InterviewsWomen in Tech

“Don’t Be Afraid. Women Can Do Anything”

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Nathalie Rivat, the VP of System Engineering at Fortinet, says being a woman in cybersecurity in a technical role is breaking the stereotype

Can you share a little bit about what it is that you do and what a typical day for you is like?
I lead a team of Consultant Systems Engineers (CSEs). This has been a fantastic role as I’m at the crossroads of sales, pre-sales, product management, engineering, and training teams and am exposed to different areas of the business. My team helps shape the development of product lines based on customer feedback.

CSEs play a key role in product evolution as they work with engineering, reporting what customers and prospects require and how our products can best meet those needs. Building a flexible team that can onboard any technology and product line is not easy. I’m proud of all the contributions my team makes to such a large part of Fortinet’s business.

It is also fascinating to see the early days of new product lines and be responsible to onboard teams in a sales territory, identifying where to sell and how to sell. It is even more exciting to have this role in a company that has kept the agility it demonstrated in its early days, continuing to accelerate its innovations in various product areas.

What first got you interested in the industry you work in?
I have an engineering master’s degree in telecommunication and had an internship in networking as it was one of the most dynamic and promising environments to work in at that time. I eventually joined a network vendor and there I had the chance to be part of a task force working on emerging technologies such as IPSec. I realized that cybersecurity was evolving and expanding even faster than networking technologies and I joined a start-up with a security specialized vendor. That was Fortinet in 2004.

Over the past 9 years, I’ve witnessed the company grow its product portfolio and become an industry-leading cybersecurity company. When I first joined Fortinet, I started as an EMEA Systems Engineer, then I moved to a Consultant Systems Engineer position. From there I built a team and gradually evolved to a VP position managing a team of Experts Consultant System Engineers for EMEA and APAC regions.

What obstacles did you have to overcome?
When I started my career as a young networking engineer before joining Fortinet, people were tempted to have negative preconceptions and they wanted to test and evaluate my capabilities. I still remember a few testing phases I was put through designed to see how I was reacting to technical pitfalls. As one of the rare female engineers, I was more visible and more exposed to judgment, unfortunately. Once I had proven myself, I felt like I probably gained even stronger trust from others compared to my peers.

What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the industry you represent? What do you wish you had known?
There is nothing insurmountable. Don’t be afraid. Women can do anything, whether that is becoming a firefighter or cybersecurity engineer. Be passionate and motivated, and the rest will follow. And don’t think that, as a woman, it will necessarily be more difficult.

The cybersecurity field is constantly renewing itself and there is so much work to do and so many opportunities to seize. There is this never-ending cat-and-mouse game with threats that will always keep us busy and constantly require innovation to battle new variations of attacks. There is no better field to join for anyone who loves working in a very dynamic environment and who likes challenges.

Being a woman in cybersecurity in a technical role is breaking the stereotype. I never accepted to let stereotypes decide what my life should look like and what I should do for a living. I hope that my own career path helps inspire other women to pursue a senior management position in cybersecurity and not be intimidated to take the first step, whether they are just starting their careers or have been in the workforce for years.

Prarthana Mary

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