Overcoming stereotypes is never an easy task and this is particularly true when the very people being impacted by an outdated thought process are also among the strongest believers that it is true.
Bertina Ceccarelli, CEO of the nonprofit NPower, is now putting her prodigious organizational and technical powers behind helping people see beyond their perceived limitations and opening the door for them to try their hand at something entirely different: cybersecurity. Much of what she is attempting to accomplish is due to her own background.
“Part of what I bring to NPower is a boundless optimism for how a tech education can change life trajectories," she says. " I was the first in my family to graduate from high school. I always liked math and studying engineering seemed at the time like a good way to land a decent-paying job after college, Ceccarelli says.
As CEO of NPower, which is based in Brookyn, N.Y., she heads an organization that takes people from all walks of life, job experiences or lack thereof, and helps them accomplish two difficult tasks. First convincing them that they are capable of more (and in a field they may not have have previously considered), then training them to fulfill that goal.
Although she has only been on aboard for a little more than half a year, her presence has had a measurable impact on the organization.
“I love what Bertina and her team at NPower are doing to bring greater diversity to cybersecurity, an industry in which women and minorities have been underrepresented," says Shelley Westman, senior VP, alliances and field operations at Protegrity. "Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing segments in IT, so it's incredibly important for us to train and encourage people from underserved communities to pursue careers in this area.”
One of the mantras Ceccarelli has developed and helps spread is that a four-year degree is not necessary to become a success in the cybersecurity field and NPower manages to turn out budding cybersecurity pros with a scaled down lesson plan.
“Our training is fast, free, and formulated with industry input. Our cyber program is 26 weeks, 14 weeks of full time instruction and a 12 week paid internship,” she says.
She is not alone in having this belief. Shamia Naidoo, IBM's CISO, said she was more than willing to take someone with a totally unrelated degree and then train that person in cybersecurity.
NPower offers two signature programs designed to help underserved young adults and veterans: The Community Corps, where tech volunteers work with schools and nonprofits, helping them use technology more effectively to inspire the next-generation of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals; and the Technology Service Corp, which offers free technology and professional skills training. This includes classes that lead to industry-recognized certifications, mentoring from business leaders, internships and employment services.
“I am very proud of our inaugural location in Baltimore that opened earlier this year. We launched our first pilot class serving 25 young people from local Baltimore communities with significant economic challenges. Next year we will expand our cybersecurity program to more cities; we cannot train fast enough to meet market demand. In January we will open a new Tech Fundamentals program in St. Louis and expand our coding curriculum, currently in pilot in Dallas,” she says.
Ceccarelli earned her tech chops as a senior VP for NBC internet and she has a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley in industrial engineering and operations research. Previously to taking on her role with NPower, Ceccarelli was the executive VP of global resources with the Wildlife Conservation Society and senior VP of institutional advancement for the United Way of New York City.