Diversity & Inclusion
Communities / Cybersecurity / DEI / POC in Tech / Resources

The international, Philly-HQ’d Raíces Cyber is growing a ‘family’ in the cybersecurity workforce

Eric Belardo started the organization in 2021 to build a supportive community among Hispanic, Latino, Latina and Latinx cybersecurity pros. It now serves a network of thousands of technologists.

Members of Raíces Cyber. (Courtesy photo)
Before going to bed one night a few years ago, Eric Belardo shot off a tweet asking if people would join a professional organization for Hispanic/Latino/Latina/Latinx pros in cybersecurity.

When the so-called Cyber Papa woke up, his tweet had 1,000 retweets and likes. He got to work on Raíces Cyber.

To understand why this story matters, let’s rewind.

Belardo has been working in cybersecurity for 33 years, and is currently a business unit security officer for Dell Technologies. The San Juan, Puerto Rico native told Technical.ly that for the first 20 years of his career — much of which was spent in the mid-Atlantic — it was uncommon to work with someone of the same race or ethnicity as him.

Then in September 2021, some of Belardo’s friends noticed that there weren’t many Hispanic people at a conference they attended, he said. He thought there must be an organization for Hispanic, Latino, Latina and Latinx people in cybersecurity. But while his research showed there were orgs for this group working in tech generally, none were focused on cybersecurity specifically. So, he created one.

“People want to see themselves represented when they’re going into a field,” he said. “They want to be able to see somebody that looks like me, in that company, or in that conference, or something. It’s about representation [and] seeing yourself where you want to be.”

Eric Belardo. (Courtesy photo)

Raíces Cyber has “four pillars of support,” per the founder: education, networking, job support and resources, and mentoring. Under the education pillar, Raíces Cyber has provided workforce development opportunities to members, and is about to launch a Raíces Cyber Youth Corp for K-12 students across the nation. These efforts aim to bring more people into careers in cybersecurity.

Belardo is based in Chester County about an hour west of Philadelphia, but the organization currently operates in 17 states, plus chapters in Toronto, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. (You’ll spot Philly cyber pros Dr. Aunshul Rege and Tracy Maleeff on the national advisory board.)

Each chapter, or local support group, hosts monthly educational and networking meetups to build community, and connects mentors to those who need or want one. The local chapters also support external cybersecurity events in their state. The Raíces community is centered on a Discord server where members gather virtually, while local chapters gather in person.

As of July, Raíces Cyber counts 3,000 members total and about 1,400 members in the Discord. Membership is free. The org runs on volunteers and donations.

“One of the biggest things about our organization is it’s a support group. Sometimes it’s not about the education. … It’s about having that family. It’s about having those people that understand you,” Belardo said. “That creates lifelong friendships and partnerships and all that good stuff.”

Next up, Raíces Cyber is planning its first in-person conference on Oct. 6 and 7 in Philadelphia called Raíces Con 2023, following a virtual con in 2021. This event’s theme is “Unidos Se Puede” or “Together We Can.”

Belardo said it’s about highlighting the unique strengths of cybersecurity professionals as well as promoting diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. The conference will also have programming for educators and invite high school and college students to participate.

Latinx residents are the largest contributors to US population growth, Belardo noted, adding that it’s important to see diversity in skin color, but also ideas.

“As a leader in cybersecurity, it is very important to have diverse thoughts to get to a better end state or better product at the end,” he said. “We’ve got attackers coming from different countries and different ways of thinking. If we don’t adapt, and we don’t think differently, we’re not going to be able to defend against all the new things that are out there. And for that, we need a diverse workforce.”

Looking toward the future, Raíces Cyber will continue growing its education programming, both for youth and for adults who are looking to pivot to or grow in cybersecurity, as well as spreading awareness about cybersecurity risks to everyone.

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

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