Playing: 2: Anxiety with Info Steph
In this shorter-form episode (hence "Shortstack") we'll focus on sharing personal experiences and stories from folks in the tech industry. In this episode, we're talking anxiety with Info Steph.
In this episode, we'll be answering three questions:
- Does anxiety ever interfere with your day-to-day life?
- Are there any particular things you do to avoid getting anxious or when you are feeling anxious?
- How does anxiety affect your life more broadly, both personally and in your work in tech?
- 1:04: Kurt and Amberley answer the three questions.
- 17:24: We dive into chatting with Info Steph.
- Info Steph on Twitter
- Coolest Nerds in the Room podcast: "A Walk Down Mental Health Lane"
- Women in Security & Privacy (WISP)
- The Diana Initiative
- Women of Security (WoSEC)
Amberley: [00:06] Hello everyone, and welcome to Fullstack Health, the podcast exploring mental and physical health in the tech industry. I'm Amberley.
Kurt: [00:14] And I'm Kurt.
Amberley: [00:16] First off, we really appreciate the warm welcome and response to our very first episode, so thank you all for that.
Amberley: [00:22] After it was released though, Kurt and I felt like something was missing. We wanted to hear more voices and more perspectives, so we came up with a new idea. For each episode that follows the original format, we'll also do a complementary shorter episode that just focuses on sharing personal experiences and stories from folks in the tech industry. We'll ask each guest three consistent questions, we'll also answer these questions ourselves. We're calling these Shortstack episodes.
Kurt: [00:53] Here in a little bit, we'll be speaking with InfoSteph about her experience with generalized anxiety and depression. But first, we'll start off discussing the same three questions we'll pose to her.
Amberley: [01:05] Kurt, you and I both struggle with depression and anxiety. Aside from our physical health goals, that was one of the first things that we actually really bonded over as friends. Let's start with you, question one, does anxiety ever interfere with your day to day life?
Kurt: [01:23] For me, yes it does. I wouldn't say all the time, but it definitely has a way of working itself into my life pretty often. Maybe not day to day, but very often.
Kurt: [01:34] I've actually been dealing with a lot of anxiety this week. I just had a lot of stuff culminate into needing to be done within a seven day period, and it's definitely causing me enough anxiety that I'm actually putting this stuff off. It sucks. Sometimes it gets into my personal life as well.
Kurt: [01:55] I work remotely, and so I don't see everyone from my team every day. Sometimes just in my head, I just start wondering like, "Oh, am I doing a good enough job? Am I focusing on the rights things? Am I using my time wisely enough?" It definitely starts to show itself there as well.
Kurt: [02:14] Then in the third area where I would say it shows the most is then with work-life balance, and dealing with my family and work. As I'm questioning if I'm doing enough work, and I start to do more, then I start to question, "Oh, now am I not spending enough time with the kids, and with Donna? Should I be doing better there? What else can I be doing?"
Kurt: [02:36] Yeah, it definitely plays a decent role in my life. I try to manage it. But yeah, I would say I feel its effects pretty regularly. How about you?
Amberley: [02:48] Yeah, it definitely does for me too. It tends to be the most set off by things related to public exposure, and career, and tech-related things. One of example of that was it was really terrifying to me when I first started working on the Gatsby repo, people were going to get notifications and emails from me watching the repo, whenever I opened a PR issue or anything like that, so I was always really hesitant to push Post.
Amberley: [03:21] I was also the first female dev on the Gatsby Inc team, so wading into certain Slack conversations or asking questions that I was like, "Oh man, I should know the answer to this," was super anxiety-inducing. Nine times out of 10, my questions end up having more complicated answers and require more discussion. At this point, I try to just fire off a question when I have it. Over time some of that anxiety has gone away just through sheer exposure.
Amberley: [03:56] Last week was a great example too. The idea of live streaming terrifies me, but I said yes to go on Jason's Learn with Jason livestream. Saying yes to things like that, to me, it's like booking a flight at 5:00 a.m., three months in advance, where it sounds like a legit idea at the time and then not so much when you come to it. But I was so anxious that I ended up implementing what we planned to do during the stream, before the stream.
Amberley: [04:31] I don't know, the idea that anonymous people are watching me live is even more freaky than the idea of giving a live talk, so I wanted to come up with excuses and cancel. I felt like was going to be sick, but Jason talked me through it and calmed me down. It ended up actually going really well. But that doesn't mean I won't feel the same way if you ask me to do it again.
Amberley: [04:55] Then personally day to day, yeah with the family balance stuff, I used to have a lot of anxiety and feel really sad about that when I lived up in D.C. That's part of the reason I moved back to Texas. My family is in Dallas and I'm now in Austin. It helps me to know that I can just hop in the car and drive up the highway if there is an emergency or anything, which there was last month, a couple months ago. Went through a lot of family stuff. It helped knowing that I could just get in the car and go up there.
Amberley: [05:34] Moving on to question two, are there any particular things you do to avoid getting anxious or to stop it when you're feeling anxious?
Kurt: [05:44] Oof. Yeah, so that's a good one. I would say, I'm going to start with avoiding getting anxious first. I find the thing that helps me the most there is having a schedule. I don't know what it is, but when my day to day becomes a routine, and there's a schedule that I can adhere to, I tend to do a lot better and get a lot less anxious about things, especially it helps with work-life balance and stuff like blocking out chunks of time for exercise, which is something that's very important to me because of my struggles with depression, and then cutting out chunks of time where I can focus on work. At the same time in that schedule having a time when work stops and then that's it, it becomes family time. I think that tends to help me quite a bit.
Kurt: [06:35] As far as when I'm starting to feel anxious, it depends. It depends on the situation and what's happening. When I'm anxious about more things that aren't tangible, like thinking about the future, or things that you can't quantify easily, I just find that trying to put data to it, and being more analytical as opposed to just letting my mind wander, and start to break down the facts like, "Well you stop working every day by 5:30 p.m., and you're with your kids. That's way more time you were able to spend with them than in your previous jobs and stuff. You're making improvements there."
Kurt: [07:18] Just stuff like that, like, "Okay, I've created X amount of pieces of content, and done these talks. I'm on track for work," stuff like that. It tends to help to just try to be analytical. As part of that I've been reading a lot on stoicism, which is a huge focus on only trying control what you can control, and not worrying about the rest, which to me is the basic symptom for me of anxiety, is I'm always concerned about controlling things that aren't controllable. That helps.
Kurt: [07:51] When I'm feeling anxious, I don't know, it's pretty hard for me to come out of that feeling just once it gets pretty deep. Some things I try and do though is just breath, make sure I'm breathing regularly and slowly. Then also, it might even be something as simple as doing 20 push-ups or something like that. Something like a physical exertion or something to take my mind off of it, maybe even full on work out if I can.
Kurt: [08:20] But before a talk, I get really anxious. Then I just find surrounding myself by people in the same situation, doing the same thing helps a little bit. But yeah, I don't really have a good answer. I would love to hear from folks who also deal with anxiety and what kind of tactics they use.
Kurt: [08:39] Yeah, so what about you? Do you have anything particular that you do or to prepare?
Amberley: [08:48] Well to avoid getting anxious, if I feel it coming on ... Well first of all, even a step back, sort of like you, maintaining a regular exercise schedule helps with that. If things happen to get me off of that schedule like it did recently, I definitely feel a difference in my ability to manage depression and anxiety.
Amberley: [09:14] But in the moment, if I feel it coming on, like getting out of whatever physical space I'm in helps sometimes, whether that's going for a walk. Or if I'm in my apartment, just, "Okay, I'm going to go grocery shopping now," or, "I'm just going to go walk around somewhere," that can help.
Amberley: [09:34] Then Steph talks a little bit about this when we talk to her, but there is also the CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy approach of catch it, check it, change it where it helps me a lot. I don't use an app every time of anything, but it helps to say, okay, catch it. I recognize I'm having this feeling or this thought. Check it. Challenge it, am I catastrophizing? Am I going down this totally unnecessary mental path that I'm worrying about things that I have no control over. Then change it, where you go through this active step of digesting what you've come to in that check it phase. That really helps me a lot.
Amberley: [10:29] Another thing I do is if it's a particular even or something I'm anxious about in advance, like a talk coming up or something, I will absolutely massively over prepare. If I can have the confidence that I have controlled every element that I possibly can, and that the rest is just whatever it's going to be, like vaya con dios whatever it's going to be, that helps me feel like, "Okay, I've done whatever I can. The rest is out of my control and it's going to be what it's going to be." I fight anxiety with preparedness a lot.
Amberley: [11:09] Yeah. So moving on to question number three, how does anxiety affect your life more broadly, both personally and in your career in tech?
Kurt: [11:19] I would say more the macro level. In my personal life, I would say honestly the anxiety from that is much less intense than it is for my technical life, but I guess the way that it affects my personal life is sometimes I have a hard time turning off my work brain. I'm always concerned to work about things.
Kurt: [11:40] Something I have been trying to work out a lot is being way more present in my personal life, and trying not to let my brain wander so much. If I'm in work mode, that's what I'm focused on solely. If I am with the family, then that's what I'm focused on solely. Trying to create those mental barriers, it's been pretty difficult though. Something I'm definitely still working at.
Kurt: [12:04] In my work life, in tech, it affects me multiple ways. I definitely get anxious before I give talks and stuff. As that being part of my job is pretty hard to deal with, like when I think about long-term, putting myself into those states is pretty bad for you. It's just trying to find that balance and work towards being less anxious when I'm in these situations.
Kurt: [12:36] Another way I would say it affects me is that I feel like I don't produce the best work that I could because sometimes I get anxious about certain pieces of content that I'm writing or a talk that I'm going to give. When I get anxious, I tend to procrastinate and push it off like I don't want to deal with it, which is funny because that feeds my anxiety, and then I become more anxious about the thing, and then I try to push it further away.
Kurt: [13:02] I feel likes sometimes I let myself get right up under the gun for getting things done. It's not because I'm lazy, and I just want to sit down and watch some Netflix. It's just because I'm mentally not capable of just saying, "Hey, let's just sit down and get through this. It's going to be great, it's going to be fine. Don't worry about it so much." I would say that that's the biggest effect that it has on me right now.
Kurt: [13:33] Throwing it back over to you, how does anxiety mess with your life? Or does it?
Amberley: [13:42] It does. Spoiler alert. I feel it more in my career than personally really. Especially, like I said earlier, since I moved back to Texas and I have the confidence that I'm a drive away if I need to be somewhere. But in terms of career in tech, I used to feel it even more when I wasn't sure where I was really going with my career in tech, but I feel pretty solid about that now.
Amberley: [14:18] But I relate this pretty closely back to imposter syndrome. For years, I was so anxious that I wouldn't be taken seriously, that I just danced around the edge of doing full-time dev work. Even though I had been building for the web for a pretty long time, I did a bootcamp, Hack Reactor back in early 2016. That was both for the chance to focus really intensively on upping my skills and just get to focus on that. But it was also to give me the backing of some perceived credibility. I don't want to go into a discussion about bootcamp credibility, but at least it was something behind me beyond me just saying, "I'm here, I do things, I think I'm okay at them." I think this has changed a lot in the last few years though, bootcamp credibility.
Amberley: [15:20] But another career example, same as you, would be giving talks. You don't have to give talks to have a successful career in tech, obviously, but they can definitely be good for your career, opening up opportunities and meeting people. The very first larger talk I ever gave, and I'm not even going to say what it was, I truly blacked out. I hardly remember giving it. I remember my face feeling super hot and super flushed, and that was pretty much it. I decided as soon as I stepped off, I was like, "I'm never ever going to do this again."
Amberley: [15:59] But then this year, my coworker, Jason Lengstorf was like, "Hey, these are some speaking opportunities I really think you should think about or apply for if this is something you even want to try to do again. If you do want to do it, how can I support you?" I learned a ton about the mistakes that I had made in preparing for that blackout talk. Now I have certain strategies that are oriented toward handling my greatest fears, and the greatest causes of anxiety around talking.
Amberley: [16:35] One example is, I am super, super afraid of giving someone, or in this case a crowd of someones incorrect information, especially when that's going to be recorded or something. To tackle that, I try to lock content by a certain date, and pass it through people I trust and respect as subject matter experts.
Amberley: [16:59] Then again, I've controlled everything I can control. Vaya con dios, I've done what I can. That's how I would say it affects my life personally and career wise.
Kurt: [17:11] It's amazing to hear some of those similarities.
Amberley: [17:14] Yeah. I have a feeling a lot of tech folks listening can definitely identify with a lot of that.
Kurt: [17:21] Yeah, #relatable.
Amberley: [17:24] #Relatable.
Amberley: [17:29] Now, let's dive into our chat with InfoSteph, who is an InfoSec Analyst, podcaster, and Women of Security, Houston Chapter Lead. We asked her to chat with us because I have seen tweets form her consistently sharing about her depression and generalized anxiety.
Amberley: [17:48] She also co-hosts a podcast called Coolest Nerds in the Room, and they actually had an episode back in May, which I'll link to in the show notes where they talked about mental health and their personal journeys with mental illness. So, let's get started.
Kurt: [18:10] Thank you, Steph, for joining us. We're super excited to have you here. To start off, would you like to share a little more about who you are and what you do?
Steph: [18:18] Yeah. By day, I am a Security Analyst, like you said, for a law firm, which is very interesting to do tech for a company that is not a tech company, so you can imagine that.
Steph: [18:33] But at night, or really any other time that I'm not at work, I pretty much do myriad of things. I'm creating a course for LinkedIn currently, and I do speaking engagements. I am the Lead, as you said, for WoSEC, and I'm volunteering with WISP for scholars that are going to DEF CON. WISP is Women in Security and Privacy. They are sponsoring women, 92 of them, to go to DEF CON this year. I'm one of the leads for 32 of them. That's really what's been taking a large portion of my time. And I'm a student, so I go to school whenever I can. Yeah, that's pretty much the rest of it, I guess that's not covered in what you already said.
Amberley: [19:29] What school? What are you studying?
Steph: [19:31] I go to WGU, and I'm studying Information Technology. The funny thing is, is that's not what I went there for. I went there for Information Technology with a Security emphasis, so a bunch of security-related classes.
Steph: [19:48] However, it's extremely hard to do that in a timely manner when you work also. As soon as I got, in my first security job last year, I was like, "Well, I think I'm going to do a master's anyways, so I'll just change my major to just a regular IT with no flavor, and then I'll just graduate quickly so I can get out." I have literally been off and on in school forever. I just want to get out, [inaudible 00:20:15] and have a break before I do my master's and continue on that [inaudible 00:20:21]. So yeah.
Kurt: [20:26] Yeah, yeah. That's really cool. Yeah, I haven't attended school for a long time. I got my Associate's in Graphic Design, but that was like ... I don't even know.
Steph: [20:37] So you're an artist. That's cool.
Kurt: [20:38] Six or seven years. Yeah, I guess. I wish. It was just more or less of that when I would make things for the web. They wouldn't look so terrible because I was pretty bad before that. Awesome, yeah.
Kurt: [20:53] Yeah, I say let's go ahead and jump into these questions. First off, I want to know, does anxiety ever interfere with your day to day life?
Steph: [21:06] In terms of right now, no. However, there was a time when it really did, where I was having really bad panic attacks. I think it just really is a product of how comfortable you are with there being unknown variables around you.
Steph: [21:26] Right now, the unknown is exciting. I don't have so much of the anxiety. I think my anxiety really triggers if I feel like I'm about to have a depressive episode. Then I get anxiety because I'm like, "There's so much I have to do, and I don't how debilitating this round is going to be." I'm just thinking of how inconvenient it can be to deal with that.
Steph: [21:52] I think I more so have anxiety towards that or anxiety when performing. If I'm going to do an interview, or if I'm going to do a talk, or something that involves a large-scale extroverting activity, then I get anxiety in those cases as well. But I think those are more jitter anxiety than the really heavy worrying anxiety.
Amberley: [22:23] Yeah, I really related to, there was a part of your episode, the one that you were talking about mental health, where you were talking about anxiety kicking in when talking to someone, and there's pressure to know something, which I completely relate to. Like you said something about your face getting flush. My entire face turns red. I completely relate to that.
Steph: [22:50] I think I get this weird defensive thing going too. But you actually reminded me, that doesn't happen so much ... Okay, so maybe that hasn't happened in the last two weeks, and that's why it's not fresh on my mind. At the time that we recorded that, I was only in my job for under 90 days. I think at that point I was having way more, as I am learning everything, and everybody's looking to me for it, but I am now used to getting questions that I don't know the answer to. So it's whatever.
Steph: [23:24] But yeah, I get very defensive and I might be a little bit more serious because I'm trying to make it seem as if I know what I'm talking about, but I don't. It's a palm sweaty, Eminem lyric.
Amberley: [23:40] Knees weak, etc.
Steph: [23:40] Yeah. Definitely.
Kurt: [23:46] Yeah, I find that I get like that a lot before talks, and especially workshops or something when I'm getting questioned. I feel like I know that everyone's just going to ask the exact questions that I don't know the answers to.
Steph: [23:59] Yeah, and I hate ... I was on a panel earlier this year, a security panel for small to medium-sized businesses. I was very nervous because the two people that were on the panel with me, they were vets. I think one was CTO or something like that. The other one, she owned her own consulting firm, but she had done some crazy badass stuff before. I was like, "I don't know what questions they're going to ask, I don't know if I'm going to be able to hold my own, I'm not sure how I'm going to sound if I'm going to not know."
Steph: [24:44] The thing is, is that you have this pressure because they're looking to you as the expert because you're the one talking to them, but at the same time you're a lifetime student. So there is just going to be stuff that you don't, but you don't want to look terrible. You have these thoughts swarming in your head, but it's never as bad as I imagined it to be, at least not yet. Let me find some wood and knock on it. But yeah, I totally relate to that as well.
Amberley: [25:15] One thing I've noticed in a lot of conference CFPs, calls for proposals, more and more they're expressly saying, "There will be no audience FAQ afterwards," and I am personally relived by that trend. I think it's a lot easier. It's a lot less stressful if you know people are going to come up and ask you questions one on one afterward, but yeah, especially in a talk setting, the audience FAQ, you never know what you're going to get in front of a bunch of people. That can be really stressful.
Steph: [25:54] I've been to actually conferences where during the presentation people have stopped then to ask questions, which I think would be a complete nightmare. That would be a complete ...
Steph: [26:07] I think that because you're already nervous, and you're trying to remember what it is you're supposed to say at what slide, and you're trying to go with the flow, to have somebody just completely interrupt that, and recover quickly enough to where you're able to get it all out and in a coherent manner, it's really, really difficult.
Amberley: [26:30] All right. So next question, are there any particular things you do to avoid getting anxious or to stop it when you're feeling anxious?
Steph: [26:42] Last year I had a really rough year. If you even remotely paid attention to me, you will probably know because I reference it a lot. But I had a rough year. At the tail end of last year, I had anxiety because I would get these really bad depressive episodes and it would affect everything.
Steph: [27:03] Then bad things were happening literally the entire year. In one month, I think four different things happened to my family. My grandfather passed, my brother had gotten into this really bad accident and his car was totaled, my other brother got laid off, and then my long-term relationship ended all in August, all in the same month.
Steph: [27:24] Towards the end of the year I'm just like, "I just don't want anything else bad to happen," and so I would think about what could possibly happen, or the worst case scenario, or how could I do things to get ahead of it because I'm basically trying to control things I can't control so I don't have to feel anxious about it or have to go through something terrible.
Steph: [27:45] At one point, I was literally reading so many articles on anxiety and depression. I was also listening to a lot of podcasts. I also signed up for this app. I want to say the name of it is Joyable, but I'm not 100% that's name. But this was a ... Here, I'll explain what it is and I'll give you what it is after this, but essentially it's an app where you get a life coach, which sounds so dramatic, but I'm going to let you know what it does.
Steph: [28:21] Basically it teaches you the CBT method, which is cognitive behavioral therapy. But it basically has you challenge your thoughts. If you have a tendency to think worst-case scenario, or over generalize, or be an extremist with your thoughts, it tells you to challenge every single thought you have. If you're like, "What if I die? If I get on this plane, what if I die?" Then it's like, "Okay, statistically speaking, do we know how many planes crash in a year?" Hopefully that number is low. Because if it's high, then that just feeds into anxiety.
Steph: [29:03] It's basically a method for taking every single thought you have, especially one that's really hammering, and making your heart rate go faster, and your blood pressure raise. Really breaking it down to find out is this actually true? Is this an [inaudible 00:29:22] anxiety I feel about this thing? Is it actually going to happen? What's the likelihood or possibility of it happening? Or am I just worried about nothing? That helped tremendously.
Steph: [29:33] But also I was ... I don't know, I think it's a podcast I listen to. One of the hosts on the podcast, she said that when you are anxious about something, you basically, not die twice, but kind of. You kind of die twice because you're worried about dying and then you actually die. Being worried about something that might be inevitable or not, doesn't actually do anything or change anything about the thing that's occurring. It just makes you feel really bad.
Steph: [30:07] I try to have these kinds of mini conversations with myself in the moment when I can feel like ... I know when I'm getting anxious too, is if I'm stating to avoid everything. If I'm like, "Oh, I know I'm supposed to be doing the thing," and I do everything under the sun but that thing, that's how I know it's because I'm feeling anxious about it. I really try to break everything down, make sure I've corrected my thoughts because that's the most important thing.
Steph: [30:36] Then literally just do one thing towards whatever is giving me anxiety. If it's a particular task, then I would do ... I don't know, if I have to take a test, I would read a page. Things like that over time make you feel less anxious about something huge like that.
Steph: [30:54] Or if you have a talk that you want to give, maybe you would join Toastmasters, which is lesser scale ... You know what I'm saying? Putting yourself in situations that will prepare you for the thing that you're anxious about, if that makes any sense.
Kurt: [31:07] Yeah. That makes a lot of sense.
Kurt: [31:10] A follow-up to that, talking about how you deal with it when it's coming on or is present, but how does it affect your life more broadly, either in your personal life or tech life? Do you find anxiety gets in the way a lot or not so much?
Steph: [31:28] I would say that anxiety more so played a big part of my ... I think it played more of a ... It played an important part in the beginning stages of my career. It doesn't really affect my personal life that much. There are certain things that I won't do, and it's because of anxiety.
Steph: [31:53] I have this weird feeling of just people watching me, and several people. I go to therapy now every other week, and so I had definitely a professional tell me that it's not the Stephanie Show. I know people that have their own show going on in their heads, nobody really cares about what you do. But in my head, since I was younger, I've thought that people would be watching me if I go out, so there's certain things like I refuse to do, like dance in public. There have to be certain conditions before I would do that. Or just really stupid things like that. I mean not stupid. Let me not say that.
Steph: [32:34] But there's weird things like that, that I refuse to do. As result of that maybe someone who is around me, like a friend, or a partner, or something like that would have wanted me to dance with them, and I would say, "No." That would create a little bit of a issue there, but that's as far as it gets in terms of personal issues. Thank goodness.
Steph: [32:58] But in terms of professional, this field can be very intimidating, especially give that some people have been messing around with tech-related things since they were in diapers. For me, ... I mean you've heard the stories, "Oh, my dad taught me how to code because he was a rocket scientist." You're just sitting there like, "Wow, we got our first computer when I was in high school." I feel like you just have a completely different story, and I came late to the game of thinking of this as a career, something that I could do or tinkering.
Steph: [33:33] You put a lot of judgment and pressure on yourself to be doing all this really cool, badass stuff every weekend, and labbing, and your lab is just crazy ridiculous, and you got rack, and you got seven servers inside of it. You want to have all that going on, but it's really expensive and also not necessary.
Steph: [33:51] I feel anxiety when it comes to sometimes mingling with people in the industry for the first time, because I'm like, "Man, what if these people are smarter than me, and they talk to me and they're like, "She doesn't know what the hell she's talking about."" Then I'm sitting there like, "[inaudible 00:34:06]."
Steph: [34:08] In the career space, even interviews, or if I'm talking to people that I'm meeting newly in the industry or something like that, I do face some anxiety in the beginning. But I've gotten to the point where I just push ahead anyway, and I just try to force myself to do it because like I said, it's never as bad as I have it in my head. If it is, who cares? Yeah.
Amberley: [34:34] Were you a career changer or did you start off in InfoSec?
Steph: [34:39] I not a career changer, more like I ... So I started off in college doing journalism, and I was in print journalism. I had a print journalism major for a bout three years. That's why I was in D.C. because of the school I went to. They had a really good journalism program. I went out there to ... Because journalism doesn't ...
Amberley: [35:06] All right, I have to interrupt you for a minute because I also started off as a print journalism major at a school in D.C. I need to ask you which university.
Steph: [35:17] Well I went to Howard.
Amberley: [35:19] Okay.
Steph: [35:20] Did you got to ...
Amberley: [35:20] I was at American.
Steph: [35:21] Okay, yeah. American was the second ... It was either going to be Howard or American, and I chose Howard just because I wanted a black experience. I'm Nigerian. Even though on paper I'm black, it's not the same thing. You have a different culture, [inaudible 00:35:40], being Nigerian. I really wanted to see ...
Steph: [35:43] Even though I'm Nigerian, both of my parents are Nigerian, I was born here and I grew up here, so I'm pretty much American. I wanted to have the black American experience, and that was the only way that I felt like I could do it, so I chose that one instead.
Steph: [35:58] But that's so funny.
Amberley: [35:59] That's nice.
Steph: [36:00] That's hilarious.
Steph: [36:04] I went there for that. Then three years and I realized that I didn't like people telling me what to write. The reason why I chose journalism too was because I loved writing, especially print. I loved writing. I had been writing since second grade.
Steph: [36:19] At that point I was like, "Well I can't do creative writing because what kind of a life would I have with that degree? That would be too expensive." Then I was like, "Okay, I also would like to do the magazine thing, or the newspaper thing."
Steph: [36:37] But then at the third year, I'm looking at my prospects, I'm looking at the competition, I'm looking at how cutthroat the industry is in D.C., and I'm not built for that kind of competition. That's going to sound really terrible, but I'm competitive against myself, and nobody else. At the very most, I think I've been competitive with a partner, but we were in the same industry. Kind of like a friendly competition thing, like a motivating thing.
Steph: [37:11] Then you have to go to people who ave experienced tragic moments, and just ask them questions about it, and I felt terrible about that kind of stuff, so I decided that it wasn't for me, that if I was going to write, it would be later on in life when I could write what I wanted to.
Steph: [37:30] At that point I'm like, "Okay, well I'm changing my major. But I'm three years in, so what am I going to change to? I've got debt up to my eyeballs already, so what can I do?" My mom was trying to ... If you know anything about Nigerians, they steer you towards engineering, or some sort of medical something, or some sort of law something. They tried to do those, and I was like, "No."
Steph: [37:54] My mom was like, "Well you've always liked computers, so what about computer science?" I was like, "Wait, then what would I do after that." She was like, "Well I don't know. Maybe you should talk to somebody." I looked it up and I was like, "Oh, there's actual a lot of jobs." You would think that I would know that, but I didn't. I had never even conceptualized dealing with computers as a career. I didn't even know. There was so much I was ignorant bout. Eventually I just changed to that. It wasn't really a career change, but more like as a study focus change. Then I went from there, started working ...
Steph: [38:36] By the time I transferred, because I transferred back to Texas, by the time I did all of that I had to work because I just had to pay my own bills. I started to realize that loans are really serious. At 17, you're not thinking about when you're going to pay it back, you're just like, "Thanks government for the free loan." By the time I had changed, I was 21. At that point I'm like, "Wow, I need to really start paying for things and not take out so many loans." That's when I picked a job in tech, it was tech support for a web posting company. That was pretty history, my life from there.
Amberley: [39:21] Started you on that path.
Steph: [39:22] Pretty much, yeah.
Amberley: [39:25] Well to start wrapping up, to thank Steph for taking the time to chat we'll be making donations to two orgs of her choice, The Diana Initiative and WISP that she mentioned earlier, Women in Security and Privacy. Steph, do you want to share a little bit about these orgs and your experience with them?
Steph: [39:46] Yeah, absolutely. Actually both of them pretty much came into my life at the same time.
Steph: [39:51] Last year, I responded to a tweet from WISP. Basically they were saying that they wanted to give a scholarship of a $500 stipend and a ticket to DEF CON for two women. It was either reply to the tweet, or retweet it, or something like that. I did that and I started to see, I was like, "Two out of however many are applying for this. Yeah, good luck. I don't know what my chances are, but they don't seem very high."
Steph: [40:26] Then suddenly people were donating to WISP. They were donating scholarships to WISP. Then they were like, "Oh, now we can take 10. Now we can do 15." Then it got up to 57. I was a part of the 57 and that was the first year that they did that. I was able to go to DEF CON because of WISP. Literally I think it has a huge part to play in where I sit now with the opportunities that have come my way and the things I'm involved in. That's why this year I decided I wanted to give back. I was going to do a scholarship myself, but they ended up asking me to be Lead, so I'm giving my time instead. That's why I'm giving back to them.
Steph: [41:15] Then Diana Initiative was happening during DEF CON. I think the day before DEF CON last year was one of the days for Diana Initiative, and then the second day was the first day of DEF CON. It was a very nice safe space for women who are in security, and I had not experienced that because there's not very many of us. I'm still pretty new tot he Houston industry, so I don't really know many women here in Houston that are in security.
Steph: [41:48] It was crazy to see so many people who are either hopefuls, like security hopefuls, or who were in the industry, and hear talks by women who were in the industry, and just see that it was possible because for the longest time in this industry, I don't know many technical women. I knew women in the industry, but they weren't doing technical roles. It just really shaped my mind and said, "Oh, I could definitely do the things that I said that I want to do in the industry. I see all these people have accomplished this stuff. I'm not alone." That really helped me with changing my mindset. When I came back, it just put a fire under me to make an effort, a larger effort.
Steph: [42:31] Both of them are definitely a very important part in my career journey. I think that they did that for a number of women last year, and I'm thinking they're going to do that for a number of women this year. I think they just have done really well in terms of making sure that diversity and inclusion is achieved on some scale. They can only do what they can. But yeah, I think that they definitely changed my life. That's why I think that they deserve a donation.
Kurt: [43:02] Well they definitely sound like really amazing organizations. Yeah, thank you for sharing more about them with us.
Amberley: [43:10] Oh, well thank. Thank you so much for talking to us. We really, really appreciate it. It was a lot of fun.
Steph: [43:15] Thank you for having. I know I talked your ear off.
Amberley: [43:19] No, I love it.
Kurt: [43:21] Yeah, it was great. It was really very informative, and it was great to learn some more about you. Thanks again.
Steph: [43:24] Thank you so much.
Kurt: [43:32] Thanks so much for joining us again. We really appreciate you listening.
Kurt: [43:36] If you enjoyed the episode, we hope you will join us again next time. If you know someone who you think would enjoy this show, we'd love it if you'd send it to them so they can check it out too.
Amberley: [43:46] Thank you again to InfoSteph for joining us. We talked about this in the conversation with her, but we plan to thank each guest of the podcast for their time by making a small donation to a nonprofit org of their choice.
Amberley: [44:00] In future Shortstack episodes, we generally plan to have two guests. Since Steph was our only guest on this first one, we're making donations to two orgs that are important to her that she talked about in our time with her.
Amberley: [44:15] Again, for this episode, we're supporting Women in Security and Privacy, or WISP, and The Diana Initiative. We'll have links to both in the show notes, so you can check them out if you want to.
Kurt: [44:28] Thanks again so much for joining us everyone, and be well.