Showing Up

October 20, 2017
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This blog is a response to a comment made on LinkedIn regarding a conference I spoke at recently, BSides Calgary 2017.  I felt strongly about it, and felt the need to post a longer response than LinkedIn allowed in their comment field.

Thank you for your time here.


My name is Shelly Giesbrecht, I’m “nerdiosity” to my friends, I’m a woman in tech, and I spoke at BSides Calgary this year.

I began this blog as a short response to the post by Ms. Smibert about the lack of representation of women in the speakers at BSides Calgary this year, but it quickly became too long to be just a comment.

To begin, I have the greatest respect for Ms. Smibert. However, I feel that her comment about BSides Calgary was, at best, misinformed, and at worst, unhelpful. Misinformed because I taught at BSides Calgary this year, and unhelpful because the InfoSec community in Calgary is still in its infancy compared to other places, and needs to be built up not torn down.

Ms. Smibert’s comment “The fact an event couldn’t find a single woman to speak (have they tried?) is the reason why I will not show up” is what I find most problematic.  BSides Calgary, as I understand it, did not receive any submissions for talks from women for this year’s conference. (Note: I chose to submit a training session, not a conference talk this year) Is this a failure on BSides Calgary’s part? Some might argue yes, and I believe that Steve and the team will likely look at ways to better encourage and promote female speakers next year.

That said, I believe this is a larger failure, so bear with me while I explain:

When I was 11…15…20…25, I honestly didn’t know that the job I do now even existed. No one, man or woman, told me that a talent for fixing things, solving puzzles, using computers and reading everything I could find would lead me to one day become the team lead of Incident Response for one of the largest security companies in the world.  I have been very lucky along the way to have some incredible mentors, both men and women. I find myself in a position in life where I feel blessed to be able to affect others in a positive way.

But when we hire, we don’t see enough resumes from women. And when I speak at conferences, there are still too few women in the audience.

So how do I choose to change this?  I show up.

I show up by submitting talks and training sessions to conferences in hopes that by seeing me speak, another woman who is passionate about her craft but nervous about trying might be inspired to try.

I show up by speaking at Career Day at my local high school so that young women can see what is possible.

I show up by blogging about work I’m doing to share my passion for what I do.

Last year, I showed up at the first BSides Calgary, alongside other highly talented and bright women, to speak. In the last year, I also spoke at the SANS DFIR Summit, I facilitated a panel at the Calgary ISC2 Congress, taught at Cisco Live, and blogged for the Cisco Security blog.

But I obviously didn’t do enough. And neither did Ms. Smibert, nor did every person that “liked’ her post.  We cannot simply say “BSides Calgary is at fault” because there are no women speakers.  We need to show up.  For every talented, bright woman who liked the comment but didn’t submit a talk, for every leader who commented positively but didn’t encourage the talented, bright women on your team to submit a talk, I challenge you to show up next year.

We can bring change to the numbers of women in tech by being visible, by letting females from 5 years old on up know what is available and possible.

Does this solve all the problems women face in tech? Absolutely not. We have much work to do, and need more allies to achieve it.

I plan to make 2018 a bigger year personally for ‘showing up’ in hopes of inspiring more women to submit talks not just to BSides Calgary, but to talk, teach or write about whatever fuels their passion.  Please join me.

  1. Safari 11.0 Safari 11.0 Mac OS X  10.12.6 Mac OS X 10.12.6
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    My name is Cindy Green-Ortiz, I’m “Sunburn9T” to my friends, I’m a woman in tech for over 32 years. I agree and amplify Shelly’s comments. When I started in the field in the 1980s, there were MORE women in the field than there are now. There were more in the classes, in the seminars and in the offices. Something happened in the 1990s to run women off and they have at times VANISHED from the field, completely. Many, many times I am the ONLY woman in site. I am technical and I say things the others in the room aren’t ready to hear from a woman. I could spread blame around, but I think we have to be visible, we have to be heard and we must show up!! I am President of a InfraGard Chapter (over 1000 members – mostly men with more women attending than before), I speak most any time I am asked and I volunteer in my children’s computer classes, robotics teams and I oversee a CyberCamp with the FBI every year. I write White Papers on Cybersecurity. I have created 3 businesses in CyberSecurity. Call to Action -> I call every woman in tech to step up, to reach out, to mentor, to be the one that says “you can be someone” in Tech! If you don’t know how to start, connect with me or Shelly or others on Twitter and lets get started!

    • headnerd says:
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      Well said, Cindy. Thanks for your response, and for showing up!

  2. Ken Dohan says:
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    Well written and crisp, Shelly. All good comments and points.

  3. Alison Amagasu says:
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    Great points Shelly. I’m not a woman in tech, but as a woman who does marketing for a tech company, I know a lot of you, I work with you, and I’m cheering you on each time you take the stage, teach a class, or run a meeting like a boss. I go to a lot of tech conferences, and I admit I get a total rush when I see a woman up on stage just killing it with her confidence and knowledge. Maybe I should be used to it by now, or expect it by now but I’m not and I don’t. We’re still a minority in this realm, and I do not take our representation lightly. So thanks to all of you that are showing up, being brave, and showing the next generation how it’s done. I’ve got a 7-year-old daughter, and you can bet she’s going to know what is possible.

  4. JH says:
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    Thank you for leading by example, Shelly!

  5. Bronwen Aker says:
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    Prior to this episode, I knew nothing of Ms. Smibert. As of this writing, I am not impressed. If she had genuinely been concerned about the dearth of women speaking at BSides Calgary, why, FFS, did she not take up the banner and show up?

    I don’t know if I will make it to Calgary for BSides 2018, but I would gladly do so if for no other reason than to put the lie to the perception that BSides and their organizers did not try to be inclusive.

    • headnerd says:
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      I’ll definitely be there again next year, Bronwen. Please let me know if you’re going to be there. Would love to meet up!

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