Technical professions for women in Russia aren’t a stigma, but not in my family. I was always good in Math, winning all kinds of contests in school. However, my Mom told me, that she does not need another Sofia Kovalevskaya (who was the first Russian female mathematician, wrote several important publications and was first appointed to full professorship in Europe). Don’t ask me why. So, I continued studying English and thought of becoming an interpreter… until I took a Computer Science class in the 10th grade. Now, when I read about other women in CS, who had computers since they were 3 years old, I think, “No, that’s not my case”. Even when I made a decision to apply to a Computer Science program (with a minor in English Language to satisfy my Mom), my parents said that they would buy me a computer, only if I get accepted. So, I had to use computers at school and at my friends’ places to prepare for a subject exam in Computer Science. To make it short, I graduated from high school with straight A’s and got accepted to the university program, where I spent 6 years. I was lucky to win a scholarship for a study abroad program and went to the States for a year to study Computer Science. That, perhaps, was a turning point in my life plans. Before, I could only see myself teaching Computer Science. But an awesome course in Graphics Rendering in Clemson University, SC, made me think that I can actually produce something real with code.
After returning to Russia, I found a part-time job, which later became a full-time job, as a game developer. Studying full-time and working full-time was tough, but fun. And yes, I was the only female programmer in the company. My boss was very surprised when I came for an interview and he realized that the prospective new programmer is a ‘she’. But he gave me a try and I’m very grateful for that. I had to win my reputation in the all-male environment. And I confess I did that not only with my brilliant brains, but also with my female charms. Smiling, being sweet and polite, bringing home-made cookies to work – that are all our strengths, as well as professionalism and knowledge. Use them, dear ladies!
A few years later, after getting some experience in developing complex enterprise software for construction projects management and working for an information security company I decided to continue my education and get a Master’s Degree in Computer Science. Yes, after 6 years of study in Russia and abroad I only got a Bachelors’. That’s how it works in Russia. So, my Bachelor’s after all, was in Teaching Computer Science, and I wanted to get an academic view of the software development process, and also learn from the best, of course. I got a Fulbright scholarship and came to US again, to study at George Washington University, in DC. Oh, and in the meanwhile I got some life experience – I got married. And even having a husband could not keep me at home. So, for one year we had to be on different continents, while I was cramming every day in the States, my husband stayed in Russia, making money to come visit me. Thanks God, there is Skype! In the second year he finally joined me in DC and I realized that never again will I leave my loved one. But that’s a side story. And, by the way, he is also in CS, a web-developer.
During my second year of Master’s program I got an internship at security consulting company. I never took any security classes before and always saw myself only as a coder. But experience truly changes us much more than any bookish knowledge. The area of software security became fascinating for me. I loved the brilliant and motivated people that I worked with. Every day was a discovery! So, I decided to stay at the company after I got my Master’s. Now I especially love the moral side of my work. I always feel that I do something good for the world, making software more secure and protecting it from hackers. Although, hacking is a lot of fun, I must confess.
Moral of the story: the best thing about Computer Science is its diversity. In my 10 years of life in Computer Science, I did game development, major enterprise software development and software security consulting. And, oh my God, how much I’ve learned! And I know that I will learn much more and, most probably, find myself in many other areas of science and business, because this field is so rich in opportunities!
Ksenia Dmitrieva is currently a security consultant at Cigital. She holds a Master’s Degree (hons) from George Washington University and a Bachelor’s Degree (hons) from Omsk State Pedagogical University. She is also an alumna of a Fulbright Graduate Students Program. Ksenia has a variety of development experience, from creating online games to writing source code analysis tools. She is currently working on the aspects of web service penetration testing, web service security and data privacy. As a hobby, Ksenia is competing Ballroom Dancing with her husband. She enjoys biking, downhill skiing, diving and from time to time she blogs about tea – Me on Tea.