Women Transforming Tech: Chelsea Contessa

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Arctic Wolf’s Women Transforming Tech (WTT) Pack Unity Alliance serves as our platform for women and their allies to build community, create strong professional networks, foster career development, and identify informal and formal ways that Arctic Wolf can be more inclusive in our cybersecurity industry. Today, we’re sharing the perspective of Chelsea Contessa, our manager of customer marketing and member of our WTT Pack Alliance.

Journey and Motivation

Can you share a bit about your personal journey in the cybersecurity field? What initially drew you to this industry and inspired you to pursue a career in it?

I landed in cybersecurity somewhat by chance when I accepted a position at Code42 in Minneapolis, MN in 2019. There are only a few cybersecurity companies in Minneapolis, so if you are here, you are familiar with Arctic Wolf. Within my network more and more people were flocking over to roles at Arctic Wolf. In 2022, Arctic Wolf had a role open that I simply couldn’t pass up.

I now lead the customer marketing team for Arctic Wolf. My role is dedicated to ensuring our customers feel connected to the Pack and have ample opportunities to engage and grow their relationships with us. Through my role I’m able to meet with some of our customers and learn about the impact working with Arctic Wolf has had on their cybersecurity posture.

While I landed in cybersecurity by accident, staying and continuing my career in the field is intentional. I have found the fast pace and innovation within the industry invigorating. I know that there are opportunities for me to continue to grow and expand my skill set within the space for a long time to come.

Navigating Career Progression

Many women face unique challenges in advancing their careers. What strategies did you employ to progress and succeed in your cybersecurity career? How did you advocate for your own professional growth?

There’s an article by Harvard Business Review entitled Nice Girls Don’t Ask. It unpacks several studies that provide a deeper look into the inequalities between men and women in the workplace, revealing some of the reasons why women are less likely to negotiate and advocate for themselves in comparison to men, including socialization based on gender roles from an early age and corporate culture discouraging women to speak up.

For me, learning how to find my voice and speak up is an ongoing process. I’ve left roles for new opportunities to advance my career far more than I’ve stuck my ground and asked for the promotion or raise that I felt deserving of. I know asking for what I want in the workplace will never be easy for me, but I’ve learned opportunities rarely fall into your lap. Surrounding myself with role models and mentors has helped me become a better self-advocate as well. Learning to lead with confidence doesn’t always come naturally, but it’s a bit easier with a guide.

Self-awareness is an important aspect of professional growth and maturity. I know I need to keep working to advocate for myself or no one else will.

Mentorship and Networking

Mentorship and networking can be instrumental in one’s career growth. Have you had mentors who guided you in your journey? How has networking with peers and colleagues influenced your career path?

I am extremely fortunate that I have several mentors that have helped me grow and have encouraged me to push past some of my professional insecurities. Like many people, I have struggled with thoughts of imposter syndrome throughout my career. My mentors all happen to be women who I view as strong, successful, and confident but it has been through my interactions with them that I have learned most people deal with some level of insecurities or thoughts of doubt — even them!

Mentorship, even in an informal state, has been one of the most impactful tools for me in guiding my growth as a professional. I’ve learned that confidence isn’t a trait everyone is born with, and that (for me) the most rewarding experiences have come from situations where I had to push myself through feelings of doubt and anxiety. My mentors have helped me with advice when I’ve asked, but also have led by example.

Photo of Chelsea Contessa.

Photo of Chelsea Contessa

Breaking Stereotypes

The cybersecurity field has traditionally been male dominated. Have you encountered gender-related stereotypes or biases during your career? How did you address these challenges and help break down barriers?

While the cybersecurity field is male dominated, marketing roles are primarily female dominated, so I see the makeup of our industry from a unique vantage point. From my perspective, I see just how much opportunity there is for the taking. I’ve learned that you can make a difference and have a career in cybersecurity no matter if you are a marketer, a seller, an accountant, or are pursuing a technical role.

Work-Life Balance

Balancing a demanding cybersecurity career with personal life can be tough. How do you manage your work-life balance? Any tips for maintaining your well-being while excelling in your role?

For me, work-life balance is something I neglected for quite some time. The lack of intention in balancing workload has led me to various burnouts. I’ve learned that maintaining the perfect balance is different for everyone, and everyone gets to make their own decisions on what habits and routines will be sustainable, healthy, and productive for them in the long run.

I do my best to manage my work-life balance by being present and creating routine. Which is easier said than done and takes practice. When I am at work, my attention and focus are with my coworkers and my work. When I am home, my attention and focus are with my family. Creating that delineation has helped me find more of a balance. Sure, I’ll respond to a personal text during work or a critical email in the evenings, but neither are routine for me.

My tip for others striving to find balance is to make your own lines in the sand. You cannot be everywhere and please everyone all the time. Try creating your own “schedule” for being a professional, parent, spouse, friend, and family member. For me, being all my roles, every minute of the day isn’t sustainable.

Advice for Beginners

For women who are just starting in cybersecurity, what key advice would you give them? Are there any resources, communities, or strategies you recommend for a strong foundation in the field?

My advice for anyone starting out in cybersecurity is to be open and eager to learn. Cybersecurity is full of acronyms, tools, frameworks, specialties … I could go on and on.

Coming from event marketing, I’d be remiss not to mention events. Eventbrite is great for finding local, casual, low-cost events and infosec-conferences.com is great for finding summits and conferences.

I’d also advise not to overlook webinars and resources from tech vendors in the cybersecurity industry. Proceed with caution — each company has a biased view of cyber threats based on their solution, but keep in mind these companies have access to surveys, research, and thought leaders. I have built my cybersecurity foundation using resources readily available online from reputable vendors.

Additional Resources

Women Transforming Tech: Vic Wiesner

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf provides your team with 24x7 coverage, security operations expertise, and strategically tailored security recommendations to continuously improve your overall posture.
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