Micki Boland is a global cyber security warrior and evangelist with Check Point’s Office of the CTO. Micki has over 20 years in ICT, cyber security, emerging technology, and innovation. Micki’s focus is helping customers, system integrators, and service providers reduce risk through the adoption of emerging cyber security technologies. Micki is an ISC2 CISSP and holds a Master of Science in Technology Commercialization from the University of Texas at Austin, and an MBA with a global security concentration from East Carolina University.

In this incredible interview, Check Point Evangelist Micki Boland discusses her career, mentoring the next generation of women in cyber and so much more. This interview will make you feel inspired, enlightened and energized. Don’t miss this!

What inspired you to pursue a career in cyber security?

Great question… it was on my mind for a long time. I had been in IT and emerging technologies for years. I worked in electronics and electrical engineering for the U.S. Army and eventually designed, architected, deployed and managed IT and communications systems for Kaiser Permanente and Sprint.

Before there was a formalized career in cyber security, most techies “hacked” things, took things apart and rebuilt and fixed them. Many of the people who eventually became hackers started in telecommunications.

I began my MBA with a global security concentration (political science), and included national security policy, evolution of terrorism, counterterrorism, and public safety strategy.

I mashed this up with my passion for emerging technology in my Master of Science Commercializing Emerging Technology degree while I was an HQ engineer at Nortel. After much consideration, I made the jump to cyber security.

I had a lot of supporters along the way, which I am so very grateful for and, as I can never thank those folks enough, I have tried to pay it forward.

I wanted to start my own business. I did a lot of planning and advice seeking from trusted entrepreneurs, and I also needed also to develop myself in advanced pen testing, ethical hacking, and digital forensic investigation and response.

Then, I made a huge leap to starting my own digital forensics investigation firm: a woman veteran-owned firm with an excellent management team, in Texas — a state that requires you to be licensed private investigators. We did get licensed.

Many adventures were had and hurdles overcome. My firm spent most of our time doing machine learning for attack path graphing and top down security assessments. We had a big goal of working on specialized forensics and investigations (non-exploitation). We were constrained primarily to enterprise and law firm work. Later on, a family friend who was at Check Point encouraged me to come to Check Point. I joined up with the Global System Integrator team here and I love Check Point Software’s entrepreneurial spirit and culture!

Have you always been very interested in building things, systems and STEM?

Yes, as a kiddo I loved all science, technology, and math, how things are connected and how things work. I had a real aptitude for breaking, building and fixing things.

What career accomplishments are you most proud of?

I am humble and do not really like to talk much about myself. If I think about it though, I will have to say starting my own investigations firm was gutsy. It is one thing to create enterprise, study the market, develop “services”, build proformas, get funded and launch, and entirely different to sustain and grow this enterprise. Sales and marketing and acquiring and delighting new customers is everything! I encourage any woman wanting to start her own businesses to proceed with due diligence, bootstrap and do it, as it is simply an amazing experience.

As a woman in the cyber security industry, what challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

I think the challenges for me have been largely of my own making, in terms of insatiable curiosity, learning, growing, and continuous seeking of new challenges and adventures. I get bored easily and like to do new things.

On one hand, cyber security has fed my seeking behavior, as it is hugely dynamic. The industry is rapidly evolving, the threat landscape is ever changing; new and emerging technologies are being developed and rolled out that need to be protected, threat actors are honing their skills, as are defenders. It is never boring. On the other hand, my continuous seeking has limited my opportunities for senior leadership positions, as I do not seek to spend time in grade and/or wait for someone else to age out to get opportunities. This is a good thing. I would rather be an intrapreneur and leader, teaming, adapting, improvising, and overcoming challenges while continuously getting better and craftier.

That said, I think that, in cyber security, we should actively campaign for women, veterans, and people of all walks and backgrounds to join the cyber security field. We can provide development opportunities to gain skills and experience. We must not let opportunities constrain people that do not have 10 out of 10 skills and/or X years of experience, as frequently required within job descriptions. It is often said that women will not “fake it ‘till they make it” and will not go after roles that they feel they do not have 100% of the skills and experience required for.

Do not hesitate. If you want the role, you have to go for it. Plan and learn, get help if you need advice or a mentor, fill your gaps while you are in the job and in the field. If you want a career in cyber security grab the bull by the horns and get there!

What kinds of cyber security projects are you involved in at the moment that might inspire our readers?

Generative AI (all algorithmic machine learning) and computational intelligence (artificial neural networks ANN) have been my quest since starting my Master of Science at the University of Texas at Austin in 2009-2010. In my cohort were some of the most amazing and brilliant people.

Having been active in IEEE, I joined the Society for Design and Process Science and worked with a most talented Dr. Cristiane Gattaz, and her father (also Ph.D.) from Brazil, both of whom worked on ANN in the aerospace industry. I also got to meet Dr. Chittoor V. Ramamoorthy, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Emeritus, U.C. Berkeley (may he rest in peace) in Sao Paulo and Berlin, Dr. Robert Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet (Metcalfe’s Law), and founder of 3Com.

I met Gary Hoover, the founder of Hoover’s Business, which later became Dunn and Bradstreet. He is also the founder of Bookstop, which later became Barnes and Noble. All of these amazing people work in computational intelligence and nothing has been more exciting to me than neural networks, swarm intelligence, generative AI and large language models.

With emerging technologies, there are many perspectives: how organizations adopt these technologies without incurring additional risk; how the defenders (including Check Point with 50+ AI engines to deliver 99.7% confidence threat intelligence) are using these technologies to protect data, networks, people and devices; and the way the adversaries are utilizing these technologies to attack organizations. It does not get more fun than that!

And lastly, I will mention that these technologies have been utilized to create deepfake videos, voice clones, fake images and fake news. It will be increasingly important for humans to use a zero trust approach with the online content they consume and to also understand the uses of these technologies for manipulation, destabilization, disruption, distrust, to sway public opinion, and to foment violence.

How can we encourage more women to pursue careers in cyber security?

Check Point has an employee resource group called FIRE, an acronym that stands for Females In Roles Everywhere. I think this is a great place to start. In this organization, there is outreach to women within Check Point, among our partners and among customers. There are sponsored events, including those for females in leadership roles and the C-suite. There are mentoring and STEM initiatives. This is a great way to lead the charge in terms of attracting women to pursue careers in cyber security.

We can also get into K-12 schools and higher education — talking with students help them see the opportunities available in cyber security, with careers ranging from technical support, to coding, to threat hunting, to incident response, to architects, to engineers, to technical sales, and management.

In your opinion, what role does mentorship play in fostering the next generation of cyber security professionals?

Mentoring is extremely important in fostering the next generation of cyber security professionals. At all stages of our careers in this industry, we are all continuously learning. We have to keep learning. No one has more expertise and real world experience than the people on the ground working with customers every day; those helping them solve their cyber security challenges, responding to security incidents and securing their corporate assets and finances.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, what message would you like to share with younger women who are thinking of pursuing a role in cyber security?

Be bold. Come and join the cyber security warriors. We need you and you are indeed very welcome! If this is the career you want, I assure you, you will love it. Never let obstacles stand in the way of achieving your goals. If you do not know how to proceed, reach out and get a sherpa to help you with your strategy. Over, under, around or through the mountain!