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Interview - Shanaz Khan, Systems Engineer at Fortinet
Thursday, October 13, 2016, by Mark Hardaker

For many technology companies celebrating gender equality in the workplace has become a core focus. Organisations are increasingly showing a commitment to growing the number of female technologists by placing diversity at the heart of their recruitment activity. While many firms are successfully addressing the gender gap, some companies may be struggling to put that commitment into practice.

In the US for example, while women make up 59% of the total workforce they average just 30% of employees across major tech companies. That 30% includes both tech and non-tech jobs, like marketing and HR. Women hold just 17% of the tech jobs at Google, 15% at Facebook and 10% at Twitter. However, one Scandinavian country recognised as one of the most gender-diverse tech ecosystems in the world is Norway. 

The region has been a game changer for increased participation of women and the promotion of equality in the business world. In 2003 Norway adopted the law on a minimum of 40% representation of both sexes in the boards of State-owned and private companies. Since then, the number of female representation has increased from 7% to 41%. Furthermore, 50 of the 500 fastest-growing tech companies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa are also based in Norway, according to global consulting firm Deloitte. The figure serves to underline the country’s position as a technology hotbed, with a range of attractive roles for tech professionals. 

To demonstrate Norway’s diversity in the tech sector, Iperium spoke to Shanaz Khan, 36, a Security Systems Engineer recently hired by Fortinet - one of world's largest security appliance vendors. The Oslo-based datacom professional specializes in IP/MPLS LAN and WAN networking and has spent more than a decade designing solutions for customers across the country and the Nordics. 

 IP: Tell us about your career development so far. 

I have been working in the technology industry for around the last 11 years and my main focus has always been data communications, WAN and IPVPN. For the first three years of my career I worked as a Network Engineer mainly configuring routers and switches, then in 2009 I progressed to a Solution Architect at Broadnet where I was designing technical solutions. I enjoyed the role because it gave me the chance to see the bigger picture and meet customers to present the actual solution I was going to prepare. My technical background helped me to understand customers’ needs and design specific solutions that fitted their requirements. IP: You were recently appointed as Systems Engineer at Fortinet. 

IP: How has your role changed? 

Yes, I started with Fortinet last month working in pre-sales designing security solutions. The role is slightly different in that I now focus on security products offered by Fortinet, rather than IP/MPLS WAN. Although it’s still early days, I anticipate I will be spending my time meeting customers face-to-face and finding out their needs before applying this to products in the Fortinet portfolio. I’ll then go away and design a solution to suit their personal requirements. The main difference is that I’m not working on IPVPN and Internet anymore, it’s more firewalls and related add-on services and my main area of focus is security. In my new role there are many new things to learn but that’s part of the challenge and what makes it exciting for me.

IP: Female empowerment is a hot topic in the technology sector at the moment. How have you managed to navigate the male-dominated tech scene? 

Technology is definitely a male-dominated industry, but women are starting to make an impact. Although I have personally not experienced any disadvantages of being a woman in technology, I have sat in a few customer meetings where people didn’t always expect me to have any detailed technical knowledge, and there has been a few surprised faces when I start talking. Sadly, I don’t come across many females working in this sector. Although we had a few female technicians at the company where I previously worked, I can only recall one female who was a hardcore technician when summarizing my experience of a decade in the tech industry. I would love to see more women in the industry as each person has their own special qualities. Businesses can’t continue to grow if everyone within them thinks the same, acts the same and has the same interests. Diversity helps you to develop, it would be beneficial for businesses to incorporate more females. I certainly wish there were more around.  

IP: How does the growth of mobile technology and internet-connected devices present new threats and increase the challenges for IT security?  

You can never have enough security and you can never secure enough devices, especially when it comes to the Internet of Things. Securing all of your elements from end points to central infrastructure is very important. Security companies are working constantly trying to develop signatures and secure networks while hackers are equally competent in their attempts to bypass security systems. With this in mind, every company should always be on the alert and try to secure their networks as much as possible. As technology advances security solutions will go hand-in-hand with that growth. Securing networks will always be necessary. 

IP: Norway has been ranked as one of the best places to work in the world by the International Trade Union Confederation. Why? 

The working environment in Norway is quite exceptional and there is no real hierarchical culture in most businesses. It’s a nice place to work with a world-renowned education system, social support system and a great quality of life. Unemployment is also low which is possibly due to the government’s systems that motivate people into work. Even those with illnesses receive plenty of assistance with job training which can help to keep motivation up. No matter what your situation, the government will try to find something suitable to help keep people in the working environment. The only downside to Norway is that the weather isn’t perfect all the time! 

IP: How would you describe your recent transition from Broadnet to Fortinet? 

Amy Bradbury at Iperium contacted me earlier this year to discuss the position at Fortinet. After working in my previous role for more than a decade, I obviously had endless questions about the new role yet the Iperium team were exceptionally helpful and no question was too small. As conversations progressed, I had several discussions with key people at Fortinet, which the team at Iperium made easier by organising all the schedules. Overall my transition was smooth and the experience was extremely positive. My impressions of Iperium were that they were both professional and polite. 

IP: What plans do you have for the future? 

Last year I completed my Bachelors Degree in Business so maybe sometime in the future I will take a Masters degree and travel if it fits in with my situation. However, at the moment I am really happy with where I am and plan to focus on my new role and enjoy life.

Further reading: Nokia - Gender balance in ICT and the need for an urgent response