How this cybersecurity specialist found herself by helping girls learn to code

Emily Reid used to have a habit at work. “I’d walk in, and I’d say my name and then immediately my job title, like it was part of my name,” she says. “I’m Emily Reid, cybersecurity specialist.” She’d scored what seemed like an exciting job at a non-profit that operates federally funded research centers back in 2009, “when anyone was very happy to get any job,” she says.

But as much as her job was her identity, Reid bristled at the constant sexism she faced as a woman in a heavily male world. She was overlooked for projects; she grew used to the description that a product was “so easy a housewife could use it.” And then there was the pace of the work. Sure, she was working on cool projects with the IRS, the NSA, the Pentagon — but it was a slow, bureaucratic going. Sitting quietly at her desk through long days proved frustrating.

“We’re taught that being a good student, keeping your head down, you’ll be rewarded,” she says. “But I finally realized that’s not how the real world works.” So she left — first just in bits, taking night classes at Boston University, then in leaps, signing up for a full master’s degree in computer science at Columbia University. “I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do next,” she says, but she knew she wanted to teach and help people.

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