After seeing the 1983 film WarGames as a child, Sheryl Benedict became fascinated by computer technology. In this edition of our blog, Sheryl explains how the thought of protecting organizations from the bad guys inspired her to achieve great things in cybersecurity.
How long have you been at LBMC Information Security and what is your role?
Sheryl Benedict: I have been working at LBMC Information Security since 2016 and am a Manager within our Risk Services practice. A typical day for me is helping organizations, ranging from small private companies to Fortune 500 global organizations, improve their overall cybersecurity practices by conducting consultative engagements and Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) assessments. I am passionate about information technology and cybersecurity. I love to share that knowledge with others, ensuring my clients’ environments and security posture are well secured from threats, and to help develop future women leaders in technology.
How did you get started in the technology or payments industry? What led you to that career choice?
Sheryl Benedict: As a child, I was fascinated with computers after my family purchased an Apple IIe. This was around the same time when the film WarGames came out, which furthered my interest in finding various solutions to ensure that computer technologies are secure. I had a lot of support from my family and friends. I was one of the minorities, even throughout college, and wanted to prove myself to others. I learned so much from my professor in the Information Systems Careers course in college and went on to share my career experiences with Cal Poly Pomona as an alumnus speaking at various college events. Becoming a PCI assessor has always been a goal of mine early on as I wanted to ensure that organizations were secure and protecting their systems from the bad guys.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
Sheryl Benedict: I started my information technology career in high school and focused on IT Business Management as an elective. I was offered various non-paid internships to build my IT experience and knowledge. Since then, my career blossomed into ever-expanding roles and responsibilities within IT and Cybersecurity including Data Administration, Developer/Programmer, IT Auditing/Compliance, Electronic Discovery, and PCI. I led the PCI Compliance program for a very large international organization and am now a successful female leader as a QSA at LBMC.
I am proud that I have published several PCI blogs, have spoken at Women in Technology of Tennessee (WiTT) events and various industry conferences, and have attended the PCI Community Meeting annually to further expand my professional background. I welcome the opportunity to become a mentor for others in the industry and to share my experience with others. I continually strive to expand my experience and am working towards completing my master’s degree in Cybersecurity.
In your experience, does being a woman in your profession come with confidence challenges that you have to overcome, for instance doubting your own ability? How do you overcome it?
Sheryl Benedict: Early on in my career, there was a lack of women in technology. I feel that some women may feel a bit reserved or shy and don’t speak up but are very strong-willed and determined individuals. I was told to get out of my comfort zone by a mentor and network with others. This has allowed me to improve my communication skills, develop rapport with others, and show them what I’m capable of, which has led to more opportunities in the information security industry. Keep reminding yourself that you are good at what you do, and that you bring skills and experience to the table that are valued and appreciated.
Many women in the tech industry have felt their gender has affected the way that they are perceived or treated. Have you ever been in a situation like that? How did you handle it?
Sheryl Benedict: I have overcome many challenges, both personally and professionally, being in a highly male-dominated environment in cybersecurity. I’ve been told sometimes that “you can’t do this” or “you don’t have the experience or knowledge.” This made me feel that I didn’t fit in an organization, however, this didn’t stop me. Instead, I asked my boss what specifically I didn’t have, or know, to be able to perform the project. This pushed me to further my experience and self-training early on, as some organizations had a very small training budget. Most of my training was on-the-job in the beginning until I was able to move around to larger organizations that were able to provide employees with adequate training and opportunities to grow. There will always be opportunities to improve and learn something new. Don’t be afraid of change or a new challenge.
What do you see – or hope to see - as the future for women in technology roles/payments industry?
Sheryl Benedict: I see the opportunities for women in technology and women in the payments industry as ever increasing. People are paying more attention to cybersecurity and the impacts that breaches have on organizations. Women are still not well represented at the senior leadership level to date, but I feel that these opportunities will present themselves over time. There is still a shortage of cybersecurity professionals, and women can easily fill those positions.
Were you given any advice during your career that has stuck with you? As a result, do you have a personal mantra or a famous quote that you live by?
Sheryl Benedict: Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.” This meant for me to always set my goals or ambitions very high; try to attain or achieve something difficult, always aspire for more, but never lose track of who I am. The sky’s the limit; just get out of your comfort zone and try something a bit challenging. You will reap the rewards.
What advice would you impart to other women about how to succeed in the payment industry or in a technology-based field in general?
Sheryl Benedict: If you want to become a cybersecurity professional, you should have both the soft skills and technical knowledge to be able to succeed. You will always need to keep up to date on the latest technology trends and audit techniques. I would encourage younger women to take some risks from time to time. Take on a new project, learn a new skill, or take on ever-increasing responsibilities. Be open to new opportunities to advance your career and get involved. Finally, don’t worry about failure; take it as a learning opportunity as a growing professional and leader.