Career Notes 9.20.20
Ep 16 | 9.20.20

Monica Ruiz: Moving ahead when not many look like you. [Policy]


Monica Ruiz: Hello, my name is Monica Ruiz, and I am the Fellow for the Cyber Initiative and Special Projects Program at the Hewlett Foundation.

Monica Ruiz: Early on, I wanted to be a weatherwoman, and I think that's because in my fifth grade class, I was the person that would give the morning announcements. And so for some reason I had an interest in weather and I had an interest in TV. And so that's what I wanted to be. But things have certainly changed since then.

Monica Ruiz: You know, early on, my parents really encouraged both my two brothers and sisters to be curious, and they also never really pushed any gender roles on us. And so as the youngest in the family, I also tended to have my brothers and sisters hand-me-downs. And so I, growing up, had a blue bike, which I loved and I never really associated like blue bike with boys bike or pink bike girls bike. I just had my blue bike and I loved it. And fast forward to college. I developed an interest in international relations and so I really moved from TV and giving the morning announcements in fifth grade to to more of a broader international relations context. And I studied abroad in China during my bachelor's degree and that really played a big role in what I did afterwards, because it gave me access to a culture and a language that was so different than my own. And so, you know, returning from China to complete my bachelor's degree, I was fascinated with having been, you know, outside of my comfort zone that I graduated and wanted to go right back to Asia.

Monica Ruiz: And so I lived in South Korea for a year where I taught English. And there I lived very close to a U.S. Air Force base where I started learning about security policy issues more broadly. And I think that's what started getting me into security, not cybersecurity at that point, but but security more broadly in the context of international relations. And so, you know, returning from Korea, I got back to Miami, which is where I grew up, and I started interning and later became a contractor at U.S. Southern Command. And that really allowed me to delve deeper into security policy issues. And one of the things that I noticed there that, you know, I had never fully experience when I was younger is the massive gender imbalances in the security world. And frankly, this really pushed me deeper into this space because, you know, I guess I wanted to push back on the fact that there weren't that many women and there weren't that many women of color in the settings where I was spending a lot of my time. And so not only was I fascinated substantively about these issues, but it also played a very personal role for me to see not that many people that looked like me.

Monica Ruiz: And so from there, I realized that that cybersecurity is is an issue area that's not only vertically relevant within an organization, but it really cuts horizontally across all sectors and all regions. And so, you know, building from my time in China, in my time in South Korea and my time in Boston, when I was finishing up my graduate degree, I really realized that this is a field that I want to dive into full time.

Monica Ruiz: Currently, you know, my day to day is centered on being a connector. That's how I would explain it. You know we're grantmakers at the Hewlett Foundation and we provide support to civil society, university, nonprofits for them to build out their cybersecurity areas of focus and teams. But we also try to go beyond the grant dollar by connecting different organizations and individuals that are working on similar issues. And so a lot of that entails understanding what the landscape looks like and being aware and oftentimes innovative with what are the connections that we make to really help build that field even further.

Monica Ruiz: Always feel free and open and confident to lean forward, especially on issues that you want to know more about. Don't feel intimidated if there is not that many people that look like you have that serve as a reason for why you would be even more forward leaning. I think it's important to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to build our security and feels comfortable doing so. So I hope that my research on the building of these cybersecurity volunteer cyber units is something that has long term effects.