Harsha Vachher is the CEO of K Tech Labs, a Toronto-based real estate cybersecurity company that protects building systems against cyber threats. With 15+ years of experience in cybersecurity and Internet of Things (IoT) industries, Harsha believes that no business despite its size is too small to be targeted by hackers.
"Cybersecurity isn't just a practice but a change in mindset and behavior. It's an ongoing journey,” says Harsha.
In this interview, Harsha talks about her career journey, industry insights and advice on how to stand out from the crowd.
Throughout her career, Harsha experienced lots of twists and turns. “When I was a little girl I wanted to become a teacher. Then, on my first flight to Kashmir in North India, I decided to become an air hostess because I fell in love with the fact that you can travel around the world. However, my father convinced me to study computer science and this led me to live my passion now,’ says Harsha.
After the Master’s degree in Computer science, Harsha started her career as a developer. Then she got into security, research and development and the Internet of Things (IoT). Harsha pointed out that small budgets can be beneficial to acquire new skills.
“When I was involved in research and development due to short budgets I worked as a developer, a tester and a solutions architect which taught me a lot. “Several years later, when I moved to IoT, I used to devise IoT solutions in various verticals like Retail, Healthcare, Smart Home, Smart buildings and worked on the security aspects which were mostly focused on device security. While working in IoT I got interested in smart homes, smart buildings, and cybersecurity and decided to pursue a career focused on smart building solutions. Then at BentallGreenOak, I was leading the development and execution of BGO’s smart building technology and cybersecurity roadmap. I have developed and managed a cybersecurity program at a National level for Bentall’s operational technologies,” says Harsha.
Starting your own business
For years Harsha dreamt of having her own business. “It takes a lot of courage to start something of your own. When we moved to Canada, I saw the gap in the cybersecurity industry. There wasn’t enough focus on securing building IoT,” says Harsha. She was “bit by the bug of entrepreneurship” and started K Tech Labs. K stands for Kaashvi, Harsha’s daughter.
How did she combine all the experiences and interests to create a perfect role for herself? “I am passionate about devices, sensors, and device security. It astounds me that by adopting best practices and making changes in behavior one can increase the security posture of an organization,” says Harsha.
When you have your own business, difficulties come and go. “I approach struggles as challenges. They make me stronger and help to keep positivity and persistence intact.” Harsha points out that it’s difficult to establish yourself in a heavily male-dominated industry. To do so you must stand out from the crowd and find the right ecosystem to support you. “Everything is possible with good planning and focus,” says Harsha.
It takes a lot of courage to start something of your own. When we moved to Canada, I saw the gap in the cybersecurity industry. There wasn’t enough focus on securing building IoT.
What is 'smart building'?
“Smart building connects people and technology to gather data around space, resources and energy consumption to optimize the efficiency of use in real-time. Smart buildings provide open access to information and allow the development of new applications that save time, energy, and operating cost,” explains Harsha.
Smart building connects people and technology.
Cybersecurity and changing behaviors
“I believe cybersecurity is about change in mindsets and human behavior. People should be more aware of how they use technology and what are the consequences of not being secure in the digital world. At K Tech Labs, we showcase how we can hack into the clients’ buildings and what is the impact of it. They start to better understand the risks and threats that building occupants are prone to. People are waking up to the reality that IoT brings danger along with all the excellent advantages,” says Harsha.
Cybersecurity is about change in mindsets and human behavior.
Harsha’s lessons to stand out in the crowd
Harsha has a strong positive attitude, however, it wasn't always easy to make her mark in the industry. “The biggest barrier I face working in a male-dominated industry is that most men assume you aren’t knowledgeable. You can call it frustrating, but I take it as a motivation to work harder,” says Harsha and shares some tips on how to make your way into a male-dominated industry.
Be prepared. Always
Read as much as you can about the industry to keep yourself up-to-date. Get more certifications. People expect you to fail, so it is up to you to prove them wrong.
Fight to break down the barriers
If you want to grow, you need to be proactive. Opportunities won’t be just handed to you. In a professional setting, women need to express themselves and speak up. “Carry yourself the way you want to be treated,” says Harsha.
Avoid being too easily offended
While working in a male-dominated industry you might face criticism, but it’s important to ignore the negative aspects of it. Focus on your work and go after what you want. Don’t be afraid to fight for yourself and get more responsibility.
Women need to express themselves and speak up. Carry yourself the way you want to be treated.
One piece of advice for a career change
“I have switched my career many times. This might be in my genes as my dad made his biggest career move at the age of 49. If you want to make a career change, dive right into it with both of your feet and don’t look back. Read about what interests you most and look for communities to support you,” says Harsha.
How to be secure in your daily life
Don’t install mobile apps that aren’t necessary for your daily life.
Keep separate passwords for each account. Separate passwords for your bank accounts, Facebook, Instagram, and others. In that way, if one gets compromised, other accounts will stay safe.
Don’t share too much of your personal information online.
Wherever applicable, use two-factor authentication to protect your accounts.