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Building A Cybersecurity Company And Lessons Learned From Being A Mom – Podcast

Aimei Wei on starting up, employee development, and women in cyber

Aimei Wei is a woman who loves to solve problems. That’s one reason she’s passionate about her role in cybersecurity.

“Solving cybersecurity problems is challenging, but it’s also a fascinating industry and career,” said Wei, founder and VP of Engineering at Stellar Cyber, a provider of security solutions, software and analysis tools. “It’s like you are a detective.”

Wei laughs and says that besides being challenging, cybersecurity is also “very fun.”

“We are on the defense side, and when you beat ever-evolving attackers and protect people in the digital world, it gives you joy and a sense of achievement,” she said.

Being a cybercrime fighter and detective wasn’t something Wei dreamed about while growing up in Tsingshui, a small town in Gansu province, Northwest China. An avid reader who particularly enjoyed science fiction novels, Wei thought she might like to be a scientist or professor.

When she was 15, she went to boarding school in Tianshui, a nearby city, for high school. After graduation, she attended Tsinghua University in Beijing. Although she was also interested in biology, she eventually chose computer science.

“It was the 1980s, and computer science was relatively new to the people in China,” she said. “I was very curious about it. Math was one of my favorite subjects. I wanted to know how machines can do computing. At that time, I knew nothing about the application of computers.”

During her sophomore year in college, Wei had an English teacher from the U.S. who was instrumental in the next step of her education.

“We became very good friends,” Wei said. “Cindy inspired me to go study abroad. Again, my curiosity of wanting to know more about the outside world and learn drove me to apply for graduate school in the U.S. and Canada. Queen’s University was the first one that offered me a scholarship. In those days, it was impossible to study abroad without a scholarship.”

While she was taking computer science courses, Wei imagined creating software that would solve real world problems.

“At the college, I developed some automation control software for a flour mill,” she said.

Wei worked for Nortel Networks, in Ottawa, Canada, for seven years, as a technical lead for software development for MDX wireless switch. She said that when she started her career, she learned a lot from a mentor at Nortel, both from the technical side and career-wise.

“We became lifelong friends,” she said.

She returned the favor by becoming a mentor to a group of younger engineers, including several women, a couple of years later. One of the women she mentored later became the head of software engineering at Bloomberg L.P.

“We also had a lot fun together,” she said. “I remember somebody brought up this idea of a lunch box club. We got very excited and did it for a few months. There were five of us ladies; each day, one of us would cook and bring to the office five lunch boxes. So, we only needed to cook once every week, but we could enjoy great food of different styles every day. Everyone cooked such good food. We had to stop after a few months since we all gained weight!”