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  • Writer's pictureThiago Assuncao de Faria

Iwinosa Aideyan: Steering the Future of Automotive Security

Meet Iwinosa Aideyan, a Ph.D. student in computer engineering at Clemson University, who is pioneering advancements in automotive security. Growing up in a tech-savvy household where her father worked as a computer engineer, Iwinosa was naturally drawn to the world of technology from a young age. Her early exposure to computers and networking laid the foundation for what would become a lifelong passion. She excelled in her undergraduate studies, even landing an internship in the Data Center Division of a prominent Nigerian oil business, setting the stage for her future endeavors.


Iwinosa smiling using her mom's sweater.
Wearing her mom's sweater, a legacy of love and family bonds that fuels my journey in tech.

Iwinosa's journey took an exciting turn when she became a CyberGirl Fellow, a prestigious program offering her comprehensive cybersecurity training. The fellowship honed her skills and opened doors to a network of professionals across Africa. During this time, she discovered her interest in the specialized field of automotive security, leading her to pursue further studies in the United States.


Today, Iwinosa is a research assistant at the VIPR Project at Clemson University, focusing on the critical components of automotive systems. Her work aims to elevate security practices within the automotive industry, ensuring that vehicles become increasingly intelligent and secure. In this edition of the Lovelace Series, Iwinosa shares her inspiring story, the challenges she's overcome, and her vision for a more secure and inclusive tech industry.

 

Q1) Can you share a bit about your background and your current role? (merged) with Q2) How did you first become interested in technology, and what led you to your current role?


Absolutely! Coming from a home where my dad was a computer engineer, thanks to my father's role as a computer engineer. I knew I wanted to be a computer person someday, but I had no idea about the area of specialization or even what it was about, I was just a little girl who used to see her dad use injections on a printer and add so many computers and different devices lying around in the house. This early encounter spurred my passion for working with computers.


During my undergraduate studies in Computer Engineering at the University of Benin, I became immersed in the field, and everything I saw my father do made so much sense to me that I began to pick up the knowledge to ride with it. As the first Engineering child in the family, my parents continually enrolled me in various bootcamp and computer training because they wanted me to be the best, despite the perception that Engineering was only for boys (at the time, lol).

I began with basic computer training but soon learned that I had a passion for networking and communication, so my next training was in CompTIA A+.

During my junior year, I interned in the Data Center Division of a big Nigerian oil business, where I could put my knowledge to use. With all of my experiences and preparation, graduating as one of the top two students in my class was a huge accomplishment.


Then covid hit in 2020. Unable to fully engage in networking activities, it was at this point that I noticed the connections between computer networks and cybersecurity. It was as if something hit me; I began taking online cybersecurity courses, and it was fantastic since I discovered a logical transfer to cybersecurity bolstered by my strong networking expertise.


I submitted for CyberGirl Fellow training with Confidence Stavely's Cybersafe foundation and was accepted out of over 3000 applications from around Africa. It was a significant deal for me because I now can learn about cybersecurity from the finest of the best.

This platform provided me with extensive exposure to cybersecurity, and we had many CTF challenges, including a Capture the Flag competition in the Linux Party CTF 2022, where I ranked third place. Another exciting aspect of the training was the opportunity to collaborate with people from all across Africa. We were separated into teams to create a project for the open day, and my team (Incognito 7) won Overall Best Team during the Cybergirls Open Day presentation.


I was lured into the area of cybersecurity by a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: becoming a fellow at the Cyber Safe Foundation, where I acquired exposure to various aspects of cybersecurity. However, it became clear that the cybersecurity sector is far more significant than the topics addressed during my training; they did not go entirely into the security elements of automotive systems, which piqued my attention.


Recognizing my native country's development gap in automobile security, I enrolled in a Ph.D. program in computer engineering at Clemson University, which is well-known for its expertise in the subject. I was fortunate to join the VIPR Project (Virtual Prototyping of Autonomy-Enabled Ground Systems) as a research assistant, where I conducted independent experiments on critical components such as the Controller Area Network and the Robot Operating System, which aligned perfectly with my aspirations.


Then, from a pool of applications, I was chosen to compete in the CyberTruck Challenge 2023, a prestigious competition in which I got the opportunity to work hands-on with heavy-duty trucks from manufacturers such as Volvo, Cummins, Allison Transmission, and Bosch. This encounter cemented my interest in the convergence of cybersecurity and automobile systems. I am currently working as a research assistant at VIPR while completing my Ph.D. in computer engineering, focusing on automotive security.



Q3) What main challenges have you faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?


In the world of computer engineering, where guys usually outnumbered girls, I found myself among only 12 girls in a class of 78. Instead of seeing it as a problem, I saw it as a chance to grow. I took on a demanding hardware project—like assembling a puzzle of computer parts. I hadn't done anything like it before, so I asked some experienced guys for help, who were really supportive.

Outside of class, I actively learned more about computers, did internships, and joined clubs. I wasn't just aiming for good grades; I wanted to show everyone that girls could excel in computer stuff.

A pivotal challenge emerged in my recent career journey when transitioning from the CyberGirl Fellowship's broad focus on cybersecurity to the specialized domain of automotive security within Clemson University's VIPR Project. This marked a profound shift from conventional cybersecurity applications to the intricacies of safeguarding automotive systems, presenting a unique set of challenges.


Navigating the complexities of automotive security demanded a comprehensive understanding of cybersecurity principles and the nuances of the Controller Area Network (CAN) and the Robot Operating System.


To overcome this challenge, I adopted a multifaceted approach. Engaging in an intensive period of self-directed learning, I immersed myself in literature, research papers, and hands-on experimentation to rapidly acquire expertise in automotive security protocols. Simultaneously, I sought mentorship from seasoned professionals within the VIPR Project, leveraging their guidance to navigate the intricacies of automotive cybersecurity.


Additionally, participation in the CyberTruck Challenge 2023 served as a hands-on platform to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios. Collaborating with major truck manufacturers in this prestigious competition allowed me to gain practical insights and refine my skills in securing automotive systems. This challenge evolved beyond being just an obstacle; it became a transformative experience, sharpening my adaptability, resilience, and capacity to acquire domain-specific expertise swiftly.


Today, as a Research Assistant in the VIPR Project and a Ph.D. student in computer engineering with a focus on automotive security, overcoming this challenge is a testament to my ability to thrive in specialized and dynamic technological landscapes.


Q4) Who or what has been the most significant influence or support in your tech journey?


My tech journey's most significant influences and support undoubtedly start with my family. They have been my unwavering fans, supporting me from my early aspirations of becoming an engineer to my transition into cybersecurity and now automotive security. Their steadfast encouragement and belief in my potential have been a constant driving force. It's as if they see something great in me that I'm still discovering. A heartfelt shout-out to my family – I love and miss you guys daily.


In addition to my family, my mentors and teachers have been pivotal influencers. Their guidance and expertise have shaped my skills and knowledge in the tech realm. Their unwavering encouragement and belief in my abilities have propelled me to explore new technologies and pursue my passion for innovation. I'm profoundly grateful for their continuous support and guidance along this thrilling journey.


Moreover, I dream of making a significant contribution to the technological space. My aspiration is to impact the field through groundbreaking research and innovative solutions and inspire the next generation of tech enthusiasts. This dream is a powerful motivator, pushing me to constantly seek ways to push the boundaries of what is possible in the tech world.

So, for me, it's more of the combined support from my family, mentors, and engagement with the tech community and the lessons learned from overcoming challenges that form the bedrock of my tech journey.

Each element has contributed uniquely, creating an environment where I can thrive, learn, and work towards my dream of making a lasting impact on the technological landscape.


Q5) How have you seen diversity and inclusion evolve in the tech industry throughout your career?


Well, diversity and inclusion are topics close to my heart. Over the course of my career, I've witnessed a positive shift in the tech industry's approach to diversity. Early on, the tech world wasn't exactly known for its inclusivity. It felt like a bit of a boys' club, you know? But thankfully, things have been changing.


Companies are now recognizing the strategic advantage of diverse perspectives in driving innovation. There's a growing awareness that different backgrounds and experiences contribute to more robust problem-solving and creativity. It's not just about ticking a checkbox; there's a genuine commitment to fostering diversity.


I've witnessed various initiatives aimed at encouraging underrepresented groups to enter and thrive in tech. From mentorship programs to diversity-focused hiring practices, there's a conscious effort to level the playing field. While it's not perfect yet, the commitment to progress is evident. Conversations around diversity and inclusion have become more open and nuanced. It's not just about gender; a broader understanding includes race, ethnicity, and more.

True inclusion goes beyond hiring; it involves creating an environment where everyone feels valued and heard.

In my personal journey, I've actively participated in initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion. One of my guiding points has been my participation in Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS), where I serve as a mentee. WiCyS has been a game-changer, connecting me with experienced professionals, offering mentorship, and opening doors to invaluable opportunities. Being part of this community allows me to benefit from the wisdom of seasoned experts and contribute to building a network that uplifts and supports women in technology.


Volunteering at the Black is Tech 2023 conference allowed me to connect with a vibrant community of black tech professionals and enthusiasts. This experience provided valuable insights into the challenges and accomplishments of black individuals in the tech industry. It reinforced my belief in the importance of representation and equal opportunities for underrepresented communities in tech.


While there's been progress, there's still work to be done. The tech industry is dynamic, and the journey towards full diversity and inclusion is ongoing. But hey, I'm optimistic. I've seen positive changes, and I believe the tech world is heading in the right direction. Let's keep pushing for a tech industry that genuinely reflects the diversity of our world.

Q6) How do you manage the work-life balance in the tech industry?


In the dynamic realm of the tech industry, striking a balance between work and personal life is undoubtedly a challenge, especially with the demands of pursuing a Ph.D. However, I've not only embraced this challenge but also found unique ways to thrive in both spheres.


One of my key strategies revolves around my love for adventure and travel. Despite the demanding schedule, I've explored 11 cities across Africa, the USA, and Canada in 2023(and am planning one more for the Christmas break).


The beauty of my work is that I can contribute from any corner of the globe as long as there's an internet connection. Alongside my academic pursuits, I've documented these enriching experiences on my blog, sharing not only delectable culinary encounters but also the breathtaking landscapes and cultural nuances I've come across. It's a harmonious blend of passion and academia that brings a sense of fulfillment to my journey.


Another unconventional stress-relief technique I employ is dedicating 30 to 45 minutes to indulge in a TV show or movie. I am currently rewatching "Ugly Betty" for the fourth time. It's a delightful escape that lets me unwind and momentarily detach from my academic commitments. Additionally, I find solace in physical activities such as playing tennis on Saturdays and occasionally taking sewing lessons.

In essence, these diverse activities, from globetrotting to TV show binging, serve as my outlets for rejuvenation. They not only provide a break from the intensity of academic pursuits but also contribute to a well-rounded and balanced approach to both work and life.

Iwinosa smiling making the peace sign at the Black is Tech 2023 conference.
Iwinosa at Black is Tech 2023 conference.

Q7) What skills are most important in today's tech world?


With the fast-paced nature of technology today, it's essential to have both technical and people skills. Networking and programming are valuable skills, but their importance can change depending on the technology field.

But social skills stand out as being necessary for everyone.

In today's tech world, having solid professional ties and knowing how to communicate clearly is crucial. Being able to work together with coworkers, interact with clients, and agree with partners all depend on having good social skills. This skill makes the workplace more pleasant and helps projects succeed by making it easier for people to work together.


Also, being able to think deeply and solve problems is very valuable. In a time when technology changes quickly, people who are good at handling problems can easily adapt to new situations and come up with new ways to solve complex problems. Changing with the times is vital for staying ahead in the tech world.

Q8) Can you share a project or accomplishment you consider the most significant in your career?


While I'm excited about upcoming projects, I'm bound by confidentiality due to the nature of my positions. The projects I've been working on are on the brink of being published, and I can't wait for April 2024, when they will be out in the world for everyone to see.

The anticipation is real, and I'm looking forward to sharing these significant contributions that have been a pivotal part of my career journey. Stay tuned for some exciting updates!

Q9) What are your future goals, and where do you see the tech industry heading in the next few years?


In the coming years, I aspire to continue my journey as a researcher and expert in security in autonomous vehicles and connected systems. Drawing on my diverse expertise, academic foundation, and professional experience, my aim is to drive innovation and elevate security practices within the automotive industry.

I envision my future research driven by the critical issues the automotive industry faces concerning software security. As vehicles evolve into more intelligent machines, the software running in their Electronic Control Units becomes increasingly intricate, which expands the potential attack surface.

Through this research, I plan to contribute to developing robust, cost-effective, and standardized solutions prioritizing vehicle software's integrity, safety, and privacy. This entails creating software security measures that safeguard these advanced systems against cyber threats, ensuring a safer and more secure driving experience for all.


As for the tech industry, I perceive a notable trend towards the widespread adoption and integration of blockchain technology. The next few years seem poised for significant advancements in blockchain applications, revolutionizing various sectors with enhanced security, transparency, and decentralized solutions. Blockchain's potential to reshape industries, from finance to healthcare, reflects a broader movement towards decentralized and secure systems.


Q10) What advice would you give other women considering a tech career?


To my fellow women considering a tech career, I'd say:

be authentic, work hard, and cherish the balance between dedication and enjoying life. Take the time to explore your passions, and remember, it's never too late to start.

The journey begins with one step, and the rest, well, leave it to God. Trust me when I say you already know more than you give yourself credit for. Believe in your abilities, take risks, and welcome new opportunities with open arms.


Build a strong network of mentors and peers who can guide and inspire you on this incredible journey. Success is a personal journey defined by your own fulfillment and happiness, not by societal expectations.


And always prioritize self-care and set boundaries. Establish a support system with like-minded individuals who uplift and empower you. Embrace challenges, stay curious, and never shy away from seeking help or mentorship along the way.


You bring immense value to the tech industry—trust in your knowledge and skills. Remember, the key to a fulfilling career is reaching goals and enjoying the journey itself.


Q11) Let's continue the flow... who would you like to read on the Lovelace Series?




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Daddyo Lambert
Daddyo Lambert
Oct 25, 2023

🥹🥹🥹 beautiful. My fellow usher to the world!

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