Episode 11

Published on:

21st Jan 2021

Neurodiversity in Cybersecurity - Dr. Stacy Thayer

People who are Neurodiverse often struggle to be accepted in today's world. Nathan Chung interviews Dr. Stacy Thayer, Organizational Development Consultant and Professor of CyberPsychology at the California Lutheran University. At Black Hat 2018 she led an amazing talk titled: How can Someone with Autism Specifically Enhance the Cyber Security Workforce? She shares how things having changed in Cybersecurity since then, along with her personal stories, and incredible insights into Neurodiversity and challenges faced today. Listen and be inspired.



Hi, and welcome to the NeuroSec Podcast where we unite people and organizations to support and advance Neurodiverse people in Cybersecurity and beyond to make the world more diverse and inclusive. My name is Nathan Chung and today my special guest is Dr. Stacy Thayer, Organizational Development Consultant and Professor of CyberPsychology at the California Lutheran University. Welcome, Stacy.


Hello thank you thank you Nathan for this opportunity. I look forward looking forward to this.


r for your talk from BlackHat:


Great question. I wouldn't say so much change, I think changed. Not necessarily drastic, but it's evolving. It's growing, it's moving in the right direction. And part of that comes from awareness, not only of ASD, and Neurodiversity, but also just mental health and people as an individual to what are what are people going through. As it's very much a different workplace that it was even like 40 or 50 years ago. You came to work and you left your your, your personal life at home. I mean, and look at us now. It's like everybody's at home and work right, we're really blended. But with that becomes the request and the call for managers to take a look at each of their employees and say, okay, how do I connect to this person, and that includes individuals with ASD and especially in the security industry, as we addressed during the talk two years ago, that the security industry is very appealing because of the way that there's there's problems to be solved and different ways of looking at things. It's very stimulating for high functioning people with ASD. And so I think in the past two years, it's it's continuing to march along towards awareness, towards understanding and managers, and managers and parents are trying to learn what can they do to help people because actually, in the talk, most of the questions that I got afterwards, were actually from a lot of parents, people with children and teenagers. Really, I did not expect that. And that was my huge takeaway where all those parents that came up. They said, they work in the security industry. So they were at BlackHat. And they would say my son or daughter, you know, trying to figure out what to do, could I encourage them to go into this industry. And so as we could connect the dots and say, Here's why this, this might be appealing, and here's other people that you can connect to, and here's resources. And when when Rhett approached me with this talk, it was he was really championing the acceptance, and that yeah, you know what, this is something that exists. And then he went out and interviewed people and surveyed people to get their responses. And there was there were plenty of people to talk to, and so normalize and so here's a place that you can come to you and do work, and the industry itself can connect to you and understand and it's okay, if you march to the beat of a different drummer, we all do in one way or another. So I'd say in the past two years, it has grown with more acceptance, more understanding and more recognition. We understand now that okay, so so yes, there's there might be something about about somebody that I don't quite understand. Okay, it's it's Autism, or it's something we're trying to understand more and the language is used more often and with understanding.


That's wonderful. It feels like we're making progress and really happy with that. One of the biggest issues today that you highlighted in your talk was how people with ASD are treated in the workplace. Before COVID and the stay at home orders often they were mentally not physically treated differently it's like a label like either normal or not normal. And often managers continue to use older traditional management models and business practices that reinforce the corporate culture that is often not working for ASD workers. I brought up I brought this up in about the same issue in one of my talks last year. And what what how do you feel what more can be done by leaders to change corporate culture and to encourage managers to treat ASD workers better so that it's more diverse and inclusive, like we're part of the team instead of being different?


Well, the awareness is is very much a big piece and and i think the light was really shined on this with COVID and with stay at home, because all of a sudden, there was no common denominator for everybody's work experience. It's not like when you go into the office, and your cubicles are the same, and the offices are the same, and you know what to expect. All of a sudden, everybody had different situations that they were working with. Some people worked with kids in the background, some people had to work with roommates in the background. And managers had to step up and say okay, so now I have to look instead of my team, I have to look at my staff, both as individuals and team. I think that this became a big advantage and step, get an even larger step towards making progress towards acceptance and understanding because this also included recognizing some of the either Neuro or mental behavioral or mental health challenges that employees have. Even employees with who suffer from depression, it amplified because of COVID for many of them, and managers had to adjust to that. In the case of ASD, or Neurodiversity, get management to step up and say, okay, so what's the environment? What do you need? Are you flourishing when working from home, and a lot of times, even before COVID, people with ASD would actually flourish from working from home because there were no distractions. Because there weren't the social interactions that would trigger them for the rest of the day. And, and they were now that if work from home becomes even more accepted, as it seems that it's moving in the direction towards hybrid models. When I think that that's actually going to be even more advantageous both for managers. And for individuals that don't flourish very well in an office space. Socially, it's very challenging. And this is something that has always interested me, just from the beginning of my career with psychology and technology is in the workplace. There is often a disconnect, sometimes between people who are not technical and people who are technical, right? And I've seen it time and time again, in different companies. Usually, a lot of that comes from an engineer to make the generalization of you'll have your salespeople and your coders review developers, say, for example. And so the sales people will be talking with a client, they'll come over, they'll say, hey, you need to make this feature. We have a large company, you know, fortune 500, they want this feature. You guys can make that right? Of course, developers are like, no, what do you mean that no. And they might not be as much into the schmoozing and the you know, the handshaking and just different personalities, extroverts, introverts, right.


And then what, um, so then you're trying to figure out that the social navigation anyway. And one thing is most people have some form of when they're in a social interaction, they're still doing some sort of self monitoring. There's a heightened awareness when we're in a social interaction, it's that you think of the phenomenon when you're learning someone's name for the first time, you're so busy thinking about your name, that you forget their name, about ourselves. And so a lot of times when you're in the workplace, and you're dealing with somebody interacting with somebody, you have ASD and the communication patterns may be unfamiliar, anymore, or abrupt, or they may go in a different direction, or there's something about the pattern of in the feedback of communication that throws people off. And they don't know what to do with that. All they know people pay attention to how other people make them feel.




And that can be very challenging for somebody with ASD because they're not connected necessarily to how they make other people feel. So there's this giant gap. And when we're able to recognize, oh, alright, that person, you know, has, it has this challenge or has this sometimes this strength, but this is something that they're diagnosed with. And this is just a factor of their being, we can understand them a little bit more a little bit better and say, okay, that's what it is. Because otherwise, a lot of times we're going to say am I am i doing something wrong? Do they like me or not like me? Do I like them now I'm now they've made me uncomfortable, so I'm angry at them, or you put me out of my comfort zone. And there's a lot of emotions going on, that the person with ASD may be completely either unaware of or not knowing what to do. And the third person who was in our talk at BlackHat Casey, and he was a manager. And what he spoke to was what it was like to be a manager of, in this case, Rhett of somebody who was so talented and such an asset to the team. But Casey took the concept to to learn what works with Rhett and what didn't, who how to talk to Rhett when he talks about that and talk because that was what really solidified their relationship and their trust was that Casey took the time and the effort to learn and understand and that made all the difference for Rhett and for the rest of the company that okay if you want to talk to him, maybe you come through me to do that and then I can I can buffer it and find a good time because I know there's sometimes you just don't want to interrupt that person. And it's okay. And when the manager can step up and take it upon themselves to to, to manage to manage the relationship to manage the person to understand and create awareness for the team, then it can create more quality, more understanding, more patience, more acceptance, and that can make all the difference for success for somebody with incredible talent. Because there are very, very many high functioning people with ASD who are amazingly talented. We were joking, when we first got to talk together, because we're gonna call it I think it was weaponizing Autism. That was the pilot name that we would call it. But it was, because maybe you you take this asset and you point asset in the right direction. And actually, this was one of things that was really fascinating, even about just in speaking with Rhett is, we would be talking and he would notice different things. So he would notice, like behaviors of oh, you're talking about things that I hadn't necessarily observed even in myself, but because he he looked at things with such a different angle. Just even for a couple of hours, see the world through his eyes, because it was so different from me the way that I see things. So when you apply that then to the field of computer security, now you're you're connecting to machines in a way that is different and, and that's why it is so important for security, because it is, at the end of the day, what the person behind the computer is thinking is doing is programming. It does all come down to people, but how people connect to computers. And that can actually be that that structural thinking that angle, that following that piece of thread is something that it can when thought of and looked at in a different way from a different lens can be incredibly powerful.


Yes, absolutely. And it sounds like I remember that part of the talk. And I think I was really inspired by it. Because it really does help to build like empathy is like, just make the time to get to know the person like simple thing like that, which, sadly, I in my experience, it's it is hard for managers to do that. It just seems like default no, I'm not going to do that for some reason.


It's it's a hard bridge, because yes, sometimes what can happen and I don't want to be too general because one of the important things about what's what's happening now is that people are recognizing the grey of Neurodiversity and that we don't want to say that, okay, people with Asperger's do this. I mean, there are diagnostic criteria. But when you start like with any with any diagnostic, in my opinion, anyone with any diagnosis, when you just start checking off blocks, you're you forget to look at the person and you're just looking at the diagnose.




So it's so so important to say okay, there may be patterns. So you may find that in working with somebody with with Autism, that their speech patterns may be more abrupt. The spacing between words may not be too much. But usually there's there's sort of things may be said that might not come up in normal conversation. But they said might just sort of come out and you're like, what, what was that or the even nonverbal communication, smiling, hold themselves. Actually, that one of the things I teach in my Cyber Psychology classes is called Meridians. And the fact is that people only listen to 7% of the words that people are saying. Everything else, tone of voice, body language facial expressions. And for a lot of people who have ASD the parent language is something there because they focus on the words. Yes, that 7% listening to the words. And so they're forgetting, okay, not smile, am I making this person feel at ease back to them. So if somebody is saying the manager, managers have insecurities, they just may not be so confident. It can be very hard for somebody to say, okay, it doesn't matter. They may be acting like they don't even like me. I may think they're mad at me, but I don't care. That's very hard for people to push back on. I'm feedback centric. And we look to other people for it. Or do you get what I'm saying. Do you not get it. We just that's how we communicate through looking at somebody and then we get the message back. So sender receiver, and if we're not getting anything back, a lot of times people shut down into their own comfort but a good manager has to they have to push back. They have to step out of their comfort zone. It doesn't matter how much you don't like somebody how much you like somebody. You can be somebody's best friend, you can be their worst enemy. If you were their manager. You have to have a relationship with them. You have to push that.




There's a lot of managers that even don't like difficult conversations. Do you think about how hard it is to have a difficult conversation telling somebody they didn't do that right. We know, people don't like bad news, most of us don't like to give people that discomfort. And so people just don't have those hard conversations, or they don't go into areas where they don't know or feel comfortable and confident that you have to go there.


Yep. And it creates barriers.


Yes, yes. And if you do, if you push past those barriers, and you reach out and you say, this is how I can make this person and help them and coach them, then it is more often than not, I find completely worth your wild. And the managers that have done that, and have reached out and established the rules and the gut, the guidelines put down, put down the gauntlet and say, okay. I understand this is this is something that you're dealing with, and this goes for everything. That goes if you have depression, anxiety, anything. Okay, so this is what's happening for you. This is what I need, this is what you need. This is call out the elephant in the room and these are the terms of our engagement, this is what our process is going to be. And so we both understand that and get everybody on the same page.


Yep. You brought up a good point because the way I see at the end of the day, we're all different. Getting people to, to identify and adjust to our differences.


Yeah, yeah. And set people up for success. That's, that is so important. For me personally, I'm always laugh when when, yes, I went all the way in school, because I think any of my teachers in grade school would have been shocked. I was a terrible student through high school. And, you know, the challenges were, well, because I'm not in the box. I never could sit there and just listen. For me, I definitely would have been diagnosed ADHD as a, I mean, as a kid, I was hyperactive, I would sit there and my teachers hated me. And I like to get my water, you go around, you know, you oh, you know, you just go around and pave your way. And when the traditional methods don't work, you persevere and you figure out what works for you. But the worst thing is when you're in a situation where you're not set up for success with a management who ignores you. And then says, well, why didn't you do it this way? It's communication. It's like, well, that's not setting you up for success. Because everyone has something you're good at, and something there are challenges. And managers need to identify that. And that's, again, setting the expectations and saying, this is where I'm at, this is where you're at. But for you titled the weaponizing ASD. When we're on the right direction, you set that person up for success in their environment, and you get them what they need, and put all that energy and knowledge and thought into something, it can be a huge asset.


And you're absolutely right. And something that came to mind as well. It also comes down to the person as well, because if a person doesn't know that they're Autistic, or they have Neurodiverse conditions, they won't know to ask for help. So I think that's the thing that a lot of people struggle with because they just go to work each day in their lives to be wearing a mask thinking, I have to fit in. I have to pretend to be normal.


Yeah. And it's I mean, with the, under the internet, being technical, especially tell me, you know, what, what are we talking about with, you know, big companies, big tech, right? I mean, tech tech has become so much more powerful than one pre Internet. And so I mean, you look at shows, I mean, it's just like the Big Bang Theory, right? That became a top show. And it's such as the show I know actually a lot of people that both relate to it and hate it at the same time. Now, you know, people used to when that when the Internet first came out, and 10-20 years ago, I'm dating myself here, but that wow, that kid who used to be in high school is now the CEO. You know, now it's Bill Gates its Steve Wozniak. These are these people that that were in my day and age, if you like computers, you were basically given a wedgie and stuff in a locker. Right? What it was, and now though, it's like, okay, these are the powerful people need to know the people that are employing the people that put them in a locker and are much more well accepted. I have a good friend who was different from his daughter who was in high school, and she had like a Minecraft server and she knew how to program. She's the most popular kid in school because of this because she knew how to do this stuff. And he's like, man in my day, like I I knew the same exact stuff, and I was just not at all popular and now in today's era, everybody loves it because it's online. Digital Natives


So exciting.


It really is. Because if you don't know how to use a computer, if you're not computer savvy, if you don't know that, then you're actually behind. And, you know, this is a natural instinct for a lot of salespeople that enter security organizations and enter into technology is they have to be able to speak to a technical audience.


Hmm, yes, indeed.


They have to. It's not It's not about oh, okay. I mean, it let's go out and get a game of golf. Right. It's, it's, it can be, but it's not. It's not that as much as it used to be. That usually I'm talking like, you know, 30 40 50 years ago, when you say, you know, had them over for dinner or something like that. And actually COVID because salespeople are struggling with how do I take this person out to dinner? Or, you know, how do I want to dine them? Wiring us, COVID especially took away our social interactions. What did that leave us with? All of us through a computer, not in not in somebody's office, it limited all of us. And a lot of people joke that, you know, when we, when we come out of this, and everybody's back in an office together, nobody's gonna know how to talk to each other. You know, what, I used to be good at social skills. I don't know what those are anymore. But we really had to rely on our talents that were not just about social interactions and connecting to people and shaking somebody's hand became more more than just a handshake, you had to connect with people strategically. And effectively.


Yep. So with all the changes thanks to COVID. It'll remain to be seen, like if we go back to how things were, but my experience with history we probably will, because even like say in London, like after the big fire in London, and that destroyed most of London, what did they do, they pretty much rebuilt it the same it was. Even though things have changed now. Real, sustained, lasting change, that will be still a long term bite, but there is always hope. Yes. And because next topic, the there's also a gender disparity as well, because with Autism, Autism, Autism is often perceived as primarily affecting primarily males, similar to how cybersecurity is perceived as a male field, male dominant field. This, this leads to a lot of women like not getting diagnosed, and this thing being negatively labeled example, you brought up the example of a girl in school, who knows computers. So I remember back in the day, a girl who was good with computers, they were just negatively labeled, like, as if they're violating a social norm. But sounds like based on what you're saying we made a lot of progress with. I'm happy with that. But based on your observations and findings, what can be done to make workplaces more welcoming to females who have ASD?


So I think it's a two fold question. First, is it two steps? I think that in two steps, so first, I think they're in general is and they are making a lot of steps towards this being welcoming of women in technology in general. That's step one. And then step two, starting to see the gradients of different types of women. When it comes to to women with with ASD, right, a lot of times they are undiagnosed. Yes, they are labeled as quiet or mousy. And if you think about the children, his loved ones, you know, boys will act out and run around and talk and I have two girls that never shut up, I would know when it was off. But it the more that we can recognize it, the more awareness the more that we set young girls up with technology.


Mm hmm.


So actually raising my two daughters, they're twins. So they're both five, grown up exactly the same. One is very much like the dolls and the pink and then the other one loves making things. Her favorite Christmas present was an astronaut helmet that she wore the whole rest of the day at Christmas and love it. Garage turned into like a makerspace and she said I can't wait until I'm older I can go in and make all sorts of things with you. And so we see with her that she just loves to make and build and I she touches everything. If there's a button, she's going to press it right. As parents we want to develop and nurture that that technological piece and grow her towards that. Now, if it turns out that her brain is doing all the structuring and her thought patterns and her behaviors are in a pattern that might be similar or recognizable as something that is ASD. We are looking out for that, but we're putting her in situations, that that might be able to recognize that. It's not something that's under the radar right now. But you'll be studying what I've studied and been where I've been, it's always it's always there of like, okay, what's, what are my children doing socially. But it does go back to that awareness and that recognition. And that's why it meant so much also to me to see these parents attending the talk and saying, how do I, what can I do about you know, to help my children, and for schools to be implementing programs that can help diagnose and recognize, I mean, when I was a kid, I mean, I don't know, there were learning disabilities, learning disabilities, my mother was a learning disability learning and reading disability specialist. And so she could recognize, okay, you an auditory processing disorder. But it wasn't ADHD, here's your medication, kiddo. Like it went through for a little while, and now works, we're balancing it out under diagnosis to over diagnosing. But as we find that we're able to recognize in women and to look for it, that's really what what has to happen is people look for it and then have a path to okay, what where can I put them with other people that might be able to help them, who can them to. And the trick there is to be able to recognize high functioning, that there are all these gray areas, because it needs to be just labeled with like, your Autism. And that means you're you're really bad air quotes. And if you have Asperger's, that means you're kind of functional. And I remember as a kid reading a book, babysitter's cookbook, something there was a child with Asperger's in it and all she did was play the piano and didn't talk or anything. And while that was great that it brought awareness, and brought that to the notion so the next time that I heard about Autism or Asperger's, it wasn't foreign to me because I heard of it through this book I read as a kid. But that's not but I was I was really interested to see. Oh, it's not just, you know, typing pad or playing patterns on a piano? No, you can these people, you might not even recognize it.


Absolutely, it's across a whole spectrum.


The fact that he may just become something like that we're looking at things on a spectrum now. And this is everything from we're looking at things like depression and anxiety, but also, gender also, you know, just personality. And what's the spectrum, as things become less binary, and we move towards the gradient and hit we remember how people make us feel so that that's usually what I sort of look for is if I'm, if I'm talking to somebody and I just noticed that maybe the patterns of communication are a little bit off, or there's a little bit of a lack of emotional connection sometimes and again, not always, but there's, there's just something that's just a little bit like if you ever listening to music and drumming, and a little bit of a not like thump thump, it might be like, okay, they're there that is and i think it's it's been enriching it's enriching.


Also I think there's also a society /cultural piece to it. Because usually when people even more so for females, when they're different and or the show interests different from their peers, a lot of them might be in denial, because there some even think, no, I don't want to be seen as a negative. I want to be one of the cool girl who goes out and like be normal. So I think there's also that piece, the denial denial piece.


Yes. I mean, for young girls and journalists, the whole other tangent, I could probably go on for a while. And it does become very hard to be an individual. And thankfully now we're celebrating individuals and diversity more than ever, I hope and moving in that direction. But even just in terms of diversity, where we were 30 years ago, we've come very far and still a long ways to go but we're getting there and and especially with mental health and with individual challenges. Certainly with with COVID It used to be that you would you know what you would go to the the social, the holiday social and you would bring your family and kids, you tell the kids to play nicely. And act as a perfect family for one night right.


Now, it's all different.


You've seen their kids now running around screaming their heads off. I mean, you remember that? It went viral. It was a little kid that came in on the BBC reporter.


Oh I didn't see that


Interview working from home and it's okay. She's maybe three she busts in the office all happy and it was the mob running in and grab her and pull her out because she's horrified. Oh my gosh, she interrupted the dad working from home. Right. And this went viral because it was so cute. Basically, it was


Yes. Yeah, I see. I see that. I see that a lot in zoom meetings. It's so funny.


That's just another day of the week. Okay there goes my kid without his underwear again, sorry about that, like, you know, or, or whatever, whatever, there's a dog barking or the mailman is here or whatever. And so now, we aren't perfect, yet, right, the lines between who we are and who we are in the office are blurrier. And that's, that's not a bad thing. It's great we embrace our differences, we can tell you, you've seen my home, you now, you know, so, so while I could go into an office, and you'd never know that, that I have a sword collection, you know, on my wall, but here I am entitled, what it is, and so now you know that I am a huge Lord of the Rings nerd, and that's what you know, and, and, and that's okay. And I hope that that also is more of acceptance of ourselves too. To be able to say, okay, this is something that's a little bit picky about me, because we all have that. And I think the more that we as individuals can accept, this is who we are, this is the thing we all want the world to know. You know, maybe your favorite thing to do is to, you know, watch all HE-MAN commercials with bunny slippers. Please do you know, watch those episodes, you know, have fun with that.


You know what, you brought up a very good point, too, because for a lot of people, self acceptance is really hard, just just just that peace. And it that internal conflict that alone can and traditionally has caused caused some people to even have a lot of mental health issues, depression, and even suicide. But it all comes down to not necessarily the world environments, just the self inside.


Yeah, yeah, we all get sad, we all get happy. We all have a range of emotions, again, different variants, so people more more others, but when you when you can recognize and say, okay, this is this is who I am, this is what I'm comfortable with, this is what I'm not comfortable with. And if you're around somebody who's making you uncomfortable, you don't have to remain uncomfortable. But I do say this: ask yourself why. And this can mean anything from maybe somebody you feel it could be sexual harassment, and they're making you uncomfortable. That's an extreme example. Or they're, you're with somebody, and maybe they have patterns of behavior that somebody's listening, you're in the office, they listen to a radio too loudly, right? I mean, and so by recognizing, okay, so this is something that is impacting me. So I want to go over and ask them, Hey, can you turn your music off? We let somebody in with their personality? Can't you can't take that off, right? So you have to navigate it. And what sometimes we want to do is because we don't know ourselves well enough, or we're not sure how to change it. We push that on to the other person, you need to change. I don't mind. Change you. And what do you do with that information? I've gotten that feedback.


Mm hmm.


I'm not I'm not diagnosed with ASD or anything. But I don't know. I marched through a different beat in certain things. And so there's been times in my life where I've gotten that, could you please stop doing that, especially for ADHD, I used to have to in order to pay attention to a three hour class, I had to do other work during the class.


I know that feeling.


Need to focus because otherwise, it's almost a painful experience to sit there for three hours. And I had my son is in graduate school and I had one of the other students approached me and she was the only one who approached me to her credit, and she said, listen, it really annoys all of us when you do other work during class, could you please stop that? And I was like, what do I do with this? And then she just walked away. And I mentioned it to my friend and she was like, yeah, we've all kind of been talking about that. I'm like, so you were talking about this but I you know, I just never occurred to me because I was doing that to survive in a way. That was my challenge. And so okay, fine. So now what I'll do let's doodle like everybody else, and you know, will do menial, you know, filing or Excel documents or, you know, whatever. But it never occurred to me that I can be bothering other people because it wasn't, I meant no disrespect to the class, the teacher or anything else. I was just trying to survive a three hour class without falling out of my skin.


I know that feeling. I really do.


Yeah, yeah.


And I think the other piece is based on everything we talked about. I also see females with Autism that that could potentially open the door to a career path in Cybersecurity because as everyone knows that in Cybersecurity is this huge skills gap in where I think there's a number that roughly three and a half million estimated jobs are that are open. So I think more needs to be done to reach out to girls at an earlier earlier age, to identify them to see whether or not they have ASD and to essentially open the door to show them Cybersecurity is a potential career path, not not to pigeonhole them or anything but it is still a possible path based on their unique talents and to ultimately have them accept who they are instead of being labeled by society or even themselves as being broken so that we're all made to thrive. And I think that message needs to be said loud and clear to a lot of people.


a bit on BBSs and had gone to:


I remember DOS.


ly, when I went to college in:


You brought up a good point because interestingly enough, even I've never been to DEFCON or BlackHat probably for the exact same reason. Because for people who are Neurodiverse or just have a social stigma, going to a large event with so many people it can be overwhelming. So the next question, what conferences would you recommend for people to make the transition to Cybersecurity easier? Which which conferences would be more comfortable?


The Bsides conferences, were really wonderful for that. The smaller conferences, your local conferences. A couple of places like they have things in Boston, it used to be BSec, which was like a month, coffee night and BaySec for San Francisco. The small, small conferences I really recommend because you're yeah, you're just not going to get quite as much external noise. They're more there for a reason. There's certain people like I would recommend following a couple of different people on Twitter. There's some some wonderful people. Jack Daniel you familiar with Jack Daniel, most people know him as the guy with the beard. He's actually one of the champions of BSec.


Nice, I think click through them but I've never met him in person. It's COVID.


But he's someone who's always looking out for other people actually, especially he's a wonderful person to talk to, just for resources in general. I adore Jack but but there's there's people that specifically at these small conferences that you can connect to and the conference, if you email me, I mean, I know from from running a conference that we run a conference, if I knew somebody was going to be new, or a student, or whatever. It's one of the reasons why we started the Mentor Program, to have them come to it and to get them to network. So anybody who's new to the security industry or student, we would have networking sessions. We would have student opportunities. Yeah. I mean, there are conferences that are out there. And you can ask people to direct you, you know, to them, telling them, we make a Twitter post with LinkedIn, looking for these things. And you can see also at BlackHat, people will get access to free passes. And they will say, okay, I want to give this free pass. I think last year, was it I want to give this free pass to somebody who is a woman interested in security industry and would like to attend BlackHat?


Wonderful, that's definitely needed.


Yes. And and those who, when you see those, not only is it like, oh, wow, that's a really great opportunity. If you're interested in championing what they're behind, to reach out to them and say, hey, you know, I think it was a Chris Sanger, Dave Litchfield, you know, that they had done this and to reach out to them and say, hey, I saw that you did this. I really love that notion. There are other things that we could be doing to help encourage. And so find people that are sharing your ideals and sharing things that you want to champion and help support that. So when I open, so I start with following people on Twitter and go into smaller conferences. If you know somebody is going to be there. And a lot of these people, if you say, hey, I'd love to talk to you for just five or 10 minutes. Most people in person are much more welcoming. They find them on Twitter, it's just that that this association piece when they see you right in person, and you're here, my challenge is here's what I'm trying to figure out. Most people are really welcoming. And you can at least point you in the right direction if they're not the person to talk to.


I definitely agree. I met a lot of wonderful people at conferences and online. Hard part, especially for some people is you just have to have the courage to ask. Yeah, that's part it's really hard. And one thing I've noticed for the various Neurodiversity and Autism hiring programs around the world, there's just so many of them that are preparing people who are Neurodiverse to pursue a role in cybersecurity. How do you what would you recommend to improve those programs or to enhance programs to hire and train more people in Cyber?


Um, can you expand upon that just a little bit? So do you mean.


For example, in my research, a lot of programs, a, they reference, the DTC or the Dandelion program out of out of Asia, so they use it as a template. But along the way, every program has gaps and struggles and challenges. So based on your observations of Neurodiversity hiring programs, what would you recommend to companies to improve their Neurodiversity hiring practices?


Well I think the recognition piece is important. And this has to come also from human resources, as well as the hiring managers. Human resources are going to set the tone. And they're the ones that really often many times determine what the assessments will be used, or the hiring process, who gets interviewed, and they kind of pick coordinate that, and I very much I'm very much a fan of, of HR departments that are focused on culture. There's different types of HR. Right. So there's a lot of HRs that is focused on policies and procedures, and is there going to be lawsuits? Are there going to be you know, are you are you in compliance with everything, I mean, you get a good every company does need somebody who's really good at compliance. But sometimes, HR can be so focused on compliance and processes and making sure that the company is covered, that they don't always focus on the people and especially because you're not necessarily focused on on the culture because you don't know what your culture is yet. Companies that invest in culture from the beginning, hands down, they are stronger for it. Rapid7, if you actually look at the culture that Rapid7 has built by Christina Mccone, who I've known we have realized I've known for almost 20 years now. I can't believe the time but she herself is a startup junkie because she loves creating and she's actually the HR person and one of the original one of the original security companies a lot and she created how create that culture because she believes in culture. And her talk because for her it's it's she understands the challenges that people in technology face and recognizing that that not only is there the company culture, but there's is also going to be departmental cultures?


Yes, absolutely,


Yes. And you have to be able to recognize that and to be able to create a hiring process that works to protect hiring that works for sales, hiring for works for all different types of people. Now, you also have to be careful because there are issues, you can't ask somebody. So, you know, do you suffer from depression? Do you suffer from anxiety. have you been diagnosed? You may not actually realize it until the person is right in front of you.


Mm hmm. Yes.


Another piece of this is that a lot of times in technology, people are hired into a management position because they know technology so well, not because they're such good managers, and no disrespect to managers in technology. I know many, many wonderful ones. But what happens is when somebody is very talented with skills, they often get promoted, and in a management position with no management training.


Yes, absolutely. I've seen that myself. Okay. And last question is more a little more open ended. So based on your research, and work with Autism and Cybersecurity over the past few years, do you have anything to share with my audience something or anything, you're passionate about something you want to bring up?


I'm very, very passionate again, about advocating for oneself and creating a culture of both yourself and your life, and just everywhere of tolerance of people. That be able to recognize where your limitations are, to be able to, as a manager, and as a person. Help create that awareness. Social skill, and these are not something people are necessarily born with. Having the right words, we always say the right you know, my foot lives right near my mouth all the time, right. There are a lot of times, but we're all doing the best that we can. And we all have something that we're struggling with. And it's not your staff, these are your staff are people with, with challenges with strengths, and to be able to set them up for success to be able to recognize and strategize and I'm very passionate about creating cultures of organizations that help tailor to the individual. And when you do that, you will find research shows time and time again, that employees who are the elusive causes of engagement. When we feel what's called psychologically safe, that we can be ourselves that we can make us connect with people without the fear that we might have a judgment that people flourish, that they then connect to companies and so I really hope that actually with with COVID and with remote work because so many companies had to step out of their comfort zone to accommodate people that that continues. That we see okay, so maybe you can't work from you know, nine to 12 because you have kids but in the afternoon, you can't or maybe you're better working at home, because you have ASD and that you know the stimulation is overwhelming for you and then be frustrated and cranky and snappy, but working at home you can heads down and be productive. That would never have done that because they were like no no remote. We could never go remote. Oh my god. We have to go remote. Look at us going remote. Right? They took a chance and they and it worked for a lot of people. I've had so many companies say we didn't think it would work but it worked.


Absolutely. And I love that. Thank you. Thank you for everything you do Stacy, it's incredible. Okay, we are about out of time. Thank you. Thank you Stacy for everything, really very powerful insights.


Thank you for the opportunity.


Have a great day.

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About the Podcast

On a mission to flip the script on Neurodiversity in Cybersecurity, Technology, Society, and Culture
Uniting people and organizations to support and advance Neurodiverse people in Cybersecurity.

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Nathan Chung