In celebration of this year’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month theme – See Yourself in Cyber – we are spotlighting VMware security pros to ask them five questions about their career path.
Amelina Ishak is a detection and response analyst at VMware. Amelina’s current role on the DART team involves global security monitoring and investigation of suspicious activities while defending VMware networks and systems from attacks. The DART team is the first line of defense to prevent potential attackers from gaining access to VMware’s environment. In her work at VMware, Amelina has contributed to developing security use cases and automation playbooks, as well as operational security work and incident response. She is a certified SANS GCIH and is a member of the SANS GIAC Advisory Board. She is a graduate of Nanyang Technological University, where she majored in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and lives in Singapore. In her free time, Amelina enjoys volunteering with the Singapore Armed Forces and Mendaki, a program to uplift the Malay/Muslim community in Singapore. Her other hobbies include exploring new activities like Muay Thai and jet skiing.
How did you get involved in cybersecurity?
It’s a bit of a backstory, but the worry about not being able to defend myself on the technology I used on a daily basis eventually grew and triggered my interest in cybersecurity. I wanted to get good at protecting myself, especially on this daily occurring vector of attack by a bad actor.
Despite my interest in cybersecurity, I was initially intimidated by it, so I am quite glad that I mustered the courage to interview for it. To make up for my lack of experience and knowledge, I spent time immersed in reading up and learning about cybersecurity as I wanted to improve. Along the way, I got more and more amazed by how much there is to uncover about the different types of attacks being deployed. It’s interesting how attackers use all sorts of ways to try to achieve their objectives. This was the period that, for the first time in my life, I knew what I wanted to do for my career.
Explain your career path. Did you take any detours?
I have had a pretty short career path so far (about 2 years). But I did spend quite a long time exploring my career choices when I was young — it was not an easy decision to make!
When I was reading my degree in electrical and electronic engineering, I had the opportunity to discover circuits, signal processing, and also machine learning. While that was interesting, I took up an internship as an internal auditor in a local chemical refinery, which was where I learned more about auditing and contractual agreements for an incorporated joint venture.
Shortly after my unofficial graduation, the first job I went for was a business analyst (BA) position in a startup-like environment. It led me to learn design, animation, and conduct design thinking sessions for prospective clients or partners.
However, since my start date for the BA role was delayed due to covid and I was still processing on how I could have prepared better for my information security interview, I took the time to read up more on cybersecurity and that was when I was so certain that this is my passion and I want to do what I love. VMware has given me a chance to chase my dream to be in cybersecurity. Guess this was the detour!
Was there anyone who has inspired you in your career to help you see yourself in cyber?
I’d have to say thanks to my family for encouraging me from the get-go as I faced struggles while facing the steep learning curve in this line. Also, my team members have been supportive and greatly inspirational in their own ways. Everyone has his or her own strengths which eventually contribute to our team as a whole. I continue seeing myself in cyber because I want to be as knowledgeable as my seniors in the future when handling incidents. I would want to lead as well as my manager and my lead analyst in the future. All my team members are challenging themselves to be better versions of themselves.
As the saying “every expert was once a beginner” goes, knowing that I started off as a beginner and seeing how knowledgeable and effective my team members are, make me realize that I have to continue working on chasing my dreams and learning if I aspire to be like them in future.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
The best career advice I’ve ever received is to stay humble and that learning is a life-long journey. Being humble allows you to be open to constructive criticism to learn and to be better than you were yesterday, which is why it’s a constant journey of self-improvement and constant learning. Doing something uncomfortable is a sign of growth and even if you fail temporarily, you’re failing forward which is still a win for you since every small step helps to inch yourself nearer to your goals.
What advice would you give to aspiring security professionals?
Reflect on what you learn daily helps you consolidate and retain information better for recurring problems that you might face. It’s all about efficiency. Look for ways to automate the manual processes, so that more effort can be focused on the challenging tasks. When learning, documentation and hands-on exploration of the tools of your learning is important. It helps to consolidate the information and expose you to scenarios that might help you have a better gauge of how to handle them ahead.
Have faith and stay true to yourself. Many times, we will doubt our own capabilities but it’s the willingness to keep going despite our limiting beliefs that makes us grow and get a step closer to your goal. The fruits of effort might not be visible immediately but with time, they will. So keep going to chase our dreams together!