Of Color and Female – A Rare Commodity in the Tech Field

Naomi Ruiz

Despite the high demand for computer science and cybersecurity degree-holders, both fields remain predominantly white and male in the United States. RIC alum, like Naomi Ruiz, are changing that.

Of Dominican heritage, Naomi Ruiz graduated this spring with a degree in computer science and with the distinction of being among the first to earn a minor in cybersecurity at RIC.

A month later, she was hired by VMware, a software company that provides online security, among other services. Immediately her minor was put to use.

"As their solutions engineer, I demonstrate to clients how cyberattacks such as viruses, ransomware, malware and phishing attacks occur," she says. "I show them the attack path, meaning where, say, a virus first entered their system, where it moved laterally and how VMware software can stop the attack.”

The 24-year-old credits Assistant Professor Suzanne Mello-Stark for introducing her to the field by urging her to attend a Women in Cybersecurity Conference. Seeing so many women who were passionate about their work imprinted deeply upon her.

Mello-Stark also advised Ruiz to join the Information Security Club on campus; she would be hired by Mello-Stark to teach the fundamentals of cybersecurity at the GenCyber Camp at RIC; and she would work with RIC’s director of information security to maintain online security for the entire campus. 

By the time Ruiz was hired by VMware, she had a wealth of experiences. 

The greatest challenge, she says, is "being a woman of color in this industry. It's very intimidating sitting in a room full of middle-aged, white men, trying to convince them that you belong there. If I hadn’t experienced the Women in Cybersecurity Conference, I don’t know if I would have made it this far in my field.”

Ruiz did, however, find an ally in VMware. She says, “At the first company meeting, the CEO showed everyone a photo of all the leaders in the company. He said, ‘There’s no women at the leadership table. We need to change that.’ I knew then that I was in the right place.”

A Day in the Life of Naomi Ruiz