Offering opportunities to graduates from different backgrounds and rural areas is one of o9’s core missions. Last month we partnered with Microsoft to support girls in their aims to work in tech and excel in STEM education. Microsoft and Tata STRIVE have a partnership to implement the CyberShikshaa program, helping female engineering graduates from humble backgrounds join the digital industry and meet the demand for cybersecurity-trained professionals. Tata STRIVE tied up with Tata Communications Limited and Tata Consultancy Services to develop a standardized course for all of India.
Tata STRIVE aims to train more than 900 young girls over three years. The training program will take place in Tata STRIVE Skill Development Centers and various educational institutes. Participants receive around 576 hours of learning and get a certification from Microsoft and Tata STRIVE upon completion. So far, 108 students have completed the course, and o9 was delighted to get involved and find two great candidates to join o9. After going through the selection and interview process, o9 hired two interns, Shruti Srivastava and Varshita Bedi. They are both now part of o9’s cyber security team, a massive milestone in their budding careers.
In a short interview, both new interns shared their memorable stories from the Tata STRIVE program. According to the research, only about 14% of the cybersecurity workforce comprises women. The further we climb the ladder, the more acute this problem becomes; out of that 14%, only 1% of the females in senior leadership positions are in cybersecurity. Shruti was inspired as a child by hackers and what struck her was the lack of female characters portraying a hacker. From a young age, she was interested in cybersecurity or information security. She realized that entering this field requires proper guidance. Her first steps in learning about cybersecurity were basic research on Google and YouTube, but this was not enough.
Varshita and Shruti were very good at software development during college but still longed to learn more. In the final year of education, they discovered the Tata STRIVE program and were confident it was where they would understand the vital practical aspects of cybersecurity.
“Within a few days, we were learning about the basics, the hardware, networking, and then the hacking part came, and we were so excited,” Varshita said. Learning the basics is an essential part of the program, and even if students have zero knowledge of cybersecurity, they can, step by step, go from beginner to advanced level. “This course helped me understand the entire ecosystem of information security,” continued Varshita. Shruti told us about her first day at the program, “I still remember our first day at Tata STRIVE. Varshita and I both had the same question: Will we be exposed to real-world scenarios in cybersecurity? And yes, we were. It was thrilling.”
In India, it is not common for a girl to work in the cybersecurity sector. It is a very male-dominated environment. Nevertheless, both Shruti and Varshita were determined to succeed. Throughout the program, they felt supported and encouraged to do what they love to do most. Everyone in their circle was pleased with their achievements and confident of their future success. Both girls are proud of their work and see their families as role models that inspire them to continue growing.
The TATA STRIVE learning experience.
Shruti and Varshita received further guidance on working practices in the cybersecurity environment, sharing knowledge, and explaining situations when working with other departments. The teachers at Tata STRIVE taught them beyond the theoretical part. Through a specific learning platform, they were allowed to access it from everywhere and anytime and solve quizzes. Both shared that the practical part of the program was exciting, and they learned how they could protect others and themselves as users. Varshita said, “We had dedicated online classes arranged so we could easily grasp all the topics if we cannot get this from the video lectures. The support from the lecturers was immensely helpful.”
Besides the core technical skills imparted in the four-month training, CyberShikshaa+ also focuses on soft skills and industry readiness counseling. Sometimes the cybersecurity field can be challenging, but through the great support they got from their lecturer, Rahul, at Tata STRIVE, Shruti and Varshita won’t lose hope. Despite Rahul’s busy schedule, he and other lecturers would take time and make sure they could solve the problem, “True lifesavers,” both girls said with big smiles.
How did you get the job at o9?
“One day, I received a call about my resume, and then I was informed I would sit some exams, and we had to pass an online assessment, then a coding assessment, and then go through the interview process. And then we were done. It all happened so fast,” Shruti said. “The orientation process with o9 was excellent. We are now interns, and everything is going well. We were provided with a buddy who was there to guide us through everything, and I enjoyed the process”, she added.
What did you like about the Tata STRIVE program?
“The thing that I most loved was the learning process. Any time we would be able to call our facilitators, or any time if we were stuck, we would reach out to another. It was a great environment. Within three months, we were like a family. We also received orientation sessions through Tata STRIVE to prepare us for how it is to work in a company, and you can see the happiness radiating from us when we started our internships.”
Varshita said, “sharing my new skills with other people so they can stay protected is the best part of the learning resources. We would love to go back and teach and inspire other girls to enter cybersecurity and help open doors for them.”
At o9, we are thrilled to offer driven individuals like Shruti and Varshita the chance to grow careers, work their passion, and put their knowledge into practice.
Towards the end of FY 2020-21, Microsoft and Tata STRIVE entered into a partnership to implement the Cybershikshaa program, helping female engineering/MCA graduates from humble backgrounds enter the digital industry and help meet the industry demand for cybersecurity-trained professionals.
In FY 2021-22, the Cybershikshaa+ program was implemented for the first time in 5 locations, with technical and funding support from Microsoft. 247 girls have been trained in the program in the first year of its implementation.