What does the journey into cybersec look like? A conversation with IBM's Ms. Valinda Kennedy!

Project Cyber is starting its interview series with amazing people committed to keeping the cyber world secure! We recently got the chance to learn more with Ms. Valinda Kennedy! Read on to discover a special fun, hands-on way to learn cybersecurity and to learn more about her advice for teens interested in this field and her journey.

Valinda is a leader on the IBM Global University Programs team working with HBCU leadership, faculty and students to provide access to industry resources to bridge the gap between academic programs and high demand skills. Working with all Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) to implement programs using IBM’s academic programs for free access to resources to build critical skills in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, internet-of-things, data science, design thinking, cyber security, blockchain and other hot technology areas is a typical day for Valinda with academic, government and industry leaders.

Now into her 33rd year at IBM, Valinda Scarbro Kennedy has held a variety of engineering, sales, services and executive management positions.

Degrees include a Bachelor Degree in Applied Mathematics and an Associate Degree in Computer Science from West Virginia State University in 1987 and 1988. Activities include being a Trustee, Senior Usher and Choir member at Logan Street Baptist Church, Monday Night Ladies Bowling Team Captain and on the advisory boards at Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Missouri and Northwestern University. Valinda is also an on-going mentor to veterans with American Corporate Partners and holds an appointment on Indiana Governor Holcomb’s Cyber Security Executive Council. She is the wife to Steven Kennedy and mother of US Navy Academy Midshipman Adam Kennedy majoring in mathematics with goal of becoming a naval aviator and Millikin University Long-Vanderburg Scholar Junior Alex Kennedy majoring in mathematics and data science with a minor in African American Studies with the goal of becoming a data scientist.

What led you to the CyberSecurity industry?

As part of being an IBM Systems Engineer, early on Cyber Security was part of the responsibilities for supporting customers and their systems. After expanding into disaster recovery planning, cyber security was a natural follow-on as technology changed and more reasons for recovery were being linked to human behaviors instead of natural disasters. The job opportunities in cyber security continue to grow. This field and the associated career opportunities is on an exponential growth path and there is no expected end in sight.

When did you find out that this was something you wanted to invest your energies in?

After attending presentations by IBM and other experts in Cyber Security, I found it to be a fascinating field. As someone who enjoys puzzles it is similar in makeup with the different pieces and how they fit together. The more I uncovered the more I wanted to learn. The topic itself is continuously growing and expanding daily almost faster than any other discipline in computer science. To learn more about is available, consider going to the IBM Academic Initiative www.ibm.com/academic and Select IBM Security and under Courseware consider the free course on Getting Started with Threat Intelligence and Hunting. Then for major fun if you are still in school(high school or college), check-out the Software Tab all available for free for students for teaching, learning and non-commercial research with your school issued email address.

What has been your biggest learning from being in this field?

Also, this field requires continuous learning to be good. So stepping away can be a 10 minute break or a 2 week education course to keep skills current. Either way perspective is one of things that cyber security has given me a deeper appreciation for in respecting the value it brings to challenges.

What has been the most fun or exciting part of your journey into the infosec field?

The most exciting part has been the opportunities to meet so many different people and cultures who work in this field. I met a gentleman at a conference who is a cyber security consultant by day and by night he wrote the hacks for Mr Robot. I am constantly meeting individuals and companies who continue to expand the art of the possible once one or two experts are in the real or virtual room together.

What would be your biggest single piece of advice for people who want to follow their dreams?

Invest in yourself. It is not necessarily how much money you spend but it is how much time you invest in yourself to continue to grow and develop skills that make you stand out from the crowd. Not just to work for someone else but to also make your ideas marketable and valuable if you elect to go the entrepreneur path. Your education is your key to not only providing for yourself but also expanding your horizons into areas you may not even be considering now but once you get exposed to them that path may open up so many more opportunities than you ever dreamed possible.

Who have you looked up to as a role model?

There are many people who have been my role models: my mom, my dad, my Inroads/WV executive director when I was in college, my manager who hired me into IBM and many more. The individuals listed have always been positive role models for me. There are also people, if their behavior did not bring out the best in me, then that was a behavior I decided was something I did not want to see in myself. I have been fortunate. Many wonderful people have contributed to being examples of what I can do to bring out the best in me and when done really well will also potentially bring out the best in others.

How do you go about solving any challenges that come up?

Research as much as you can about the issue(s). Do your homework. Get input from individuals who are experts in that area or similar areas to leverage their expertise. Many times just talking it out opens up concepts, ideas or hurdles you may not have identified on your own. Also, be willing to take feedback of every type and act on what is potentially true and discard input that is not in your best interest.

Thank you Ms. Kennedy for your wonderful insight!