Lillian Maestas has more than twenty-five years hands-on experience in software engineering, project development, management and business development. She has led large software projects in integrated product team environments and has managed design and development of advanced commercial and military information systems.
Knowledge Made Solutions Inc was founded in 2008 in San Diego, CA. It is a Veteran Owned Small Business (VOSB) providing high quality Engineering Services to the US Government and Commercial Contractors. They specialize in Software and System Engineering Services and related disciplines including Software Application Development, Hardware Software Integration, Technical Project Management, Test Engineering, Quality Assurance, Configuration Management, Information Assurance and Technical Writing.
Your interest in computer science goes back into your college days. What sparked the interest?
I was a typical student in high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career. I sought the advice of my student counselor and she said, “Well, you’re good at math, what about computer science?” I said, “What’s that?” She said, “Well, it’s a new field that’s just starting,” and “Since you’re good at math, I think it can be a good fit for you.” So, I said, “Okay.”
It was challenging in several ways. One, my computer science classes had only two or three females to start, and then after four, five weeks they would drop out, and I’d be the only female. Where in high school I predominately studied with females, I had the challenge to ask the males if I could join their study group. As well the professors were all male. Two, the subject itself was a challenge, but I just kept at it, because I found it interesting. This is when the computers, they call them the mainframes, were large and you would write your program on punch cards. Each statement of your program would be on a card so you ended up with a stack of cards for the entire program. I remember I put the card deck in my car and while driving home I braked too fast, and the cards went flying. I had to retype the program to get the cards in the right order. This meant I had to find a time slot opening in the lab to retype the program. I learned quickly to put a rubber band around my cards.
What made you stay in computer science?
Directly out of college I worked for General Dynamics in a field service position in Nevada developing software, again I was the only female on this project. We were tracking military exercises and we’d replay the results of their exercises of who killed who in a debrief center. I did the software development for that. We also tracked the first launch of the Tomahawk cruise missile. They launched it off the coast in the Pacific and it made its way all the way to Tonopah Test Range where we were working, and hit its target right on. I found doing the software development for this exciting and fun.
How you support women in STEM?
Since I do business development and also look for the resources to fill positions for Knowledge Made Solutions I definitely look for and support hiring women that are qualified.
I’m also a volunteer and STEM Chair with NDIA, National Defense Industrial Association. About 10 years ago, we recognized the shortage in the STEM educated workforce, both male and female and got involved doing outreach to students to get them interested in STEM and IT. In the beginning I noticed only males showing up to our outreach events, that’s when one of my goals became to get girls to attend and for the Cyber cup event to get an all girls team. And we made it happen in one year.
What opportunities are there for women in cyber security?
There are many opportunities for women, many are technical but there’s many other aspects to the cybersecurity field, so you don’t necessarily have to be an engineer designing hardware, circuits or software. For example, behavioral analyst who determine why and what drives hackers are needed to provide this information to others who can put technical controls in place to monitor for suspicious behaviors based on patterns. Or lawyers, who are knowledgeable in cybersecurity policies. I’m definitely seeing more women entering this field, I see them at Cybersecurity meetings, and I love the encouragement from our male colleagues in supporting women. I see a lot of that, which is awesome.
What is the mission of Knowledge Made Solutions?
We’re a veteran owned small business that provides engineering and high-tech services to the Department of Defense. Our mission is to provide excellent engineering in software, systems engineering, and cybersecurity.
How do you contribute to that mission?
I look for opportunities that are good fit for the company, meaning IT and engineering tasks where our experience and expertise can provide best of breed solutions and services. I also look at teaming relationships with other companies where we can complement their team with our expertise or they complement us.
How have cyber-attacks changed over time?
Going back to the 80s and the 90s, the cyber incidences were not very frequent. Now we’re hearing about significant attacks every month, actually cyber security incidences are happening every minute. That’s the big difference that I’ve seen. Also, hackers now want a ransom for return of your information. It’s not so much that they want that information, but knowing you do they hold it up for ransom. Where early on hackers actually wanted the secret or proprietary information they stole, such as designs, algorithms, etc.
How will cyber-attacks evolve in the future?
Medical devices are an interesting area. What’s the purpose to hack into somebody’s medical device? Probably not to get secrets, but to do harm if you don’t pay them.
What are 3 steps every company should take to protect themselves against cyber-attacks?
The first one is to do an assessment of your IT and your data. Know what you have. Step two, determine what controls are needed. You need to start setting your priorities, putting more controls in place is good, but you might not be able to do it all at once. So you prioritize. Third step is the awareness. A lot of breaches happen because employees are not aware that their actions open up ways for hackers to get in.
What is SoCal Cyber Cup?
SoCal Cyber Cup is a Cybersecurity challenge for middle school and high school students. They get paired with a mentor from DOD industry and government to work on different cybersecurity challenges for 6 months. The kids are exposed to threats and vulnerabilities and work with the latest technologies to find, remove and recover within what we call a cyber range. A safe place that won’t create real problems while they learn. This year we had the Cyber Range in the cloud. This also allows us to reach a larger group of kids. We’ve had kids return for all four of their high school years to participate in the cyber cup challenge and after they come back as mentors and sponsors. We’ve also seen several kids get very good positions at local companies based on the experience and knowledge they gained through the cyber cup challenge.
What is your next challenge?
I want to see more kids from underserved areas get involved in STEM and the SoCal Cyber Cup to show them the opportunity this filed offers for their future. Recently NDIA is participating in a program called “STEM in your backyard”, we go out to schools in underserved areas and talk to kids about STEM. Our goal is to have 50% of teams from these areas at our next SoCal Cyber Cup.
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