My Story By Zinet Kemal
October 14, 2019
My name is Zinet Kemal and my interest in changing a career to technology began long before I moved to the U.S. from Ethiopia 6 years ago. I have a law degree from Ethiopia and had worked as a legal assistant in a government agency providing advice to foreign investors until I moved to the U.S. in 2013 with my husband and son. I have always been fascinated by technology because of the power it has to build things that solve everyday problems.
My story is a unique journey. I aspired to be a leader in technology with special interest in cybersecurity, but the odds were against me. I am a recent immigrant, a millennial, a mother of three young children with a fourth baby on the way, a woman and a person of color. I attended school while raising a family. It's not easy going to classes while having to raise three young kids. Finding affordable child care alone is a challenge. I found strength in knowing that I can inspire and be a role model to my children.
Despite all the obstacles I earned a bachelor's degree in computer science from Minnesota's Metropolitan State University, and was chosen as a finalist for outstanding student award for academic performance, extracurricular activities and creative learning. I also earned an AS degree in computer programming and a certificate in Cybersecurity and Privacy Law. I have COMPTIA CySA+, Security+ and Network+ certifications as well as having recently passed ISACA's Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certificate, pending experience. I am not only a member of ISACA but also served as board member of the Minnesota chapter of the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA), as a technology director.
Currently, I work at Hennepin County local government as an IT Auditor identifying weaknesses in the organization's system network, make recommendations to prevent security breaches and to effectively evaluate IT risk by auditing cybersecurity controls. I am pursuing my graduate studies at Georgia Institute of Technology with an MS in Cybersecurity, expected to graduate in 2021. My motto is 'to teach is to learn twice.' With that in mind as of Fall 2019 I took an opportunity to teach my first class in Information security at a community college as an adjunct instructor.
When I decided to switch from law to technology, I lacked the necessary background in math, programming or any of the computing concepts. That didn't hold me back, it just made me work harder. I am from a place where there is very limited exposure to technology compared to my other classmates. I was able to navigate and learn how to break into the workforce of a culture and system of a totally different country.
There weren't many women in my classes and almost no women of color. I have heard that in the tech workspace, and especially in cybersecurity, until recently women only account for 11% of the work force, although this figure is expected to grow to 20% by the end of 2019. This figure is too low, and the industry needs to continue pushing for more women, and having initiatives and associations such as Women in Technology (WITI), SheleadsTech and Women in Cybersecurity (Wicys) helps increase awareness and move the needle in the right direction. I also believe having women leaders as a role model in technology motivates women who aspire to break into the field and become leaders in the field as well.
For those who are looking to join this industry, I say if you set your mind to it and are passionate about technology, you can do it. Avoid the intimidation and stereotypes and tell yourself that if you put in the work you can get a long way. Don't put off anything you can do today for tomorrow. Being a mom to young kids, I don't have the luxury of saying I will do it later, because you never know what kind of adventure or unexpected situation you will find yourself in.
In technology one needs to be willing to adapt to changes, since things in technology constantly evolve. And for those already in technology, knowing the goals and processes of your organization will help you not only see the bigger picture but also make you indispensable to your team. Once you find something you are passionate about, specialize in that area, be open to learning, and be willing to invest in self-development. That's the reason why I like to explore and earn certifications -- so that I learn new concepts. As a working mother, I am extremely passionate about contributing to changing the narratives on issues of gender and the racial pay gap, especially in technology, and the importance of working towards equity and reducing disparity in this regard.
In my current role as an IT auditor, working in a cybersecurity and risk assurance program, I enjoy learning about the different areas of IT and expanding various concepts on security. With each Audit engagement I get the opportunity to learn and research a specific area of IT and security. As a result I get to be an expert in that space and it's exciting to stay engaged in my career. The constant evolution of technology makes it exciting in itself and it pushes me to learn and keep up with the environment and I find that very fascinating.
In addition to her professional commitment, Zinet Kemal enjoys spending time with her three children a 9-year-old son, two daughters aged 6 and 4, and her husband, who is a software engineer. They are very excited about welcoming their fourth child (baby boy) any day now!
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