Talent Case Study: Rachel Velasco: Blazing a Trail in Tech
Participation in training and leadership programs help accelerate a career in cyber security.
Rachel Velasco came by her interest in the technology field almost naturally, since both of her parents are software engineers. From early on, the 26-year-old Filipina American knew she wanted to go into the “family business,” but was not sure what to specialize in until she spoke to some family members who worked in cyber security. They encouraged her to explore this growing field, and after looking into it a bit more, she chose it as her major at Western Governors’ University.
Rachel, who grew up in both New Jersey and the Philippines and now lives in Charlotte, NC, has a non-apparent disability and experiences chronic pain that limits her mobility. After graduating from college in 2019, she applied to at least 100 jobs and attended various networking events. But it was her participation in Disability:IN’s Annual Conference and accompanying NextGen Leadership Academy that really accelerated her career journey.
As a result of engaging with employers at these events, she received several job offers. Shortly after, she accepted a position with Bank of America and worked as an Assistant Vice President, Ethical Hacking Analyst, for a year. Following that, she was one of 15 out of 1,000 applicants selected for an internship with IBM.
Rachel says that participating in the SANS Women’s Immersion Academy, a competitive scholarship-based training program, also helped her reach her career goals. The program paid for several important certifications that would normally have cost $30,000. It also paired her with a mentor who worked in cyber security for the Federal Government.
Today, Rachel draws on all of these experiences in her role as a Threat Emulation and Offensive Security Analyst at Ally Financial. This job involves testing the company’s security controls to ensure Ally’s defensive systems are acting as they should. What she likes most about the job is that “there are always new things to learn and every day is different.”
Rachel credits the flexibility that Ally offers for being able to do her best work. She currently works primarily from home, although she has the option to come into the office. She is also able to work a flexible schedule, which assists in managing her condition, and has the support of her manager.
Rachel also values the priority Ally places on workplace inclusion. She is a member of Diverse Ability ALLYs, the company’s disability-focused employee resource group, and speaks on topics like mental health in the cyber security field. Outside of work, Rachel is an advocate for women and others from communities that are historically underrepresented in technology fields, including volunteering for an organization called Filipinas in Computing.
Rachel says perseverance has helped her overcome any challenges she has faced in her career thus far. Given this, her advice to young people with disabilities is to “pick your battles and not be afraid to ask questions to better understand an assignment.” She also recommends that employers train staff on how to create an inclusive workplace environment so that employees with disabilities, including those with non-apparent disabilities, always feel welcome and supported.
Rachel has also joined Disability:IN's NextGen Council, through which she will support planning efforts for the NextGen Leaders program. “I’m exciting to be part of the planning process for something that's been such a huge part of my career,” she says.