Meg West shies away from the label “influencer,” but the truth is, she is one.
About a year and a half ago, she started a YouTube channel called Cybersecurity Meg and posted a video in which she shared her best tips and preparation advice for the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification process. The video received roughly 10,000 views and, over the past year, Cybersecurity Meg has posted many more videos, amassing more than 200,000 views on her YouTube platform alone with no-nonsense advice and resources on getting into the field of cybersecurity.
“When I was studying for my CISSP exam in 2020, everywhere I turned to get info, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me,” West recalls. “I wanted to see this information from a diverse set of people. So I took it upon myself, and I randomly recorded a video. I was 24 at the time, and I received great feedback from so many people. From there, it has become one of my missions to proliferate free cybersecurity information to people that may not have access to it or may not be a person that fits the current mold of cybersecurity so they can say, ‘If she can do it, so can I.’”
Everything about West is inspirational. While pursuing her Master’s degree in cybersecurity, West was working on the cloud migration team for supply chain management company Tech Data — now Fortune 100 company TD Synnex. She saw an entry-level cybersecurity position open and, without any certifications or direct work experience at the time, she applied.
“It was me wanting to challenge myself. Despite no experience, they took a chance on me, which I think is really important today. I was able to efficiently communicate why I wanted to work in cybersecurity to get that initial position. The team and CISO there became some of my biggest supporters,” she recalls.
After her first few years in an entry-level cybersecurity role, West took on the role of Global Cybersecurity Incident Response Manager at Tech Data. “I’ve always been interested in technology, and for me, I was looking for a career where I could challenge myself and also feel valued and safe for a long time. Cybersecurity felt like a valuable space where I could bring my skillset and creativity and watch it change over the next couple of decades,” she says.
West eventually moved on to IBM in her current role as an X-Force Cyber Incident Response Team Consultant. “I help companies prepare for cybersecurity incidents, and I also help them respond if one occurs. I love that my job has an impact, and I love the fast-paced nature of incident response. It requires a high level of attention to detail, ability to change quickly, and ultimately helps others in what could be the worse days for any organization,” West says.
She may not have decades of cybersecurity experience yet, but West is an innovative, forward-thinking thought leader that has already made an impact on spotlighting security and narrowing the enormous skills gap the industry faces.
In addition to YouTube, West spreads her Cybersecurity Meg brand on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and streaming platform Twitch. One video she posted, called “How I Would Get My First Cybersecurity Job With Zero Experience,” has already received more than 28,000 views.
Since joining IBM, West has earned her Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP) certification and has become a sought-after speaker for conferences and media. She is dedicated to inspiring the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, especially women, and showing them that it’s possible to succeed in a field that has been traditionally intimidating to many.
“Cybersecurity lags in hiring for diversity,” she shares. “When I first started in this field, I was on a team of all men, all of whom were older than me. A problem we face as an industry that I’d like to change is that if someone wanting to come into cybersecurity doesn’t see anyone who looks like them or has a similar background, they may feel discouraged. One mold of people leads to a lack of creativity and doesn’t promote a well-rounded environment. We need to work on that because diversity brings more ideas, more creativity and helps encourage others.”
Speaking about the industry’s current cybersecurity skills gap, West says that it’s a shared problem that requires a multi-faceted response. “Often, when we talk about the skills gap, we place the onus on the people trying to get into the field, and that’s not accurate. First of all, organizations need to be much more realistic about what they are looking for and what cybersecurity jobs entail. There is this disconnect I see sometimes between HR, hiring managers and others at organizations. If you have an entry-level position open and you are asking for five years of experience and a CISSP certification, that will make people turn away. There needs to be a better understanding of what’s really needed and what is practical and truly reevaluate what ‘entry-level’ means,” she says.
Rather than focusing only on technical skills or direct job experience, West says that to encourage more diversity and inspire more people to enter the industry, organizations and business leaders should place more emphasis on the soft skills needed to succeed in cybersecurity, such as a strong work ethic, a passion for helping others, ability to work under pressure and an ability to adjust to a changing environment.
For her part, while focusing on her career and using her social media presence to mentor and help others, West would love to one day open a nonprofit geared toward educating young women and minorities on STEM topics and preparing them for entry-level cybersecurity positions. She says she has been lucky enough to have been surrounded by great people and leaders that have encouraged her along the way, and she’d like to pass that along.
“One of my mentors taught me that the worst thing you can do is say, ‘We’ve always done it that way.’ It’s important to be the voice of change, talk about different approaches and encourage others to make an impact too,” says West.