Ruth Barra knows that when you enter a career in technology, you will never know everything. You are, in fact, signing up for a lifetime of learning. However, one of the most important aspects of lifelong learning is having the benefit of mentorships. In this edition of our blog, Ruth explains how the sharing of knowledge and lessons learned can have a significant impact on both the mentor and the mentee.
How long have you been at Sikich LLP and what is your role?
Ruth Barra: I’ve been at Sikich for five and a half years. I am a managing consultant within the cybersecurity practice of our Technology Department. I am also the lead for our PCI DSS service offerings.
How did you get started in the payments industry? What led you to that career choice?
Ruth Barra: I spent many years in IT management, leading infrastructure and IT security teams. I led and was responsible for PCI compliance as part of my responsibilities going back many years. When Sikich reached out to me with the opportunity to join the team, I was excited to bring my knowledge and experience to the assessor-side of compliance.
Who has been your biggest role model in shaping your career path?
Ruth Barra: My father is my biggest and greatest role model. I learned the value of hard work, perseverance, and integrity. I also learned the importance of determining where you want your career to go, setting deliberate goals towards that path, and putting in the work to achieve those goals.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
Ruth Barra: I have benefited greatly from the mentoring I have received from others over the years. It has been very important to me throughout my career to mentor others so that perhaps their path can be a little easier by virtue of the sharing of knowledge and lessons I have learned along my journey. Each time an individual I mentored reached the next level in their career path, I was proud of the hard work they put into that achievement and was happy for any measure of value my mentoring afforded them along the way.
Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that is the case?
Ruth Barra: Although there is still a lack of women in particular areas of technology, I have seen great strides. It is not easy to overcome the feeling of intimidation that comes with considering a career in the world of technology, which requires very specialized knowledge and training in most cases. The opportunities are there, as are a vast number of resources to obtain the knowledge needed. You don’t gain knowledge and experience overnight; you just have to understand the progressive steps you need to take and absolutely ask for help and mentoring from those who have already reached where you are trying to go.
Many women in the tech industry have felt that their gender has affected the way that they are perceived or treated. Is ‘unconscious bias’ holding women back in the workplace and, if so, what can women do about it?
Ruth Barra: There is some level of gender-based unconscious bias to be sure. There are times when you can sense you are being tested in terms of your knowledge, rather than your credentials, certifications, experience, and such standing on their own. I tend to not be annoyed or offended and simply respond by demonstrating my knowledge. It also helps to build further credibility by acknowledging what you don’t know. No one can know everything so it’s okay to say, “I am not familiar with that technology or that solution, but I will do some research on my end”. It is a skill to be learned over time in terms of demonstrating what you bring to the table without coming across as defensive or in a “know-it-all” manner.
What do you see as the future for women in technology roles/payments industry?
Ruth Barra: I have seen much progress over the years. Where I would quite often be the only woman in the room, or the only woman in the IT department, this is far less frequent. I am confident that this progress will continue in leaps and bounds as those of us in the industry encourage others to join us and let it be known we are here to guide and mentor.
Were you given any advice during your career that has stuck with you? As a result, do you have a personal mantra or a famous quote that you live by?
Ruth Barra: The best advice I received early in my IT career is that you will never know everything. If you enter the field, you are absolutely signing up for a lifetime of learning! In terms of a personal mantra, based upon the qualities that were instilled in me by my parents, and observing the actions of individuals I greatly admired over the years, it would be to do the right thing, even when no one is watching.
What advice would you impart to other women about how to succeed in the payment industry or in a technology-based field in general? What advice would you give to your younger self?
Ruth Barra: I would say to reach out to ask for help, mentorship, and guidance. My younger self didn’t want to impose on others and did not realize how many people would be more than happy to provide that help and mentorship. I had some great mentors over the years but could likely have had many more if I had not been hesitant to ask.