How do you go from studying archaeology to becoming a Chief Security Officer? In this third installment of our series Conversations with a Female Engineer, Relativity’s Chief Security Officer Amanda Fennell says it’s about unconventional thinking and the ability to be passionate and engaged. Read on for more of her journey.
What is your current role and how did you get there?
Chief Security Officer of Relativity – the industry-leading e-discovery software company headquartered in Chicago.
I was approached by Relativity to serve as the Chief Security Officer. In this case, I was directly approached by the leadership staff and Relativity was a clear match, both culturally and professionally.
Did you always want to work in tech?
I actually started out as an archeologist specializing in paleo hominid biology. Over time I realized I needed to find a better way to exercise my forensic skills and I stumbled upon the George Washington University Master’s program for Digital Investigations.
What was your educational path, did you study engineering in school? STEM or arts?
Following the completion of my undergraduate degree in archeology, my focus in graduate school was on the applied engineering of High Tech Crime.
How important is female leadership in a company?
I prefer to take a broader perspective when considering the concept of female leadership within any organization, placing more importance on the value of diversity and alternative perspectives to find creative solutions to challenging problems.
Did you have a mentor? How important is mentorship in keeping young women in the tech field?
What I took the most value from was having strong figures to guide my aspirations within a technical field, regardless of gender, who embodied professionalism and dignity. I consider myself fortunate to have had exposure to government in the earlier formative years of my Cyber Security field, which set the pace for the graceful tenacity required to execute on my goals. Throughout my college years, I was thankful to have a couple of outstanding archaeology and osteology professors – notably the Dr. Boyds – that taught me to approach problems with proportionate determination and unconventional thinking. This mantra continues to influence my actions and drive my success today.
What advice do you have for women who want to enter the tech field?
It means more to be passionate and engaged than to be the most experienced and informed person in the room – the world needs more passion, and this commodity is more difficult to find. Personally, I spent my initial years in this field being quiet, focusing on learning the trade and developing the right flavor of critical thinking. Over time I was able to speak up as a subject matter expert and contribute to the success of the greater team. I would also place an enormous amount of value in the role of listening to each contributor in a room, carefully considering their perspective, and making decisions based on as much data and context as possible. Like an archaeologist…
How can companies encourage more women to work in technology?
Foster an environment where all voices are heard. I hear many women in technology having a hard time being heard in a room or people listening to their opinions. Being heard in a room wasn’t really something I struggled with and I think because I had a sense of confidence based on my expertise and skill- not gender. Companies should continue to choose the right candidates for leadership roles and if they happen to be female- that is a great image for the other women in the company to see.