Career Journeys @ Twilio: Finding Power in Self-Advocacy

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March 28, 2024
Written by

Name: Shamika Abraham

Role: Lead Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst

Home Base: San Francisco

Fun Fact: Shamika is a self care queen, who prioritizes 'investing' in international travel, exquisite perfumes, rejuvenating spa days, and fine dining experiences.


Career Journey Timeline Template (New) - 6
Career Journey Timeline Template (New) - 6

Career Journeys @ Twilio: Finding Power in Self-Advocacy

Shamika Abraham has goals and isn't afraid to bring them to life —embracing the challenges along the way. Her courage and perseverance have defined her career journey at Twilio.

Before joining the company in late 2018, Shamika had a career in finance compliance. She worked as a contract specialist in revenue operations at a Silicon Valley tech company. But working in finance just didn't feel right. 

"I wanted something more hands-on. I wanted to do something a little more technical," she says. "And since I was already a cybersecurity enthusiast — I read cybersecurity news for fun — I decided to try to turn my interest into a career."

Initially, Shamika worried that her non-traditional background might hold her back as she had never completed a formal college education. But she decided not to let that stop her and began researching alternative paths into cybersecurity. "I decided to pursue Security+, an entry-level certification," she says, "thinking that if I can get certified in cybersecurity, it'll show a prospective employer that I'm serious about this career path."

Kicking Off a Career in Cybersecurity

While working towards her cybersecurity certification, Shamika began applying for cybersecurity jobs. Among the first was a security analyst role at Twilio. "The job description didn't make it sound like the role was extremely technical, although it did require foundational cybersecurity knowledge," Shamika recalls. "But what caught my eye was that applicants needed to be comfortable working with customers, sales teams, and contracts, which was a major part of my responsibilities in finance. So I applied." 

Twilio reached out within days to schedule an interview. "I've always approached interviewing by being myself and doing my best. If it's for me, then it's for me, and if not, that's fine," said Shamika. "But Twilio did such a good job of making me want to work there that if I didn't get the job, I knew I'd be disappointed."

Her certification strategy paid off, and Shamika was soon hired as a security analyst at Twilio. Interestingly, she quickly discovered that her skills in finance were much more valuable than expected. 

Knowledge Transfer and Experience

Shamika was excited to lean into her passion and be paid to do so. But she was also tapping into skills she already had. "Finance and cybersecurity have a lot of transferable skills, like being detail-oriented, being able to do extensive research, and working with data," she says. 

One of those skills — being a proficient writer — came in handy within the first month when Shamika was asked to author a white paper on PCI compliance that would be featured on Twilio’s website. "This was where my background in finance was a huge benefit," she said. "There's a lot of overlap with PCI compliance and how credit card and financial data are handled, so I was very familiar with the standard."

To Shamika's delight, her position as a security analyst allowed her opportunities to research all aspects of the field. "I had to know a little bit about engineering, a little bit about compliance, a little bit about risk management — pretty much every domain that security touched," she says. "I didn't need to be a specialist in any one aspect of cybersecurity!" 

Building A Career By Building Relationships

After 18 months or so, Shamika reflected on the work she'd been doing as a security analyst.

Although it focused on solving customers' security concerns, Shamika ended up doing a lot of program management. And while the cybersecurity aspect was important, what her team really lacked was program building. Processes were being mapped out, but the team needed help building relationships with other business units and creating systems that could sustain the ever increasing workload.

Sidestepping the typical career path to a more senior security analyst position, Shamika wanted to fill the need for security program management. "Even though a teammate was doing similar work, there was no official title or job description in place," she said. "That motivated me more, and we were soon promoted to security program manager roles based on my advocating for being properly titled and compensated." 

Shamika feels fortunate that Twilions can advocate for themselves at work and says she was always comfortable proposing new ways of working that may have countered how her team typically approached specific projects. "In my case, the support started from the beginning," she says. "We were given a lot of autonomy, which allowed me to have more open interactions with my team," she says. Looking back At Twilio, Shamika says this still holds true and feels her perspective is always valued.


Fortifying A Cybersecurity Focus

A year and a half of program management went by before Shamika took steps to learn more about cybersecurity's technical domains. She asked a leader in her organization to keep her in mind if he heard about cross-training opportunities. Within a few months, he approached her about being the first to pilot a rotation program across the cybersecurity organization. 

Eager to start, Shamika was assigned to four three-month stints within teams focusing on cyber threat intelligence, security incident response, cloud security and security architecture. She'd shadow and cross-train with each unit offering  her program-building experience to improve how their team operates in exchange for exposure to more technical security work. Shamika started with cyber threat intelligence before moving on to the security incident response team. 

During the second rotation, Shamika realized she had already found what she wanted to do. In late 2021, she asked for and was awarded a lateral move to a position as a cyber threat intelligence analyst, researching cyber threats that could affect Twilio products, and Twilio customers.

Cyber threats are ever-evolving, which means that as a cyber threat intelligence analyst, you are always on your toes. Cyber threat intelligence often involves delving into the dark web, where threat actors lurk and trade or sell information. It's like entering a digital underworld, and the discoveries can be both intriguing and unsettling. On top of keeping up with the threat actors nicknames like Fancy Bear, BLACKCAT, and AppleJesus.

"It's exciting. One of my recurring meetings is with the FBI, who regularly brief us on cybercrime trends," says Shamika. " I'm proud to be able to use that information to better protect our customers. It's really important." 

Advocating for Herself

Shamika attained her dream job because she's been willing to stand up for herself. Before coming to Twilio, she often found herself the only Black woman in meetings. As a direct result of feeling sidelined in other roles, she promised to take up more space by being vocal and sharing her opinions — a commitment that paid off when she joined Twilio. "That type of directness and transparency is appreciated here," she says.

She's also been vocal about her professional development. "Nobody can read your mind, so I don't hesitate to ask for things — that's a big part of it." This has resulted in Twilio backing Shamika's involvement in cybersecurity conferences, training classes, and obtaining certifications, as long as there's a clear alignment to her contributions to the company. 

Shamika learned to set boundaries in her personal life, too. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Shamika reflected and realized that everything, even her social life, revolved around work, and she began to feel that it was consuming her. This led to her decision to be more strategic about work assignments, seeking to evolve her reputation from "she'll do it" to "you can ask her." She's also felt empowered to take time off to prioritize self care, international travel and create separation between her work and personal life.

Coming Full Circle

In an effort to create direct partnerships between Twilio and major U.S. wireless carriers, Shamika was assigned to lead the security contract negotiations. This necessitated countless hours navigating terms and challenges she'd never encountered before and pushing back when necessary to get to a place that worked for all parties. "It was essential that we made sure that we could confidently support all the things we agreed to," she says.

Later Shamika learned that, as part of the negotiating team, her diligence and commitment were being formally recognized and that she would receive Twilio's top honor, the Superb Owl Award. "That was the hardest thing I've worked on at Twilio," she says. "Having that come full circle with this top honor was incredible."

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