersecurity domain.
The initiative has started not only to create women experts but also to mold them as leaders and entrepreneurs, who are also from rural areas.
As a Certified Data Privacy Solution Engineer (CDPSE), Certified Threat Modelling Expert, Seasoned GDPR, Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), and China Cybersecurity law specialist, Sailaja has been listed as the ‘Top 20 India Women Security Influencers’.
She has also been recognized as Women of Excellence Award-2020, Cybersecurity Ambassador-2021, and Tech Beacon Award-2021
Sailaja has been selected as the ‘Top 10 Women Tech Leaders India Awards 2021’ by RACE, REVA University in association with Terralogic Inc., as she became the flagbearer to bring in a security culture across her organization and outside world. Being a changemaker in every sense, she is handpicked by the reputed jury members for this award.