A Mighty Girl
: Professional hacker Parisa Tabriz is responsible for keeping the over 1 billion users of Google Chrome safe by finding vulnerabilities in their system before malicious hackers do. Tabriz, a "white hat" hacker who calls herself Google's “Security Princess", is head of the company's information security engineering team. The 33-year-old Iranian-American is also an anomaly in Silicon Valley according to a profile in The Telegraph: "Not only is she a woman – a gender hugely under-represented in the booming tech industry – but she is a boss." Tabriz, who is also known as the "browser boss," heads up a team of 50 "white hat" hackers based in the US, Germany, and Australia tasked with making the browser safe for users in an age of frequent cyberattacks.
Tabriz came up with “Security Princess” while at a conference and the unusual title is printed on her business card. “I knew I'd have to hand out my card and I thought Information Security Engineer sounded so boring,” she says. “Guys in the industry all take it so seriously, so security princess felt suitably whimsical.” Her curiosity, mischievousness, and innovative thinking are all assets in her business: a high-profile company like Google is constantly in the crosshairs of so-called "black hat" hackers.
Tabriz came into internet security almost by accident; at the University of Illinois’ computer engineering program, her interest was first whetted by the story of early hacker John Draper, who became known as Captain Crunch in the 1960s after he learned how to make free long-distance calls using a toy whistle from a Cap’n Crunch cereal box. She realized that, to beat the hackers of today, she had to be prepared for similar -- but more advanced -- out-of-the-box thinking.
While women at still very under-represented in the tech industry -- only 30% of Google's staff is female and just 18% of its technical employees are women -- Tabriz has hope for the future: “Fifty years ago there were similar percentages of women in medicine and law, now thankfully that's shifted.” And, while she hasn't encountered overt sexism at Google, when she was offered the position, at least one classmate said, “you know you only got it cos you're a girl." To help address this imbalance, she mentors under-16 students at a yearly computer science conference that teaches kids how to "hack for good" -- and she especially encourages girls to pursue internet security work. One 16-year-old who attended, Trinity Nordstrom, says, “Parisa is a good role model, because of her I'd like to be a hacker.”
Tabriz, who was named by Forbes as one of the "top 30 under 30 to watch" in 2012, also wants the public to realize that hacking can be used for positive ends. “[H]acking can be ugly,” she says. “The guy who published the private photos of those celebrities online made headlines everywhere. What he did was not only a violation of these women but it was criminal, and as a hacker I was very saddened by it. I feel like we, the hackers, need better PR to show we're not all like that... [A]fter all I'm in the business of protecting people."
Read more about Google's "Security Princess" in The Telegraph.
For a fun way to introduce your Mighty Girl to programming, check out the new game "Code and Go Robot Mouse," for ages 5 to 9.
Another excellent way introduce kids to programming is via new DIY systems that allow you to build real programmable computers on your own such as the "Raspberry Pi Ultimate Set" for ages 9 and up and "Piper: Craft A Computer Kit" for ages 7 and up.
For more toys and kits designed to encourage children's interest in science and programming, check out the recommendations in our blog post: "Top 50 Science, Math, & Programming Toys for Mighty Girls"
To introduce children to the woman who invented the first computer program -- Ada Lovelace -- there are several excellent picture books about her: “Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine” for ages 5 to 9, "Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science" for ages 5 to 9, and "Ada’s Ideas” for ages 6 to 9.
And, to inspire your Mighty Girl with books starring girls who love science and technology, check out our blog post, "50 Books to Inspire Science-Loving Mighty Girls"