Soledad Antelada Was the First Woman and the First Latina at Berkeley Lab. Today, She Is Breaking Barriers in Cybersecurity

Solead Antelada BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of BELatina/supercomputing.org

We have often talked about the disparity in technology careers, where women have struggled doubly to have a space. From STEM to sports, historically male-dominated spaces have been a battleground for women.

However, this seems to be changing.

A case in point is the career of Soledad Antelada Toledano, a hacker — the good kind — and an expert in computer systems engineering and penetration testing.

Soledad was born in Buenos Aires in 1977 and fled the dictatorship with her family to Spain. When she heard as a child that computer science was the career of the future, she was quick to sign up.

Although there were only three girls in her class, Soledad Antelada graduated in Computer Systems Engineering from the University of Malaga. She received a scholarship as a programmer for the emergency services of the autonomous communities of Cantabria and Andalusia, where she worked until 2008.

In 2010 she moved to the United States and enrolled at City College of San Francisco for a two-year master’s degree in cybersecurity, intending to become a hacker.

“I was so impressed. I thought, ‘Wow, I’m learning about things I didn’t even know existed. I’m getting to know the secrets of computer science that no one knows about,'” Soledad said about the experience.

Soledad earned her degree in penetration testing in 2021. She landed a job at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), becoming the first Latina to get a position at the renowned lab, home to thirteen Nobel Prize winners, and where she worked hand-in-hand with the U.S. Department of Energy.

Her job consisted of leading a team of fifteen experts to conduct annual audits of servers and equipment and search for vulnerabilities in the systems.

“The system is called penetration testing, and it consists of behaving like an attacker, doing the same thing a computer thief would do,” Soledad told the Argentine newspaper La Nación. “I analyze where it might be easier to attack, define what is worthwhile and what the objective might be: attacking an entity’s financial system, the health department, a supercomputer or stealing scientific and social information?”

“I then perform vulnerability reconnaissance to define where the cybersecurity holes are. If you discover them, you have to fix them. Obviously, you don’t want anyone to see them. You have to plug them, so no one goes through.”

Not only is this Latina’s work critical in today’s digital world, but it has also opened doors for many women who would never have thought to explore a professional life in cybersecurity.

“The stereotypical profile of a person who is dedicated to this has been very unappealing to women,” she continued in her interview. “The cybersecurity specialist has always been labeled as the typical unsocial guy, who wears a hoodie to stay up all night tucked into the computer, doesn’t go outside, doesn’t play sports, doesn’t socialize.”

“I see it in universities. When I studied there were 15% of us in Computer Science, and today I would say it is around 8%. In other words, there are even fewer. If you ask me why, it doesn’t make any sense. We can all be equally good at engineering. In fact, cybersecurity needs several profiles because it is a very broad field that covers a lot of subjects.”

Intending to change these statistics, in 2014, Soledad Antelada founded Girls Can Hack, a Meetup group that inspires and encourages girls to enter the cybersecurity field.