Draft your own blueprint

Reedhima Mandlik portrait photo

Reedhima Mandlik, a cybersecurity expert and public speaker, offers three pieces of advice learned in her tech career, among them that to be noticed in this field, you must want to be. This is our HOW ("Her Own Words") column for January.

Written By
Reedhima Mandlik
  • Her Own Words (HOW) series

Every child of immigrants growing up in America is taught to find a path and stick to it, because that’s the easiest way to navigate this dual-cultural world that we grew up in. Getting into college? There’s a path for that. Volunteer, grow friendships, work, study, repeat. It’s hard, but its doable, because everyone does it, right?

Then you hit college, and that blueprint vanishes. You’ve put your head down for so long, chugging toward that promising future that you were told you’d receive if you just did everything right, that looking up is nearly blinding. You’re on your own, and no one is pushing you but yourself. It turns out that choosing a life for yourself — one you never even knew was possible — is freeing. And once you start, it makes the next leap easier, and the one after that, easier still.

For me, working in the tech industry was a leap from journalism and psychology to engineering communications; from there, it was pursuing my master’s at Northwestern University, which launched me into technology startups, then technology consulting, and now building my own cybersecurity products for Slalom Consulting and being a national public speaker. I get to pursue what I love, while still championing women in technology globally; teaching cybersecurity at seminars for Break Through Tech Chicago, Women Who Code, and other nonprofits; and spending time in this incredible city I call home with my partner and my two rabbits, Midnight and Starlight. While the journey wasn’t easy, it taught me quite a bit along the way.

If I could share any advice, it would be this:

First: adapting is hard. Some of us are born to break the rules, to take social contracts and throw them out the window. Others are born for rules and loathe to break them. Leaping off the path takes courage, and it takes giving yourself the grace and permission to change your mind. Adapting your mindset, discovering how it feels to try new things, and being unafraid to make them yours are essential elements of working in technology. This field is volatile; the tech industry just five years ago looked vastly different than it does today. Adapting is exciting, because it helps you grow. This industry was made by disruptors for disruptors, and that means that being able to succeed is rooted in your ability to adapt, too.

Second: It turns out you can be more than just one thing. Life is a vast stretch of space with no guaranteed end date, and the world around you will continue to move. You get to decide how you want to move with it. The beauty of the tech industry is that it is relatively new, and every new innovation gives a new skillset the chance to shine. My job didn’t exist 15 years ago; jobs that will be commonplace in 10 years possibly haven’t even been conceived of yet.

Finally: Ask for what you need. Our education system teaches you that if you’re good at what you do, you will be rewarded. Growing in the tech industry is less about others seeing your value and more about demanding your value be seen. If you want to pursue a field, ask someone for the opportunity; if you want to be a speaker, apply. My current role exists because I asked to pursue an idea and was given the opportunity to do so. The success of that continued to grow. The best ideas came from people who simply asked to be heard.

The tech industry is such an exciting field because of the opportunity it provides us all. Regardless of who you are, or what legacy (or lack thereof) came before you, you have the ability to thrive. I’m humbled to have had Break Through Tech Chicago and UIC be part of my tech journey, and to hopefully be a small part of yours, too!