The annual Women in Technology Award, presented jointly by WICT, SCTE-ISBE and Cablefax, is given to a women whose professional achievements have extended beyond her company to impact and advance the cable telecommunications industry as a whole. This year’s recipient, Noopur Davis of Comcast, is breaking new ground every day. As Comcast’s svp, chief product and information security officer, Davis’ responsibilities include product security and privacy, cybersecurity risk management, security architecture and engineering and identity management. Her teams are pushing into the future, investigating the use of blockchain for IoT security, in building streaming security data integration platforms and in machine learning to build models for early threat detection.
Davis has been a steadfast supporter of women in technology. She is the executive sponsor of Comcast/NBCUniversal TechWomen, is on the steering committee of the Comcast Technology, Product, eXperience Diversity Council and is an executive sponsor of the Comcast Asian Pacific Americans Employee Resource Group. Davis joined Comcast from Intel, and previously served as a visiting scientist and senior member of technical staff at the Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute. The 2017 winner, Charter’s Deborah Picciolo, will present the award during SCTE-ISBE Cable-Tec Expo. We spoke with Davis about her career path and how it has led to her becoming one of the most highly regarded professionals in cable technology.
What does this award mean to you?
I’m really honored. I was just looking at the previous women who have won this and… what a fabulous bunch of ladies that is. I am a technical woman and we’re in the minority. It’s anywhere from 20-25% of the technical workforce. The particular field that I’m in is just 7% women. I’m really happy and proud to represent technical women. It means a lot to be part of that select group and then to really be representing technical women, and women in cyber in particular.
What kept you driven when you began your career as a woman in tech? Is there a specific point in your career that stands out?
I’ve always been interested in science and technology and math and physics, but also loved literature and music and art. I’m also a first-generation immigrant’s daughter and when it came time to pick a career, I was definitely encouraged to go the technical route. My parents always wanted to make sure that I was being trained in a way that I could also earn a good living. That’s how I picked this field in college. I have an undergrad bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Electrical engineering is okay, but then I started to write code and I absolutely loved that. That was my passion. I got my masters in computer science and absolutely loved the zen experience that you go into when you’re writing code. I love how beautiful code can be and how challenging and fun. It never really seemed like work from then on. It was always more fun than anything else. It’s like you spend your whole day solving puzzles and the challenge then becomes how can I do it in the most elegant, efficient and high-quality way.
You’ve been a champion for other women in technology. What advice would you give to women interested in entering the field today?
As women, we’ve all been discouraged in so many ways, but we have to just fight past it as much as possible. I mentor younger women and my guidance is to just consider a career in technology. A lot of girls are discouraged, I was discouraged. I had a math teacher tell me once, “You’re so good at math, it’s a shame you’re a girl.” There are lots of ways that girls are discouraged, I hope less now than they were when I was growing up. What I would always tell young women is give it a chance. You will love it, some of you, but you have to give it a chance. Hopefully you decide that this is what you want to do. In so many ways, there’s so much more awareness now. Not to say that the path is clean and the road is easy—it isn’t—but it’s really a matter of giving it a chance and then giving it your all if that is what you want to do. Technology, and especially software, is a great career for women. It pays well, which is very important because we all have families and ourselves to support, but it is also one of the most flexible jobs that you can do. You can code from anywhere. For young women especially, as we’re starting our families, flexibility is important. It takes on a special importance in a certain part of our career. I always encourage young women to look at the field.
What sorts of myths surround fields in technology?
I think that one of the myths is that you can’t be creative in a technical field. Speaking from a coding perspective, there is a beauty and elegance in writing beautiful code. There’s user experience and creating products. Look at Apple products. Look at a well-designed app. It is beautiful. It’s a work of art. It’s creative, the way that people design the interaction of the product, the feel of the product. There is so much need for and use for creativity. I’ve met some of the most creative people who have developed some of the most creative products. And the other myth is that it’s a loner job. It’s not a social activity. You think of a guy, usually, in a hoodie sitting in a basement coding. That is just not true. It’s a team sport, nobody creates products on their own. It’s an extremely collaborative field. All those little things that are myths, we just have to get past them. The myths saying girls can’t do technical stuff, our brains are different, that it’s not creative enough, it’s not collaborative enough… the reality is just not true.
How do you handle privacy and security concerns in your day-to-day operations? What are your goals as we continue moving into the future?
The definition of security is confidentiality, integrity and availability. Privacy is really the definition of security, it’s one of the three pillars. We do focus on all three of those areas, the confidentiality or privacy of our employees’, our partners’ and most importantly our customers’ information. The integrity, which means that when I do use my information that I am assured that it was modified only in acceptable ways by authorized people, then the availability which means that we are protecting our systems from attacks and other issues, and that those systems are always available. Cybersecurity is about confidentiality or privacy of data, so making sure that only authenticated people are accessing the data in an authorized way. The second is integrity—that means I trust that my data has been changed only in authorized ways by authorized people. And the third is availability, that my data is available to me when I need it. That is what we do. We look at those three pillars for everything that we do, all of our products, all of our infrastructure and our enterprise.
Is there a technological advancement that you’re keeping your eye on for the future that’s just now developing?
It’s not as much a particular technology or a particular silver bullet. It’s as we move more and more into the digital world, there are these big changes happening: the move to the cloud, the proliferation of IoT devices. Our typical home now has about a dozen devices and that’s soon to grow to 50 if you just start counting all of your laptops, phones and TVs. Those changes are fundamental changes to our industry and the way that we access information. Those changes then drive the need for where you have to use different technologies. For example, as this number of devices proliferate and we have more and more data and information that’s coming from the new devices, applications and capabilities, you really have to figure out how to process that information. That’s when you start looking at tools like machine learning, AI and data science. From a security point of view, in the past I may have had to detect an event in “x” amount of data, I now have to detect that event in 100 times the amount of data. So my techniques have to change. That is what’s driving the change. It’s those fundamental shifts that are happening. It’s not really technology for technology’s sake. It’s technology to solve problems.