About the episode:
Trina Martin is nothing but an extraordinary woman. Today we dive deep into women with military and technology backgrounds, of all colors. Trina has set her personal mission to inspire women of minority groups to join the workforce of technology, to bring the national percentages up to where they should be.
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Trina L. Martin is an author, speaker, technologist, and podcaster. She uses her experiences to motivate audiences to overcome adversity, develop self-determination and discipline. Trina also inspires emerging leaders to pursue their wildest dreams with heart and grit. An accomplished IT professional and retired U.S. Naval Officer with 30 years of service, she has broken barriers and made strides in her career that many said weren’t possible. Naturally skilled at finding the harmony between technology, science, and data, she has led a stellar career in the Information Technology field. Trina now helps her clients elevate their business by using secure communication technologies.
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One Woman’s Personal Mission To Inspire More Women In Technology | Trina L. Martin
My guest is a retired US Naval Officer with 30 years of experience. She’s an accomplished IT professional. She’s also an author, speaker, technologist, and podcaster herself. I love interviewing other podcasters because they make some of the great guests. Welcome to the show, Trina Martin.
Thank you, Rick. I’m so happy to be here. It’s going to be great.
Let’s rock this because we’re going to talk a little bit about your service around technology. One of the cool things is you spent ten years as a cyber intelligence analyst. Was that within the Navy?
No, it was an outside entity. One of those alphabet soups.
There are many crazy titles out there. Cyber intelligence analysts, what did that mean for what you were doing?
I had a broad career in IT but being a cyber analyst, I was doing exactly what you would think. Ransomware is in the news now all the time. That was one of the things that I would investigate and track down. Do all the things that pertain to that to try to track down these criminals wherever they were to stop them from doing the bad things that they do. A lot of my perspective on cyber intelligence was from the criminal side. That’s the aspect that I saw. I’m trying to prevent it from happening and helping victims that were victimized.
You started in tech in the ’90s.
Yes. I got my degree in Computer Science in ’94. I grew up in Chicago, a child of the ’70s. I didn’t have a computer, unlike these kids nowadays that have iPhones, iPads and things like that. I was good to have a typewriter. I know people are probably reading going, “A typewriter?” Some may be saying, “What is that?” I was always good with engineering and very curious about how to do things and fix things. I went off to college and got my degree in Computer Science. As a result, I had over twenty-year career in IT. I’ve programmed, done digital forensics, and went into cyber intelligence. Now I’m doing my own things in technology.
I didn’t know you were from Chicago because it shows that you’re in Texas at the moment. That’s where I’m at, born and raised in Chicago. Why did you move down there?
I’ve moved several places by being in the military and by virtue of my career, but the job I had as a cyber intelligence moved me here to Texas. That’s where I am at the moment. Two teenagers in high school. Once they get out of high school, I’ll tell them where I’ll end up next.
I keep telling everybody here for years to be real. I love the city. I hate the state. That’s how it is. The city is beautiful, the state is not. What did you do in the Navy then because this was outside of all that? What did you do when you were a Naval Officer?
For 30 years, I had 14 years as an enlisted. I went in from the bottom, the grunt. Sixteen years as an officer. When I originally went into the Army, I was a Chemical Specialist which was in DC during Desert Storm time. I changed careers. I went to the Navy and ended up doing IT for the Navy for a while. I then went into intelligence and became an Intelligence Officer for the Navy. You know how intelligence is with the military. I did that my whole career for 30 years.
Did you say you started chemical engineering with the Army?
I was a Chemical Specialist which equated to nuclear, biological and chemical, so think about chemical warfare.
First, you go from that to IT. You’re also a female that’s moving to IT which is still rare. It’s coming more noticeable now and that’s great, but in the ’90s, it was nobody. You were probably 1 of the 17 women. Why did you want to jump into that?
It’s funny because when I was looking for colleges, I went and got my degree in Computer Science. That’s relevant because a lot of schools don’t offer a degree in Computer Science, at least not at that time. It was always Information Management Systems, Business or something like that. I got a degree in Computer Science and as I was doing my research, I found that not many schools offer that actual degree and not many women had it. I was like, “I’m going to be one of them,” so I did it.
Things are a little different because here we are several years later. Knowing that it’s still a thing that I don’t like seeing personally, that there are not as many women because women in tech can see problems. The solutions are a lot different than men can. It’s the way our brains are wired differently, which is amazing. What advice would you have to women who are thinking about this? I wanted to say that this is how you deal with men, but also this is the craziness you’re jumping into.
That’s one of the passions that I work on within my business and leadership. It’s trying to help more women get into tech, those leadership positions, and a lot of women of color but it’s crazy. When I was there in the ’90s, I was one of the very few women. I dealt with discrimination and being underpaid. I encountered that in almost every position I had. Even though I was well paid, I was still underpaid versus my male counterparts. There are many things you encounter because it’s the man’s world and the white man’s profession. When you see a woman like me of color doing that, people automatically think, “You don’t have the chops. You’re not qualified.” A lot of times, I found myself in situations like the last job that I had.
I worked for a major power company. I was the only programmer on their major system for the whole utility company. We did utility, water and power. I maintain this system for probably about eleven years by myself. I kept it running, up and going. I was comparing and went to my supervisor and I was like, “I need a raise. I’m not being equally paid.” I get the, “We can’t afford it. You have to do this and this to prove that you deserve it.” I’m thinking, “I’m running a major system from the transformers down to a nut and bolt is not enough?” I ended up going to HR and asking them. After they went and evaluated and did some things, they said the same thing. They were like, “You are underpaid.” That still didn’t change anything. That’s when I knew and said, “I need to get out of this. I need to be the face and voice for other people who want to come in.”
Even HR said, “You’re underpaid but we’re not going to do anything about it.”
They were like, “Tell your supervisor. See what they can do if they can re-evaluate.” There were always some excuses. It was like, “You have to do more and better.” I’m thinking, “How is it that I can maintain a multimillion-dollar system that is never down or broken but you’re telling me I need to do more to prove myself?” I’ve talked to other females in the industry now and it’s almost the same exact thing. There are always some excuses why the female doesn’t have the position or is not in leadership or is underpaid.
It’s sad because here we are in 2021 and there are still not enough women in tech. It’s because most women think that this is a male’s profession, which is male-dominated. They’re told, “You got to be a whiz at math and science.” Something like that where it scares most women away. They’re like, “I can’t do it. I don’t want to deal with the things that I have to deal with to be in that industry.” It’s my mission to stop that and let women know that regardless of what you’re going to go through, you need to go ahead and walk through those doors.
They need to hear the brutal honesty of it because I recognize it. I’m white, I’m a man, and I’m in this industry. I get it. I love this. I was hoping our episode would go this way because I hire so many women in this field. I love seeing that because you heard my perspective on it. It’s the different ways of solving problems and there are amazing skill sets that are awesome. At the same time, I’m also brutally honest because I coach some women in this industry. I will tell them, I’m like, “First off, understand the playing field. It’s not to discourage you but it’s to build up the resilience to understand what you’re walking into. First, you’re going to have to work three times as hard because you are a woman.”
Most people don’t think the way that I do or feel the same way that I do to where I want to lift women up. In your case, you would also have to work another three times as hard because you’re a woman of color. Exponentially, you’ve got to work ten times as hard to have the same thing. It’s something that is going to take time to change, but nothing is going to change unless you’re doing exactly what you’re doing. I commend you for saying, “Get in there,” because if you’re going to avoid it, there’s nothing that’s ever going to change.
That’s the thing. I do some speaking. I spoke at a big communications company. When companies asked me to speak, the first thing I do is I go in and look at their executive management. I’m looking and seeing man, man, man. I maybe saw two women out of this whole company. They wanted me to talk about being a woman in tech and what they could do. I’m thinking, “Have you looked at your lineup?” I’m like, “You can’t tell me there are only two women in this company that are qualified to be in this position. How many of these women are engineers?” The two that were there were not engineers. I was like, “We have a lot to work on.”
When you’re in the military, what was one of the hardest experiences that you had? It’s similar because the military is male-dominated too.
It’s very similar. It’s funny because a lot of people think, “The military is an even playing field.” No, it’s not because you still have those things that you have to go through. For me looking back, my hardest thing is not being recognized. It’s not the fact that I went in doing things to be recognized. You go in and you know you’ve done a bang job. Here’s what I mean. I have been on duty stations and assigned to places where I was the officer. I rocked it. I was there. My superior would be like, “You’re great. You’ve done all of this. I never had anybody who was my right hand like this.” They would leave and go to the next place. I was never ordered an award for it like when you see people with ribbons on.
When I was married, my ex-husband was like, “How come you don’t have ribbons from top to bottom?” I was like, “It’s a game. It’s who you know and who wants to give them to you.” It’s very subjective. It got to a point when I started seeing the pattern. I was like, “I can’t base my career and my worth on this because I know what I do. I know how I inspire others.” My reason for becoming an officer was the fact that I saw things that I didn’t like as I was coming up through the ranks and I wanted to change those. I want it to be someone who helped inspire and impacted others, which I look back on now and that’s what I did.
Many women at each duty station that I went to, when I walked in and they saw that I was a female and of the rank that I was, they were like, “I was so excited you’re coming. I didn’t know you’re a woman. You’re so high ranking.” That inspired other females. At the end of the day, I was like, “I may not have gotten the medal for this job but I inspired someone.” That person is going to go on and do great things with their career. One day, they’ll look back and say, “I had Lieutenant Commander Martin as my officer and she inspired me.” That’s all the payback I need.
I’m sure it’s got to grip you too because I feel the same way. I want to go out and I want to be able to help everybody I possibly can and inspire everyone. It’s great when they recognize what you’ve achieved. I had no idea where we’re going to go down this route, but from a race perspective, you’re entitled and all this stuff. I founded a cybersecurity company. I founded an IT firm. When I found it, I had two newborn twins and I was broke, not being able to pay my power bill or anything else. you talk about a level playing field. Just because I am who I am doesn’t mean that I’m not used to hardship from a race perspective. You flip it on the other side and I see systemic racism that exists completely in the country. That also pulls on my heart.
If both sides could come together and realize that we do want the same thing. Just like males and females, we do want the same outcomes in a lot of different things. Can we chuck all that garbage aside please, and get on with life? When you go and inspire people, does it pull you to where you’re like, “I’m here. Out of 100 women, I was able to inspire three,” but then you think about, “What about the other 97? Come on. If you could just get it.”
It is funny. We all want the same thing at the end of the day. What our problem is especially in this day and age, I’m not going to go through everything because of everything that we’re going through in this time that we’re living in now, but where we’re at a loss is the humanity side of it. You have people on both sides, both colors, whatever. They’re not seeing the humanity in their fellow man. We can agree to disagree. We’re not going to see eye to eye on anything but that doesn’t mean, “Rick is a bad guy and I want to go storm his house,” all of these crazy things. That’s where things have gotten out of control.
To get back to your question, it does bother me when I go out because I’ve been told, “You’re a triple threat. You’re a black female. You’ve been in the Navy. You have this technology background.” I’m like, “Maybe I can go inspire people,” and as you said, it’s 3 out of 100 and you’re like, “What happened to everyone else? I’m working here. I’m trying to help inspire people.” They’re like, “That was nice. Thank you for coming.”
They’re stuck in that almost fixed mindset. I get comments on social media all the time. It’s like, “Privileged white dude.” I’m like, “You don’t know me. You don’t see all the differences that I try to make because I understand there are things in this world that shouldn’t exist.” I think like, “You’re one of those 97 who’s thinking nothing is ever going to change. The whole reason that nothing’s ever going to change is because you’re not willing to change.”
You have to be the change that you want to see. That was one of the reasons why I decided to be an officer in the Navy and I’m going to do my own technology consulting firm. I’m going to speak on inspiring women to go into technology. If not you, who else is going to do that? You don’t have to be some famous person or be the richest person in the world to do it and have an impact on someone.
There was a point in time that Oprah wasn’t famous.
Nobody knew who Oprah was at one point.
You’ve been in technology now for several years. That was aside. Do you have your own consulting firm too?
Yes. I was in corporate for over two decades. I went to the Federal government for over ten years to do cyber-intel for them. I got tired of working for other people. I said, “I have all of this experience. I’m going to put it to use for myself.” I started a technology consulting firm. COVID hit and I was like, “What can I do to utilize my skills but yet help people where they need to be helped?” I specialize in helping small and medium-sized businesses use secure communication technologies. The pandemic has made people use technology in ways that they never thought they would use them. Especially people who were not tech-savvy.
We’re talking about ransomware, cybercrime, all of these things. I’m like, “On the simplest level, what do we need? We need security.” I’m looking at the companies that don’t have an IT department. The Googles and the Walmarts of the world are okay. They have big infrastructures. When you’re looking at maybe a construction company or a law firm that is not big and well-known, they may have Joe Schmoe come in or the neighbor’s kid comes in. Those are the people I’m looking at. People who have revenue but they’re not on that level where they may have a whole IT department, and helping them stay secure and communicate.
When I say communication technologies, I’m looking at video group messaging, video calls, voice messages, texting, all those things that we all use and need to communicate. Especially when you’re talking about clients and sensitive information and communicating back and forth. A lot of these companies don’t have any clue. They think, “I need this contract signed by client A and I’m going to send it over email.” First of all, that’s all the information. Your personal identification information. You may have banking information in that. What if you’re hacked and they clone your email? They get that and they decide that this client you’re doing business with, I’m going to act like I’m you and go into them and reroute the money that they were supposed to pay you. For a small and medium-sized business, that could take them down for months or if not, destroy their company.
I’m in the same line of work that you are with that. I understand. I like how you stated the Googles and Amazons are okay. Are they targets still? Yes, they are. I’ve heard the SME group or the Small-Medium Enterprise group say, “I’m too small. Nobody’s ever going to come after me. That’s why I don’t need to do these things.” It’s like, “Do you think that the eCrime groups are stupid?” They also know that there are entire teams and divisions devoted to security at Amazon or Google. They understand that small and medium enterprises don’t have anybody. They understand that they’re thinking, “I’m safe. I’m too small.” They run these broad-scale attacks that hit many people at one time. They get lucky by hitting maybe 10% of them as a success. It’s going to happen to you.
That’s what I try to tell these companies. They were like, “We’re not big. They don’t want us.” You’re who they want because they know they’re not going to be successful with Google. They’re not going to be successful with Amazon. Who will they be successful with? Mom-and-pop store or Acme Construction, that’s from a cartoon. Anyway, they’re going to be successful with them. They know that for you to do your business if they attack you is going to devastate you. Either you’re going to pay or you’re going to be ruined. These small and medium-sized businesses need to realize that just because you are small or medium-sized does not exempt you. As a matter of fact, you are the prime target. You are who they are looking for.
In 2020, I’d love to dive more into this a little bit too, with secure communications. I use a fractional CFO. I’ve got several entities across the US. One that holds some intellectual property needs to renew its annual report or something like that. He’s like, “Can you send me a different credit card because the one that we had from last year is expired.” I’m like, “Yes, no problem.” He’s like, “We got to get this done today.” I’m like, “I’m on a plane” or whatever. Here we go. I whip out my phone, snap a photo of my card, and then send it over to him. I know, especially being in the industry, that is not the right way to do it, but you get to this point where there’s a threshold between convenience and necessity versus security.
It boggles my mind that in some of these things, even being in the industry, there’s still not that much of a good solution that exists in order to facilitate these types of communications unless you’re still sitting at a desktop computer to be able to do this. You spent the better part of the year with the pandemic helping businesses establish these secure communication platforms. That was the easiest way for me. It was to send a text message to get that thing done. I’m sitting there like, “I’m going to send this and I’m going to wait two days and I’m going to cancel this card.”
I know what happens. It was a dire need in a moment. I understand that they need this now so I’m going to send it. I know in two days, I put a reminder on my calendar, I am going to call this in and say, “Send me a new cardmember.” I knew that that exposed me at that point in time. There are individuals that will do this all day every day and are surprised like, “How did my card gets stolen?” What exists now? In what ways are you helping people and businesses to establish these secure communications?
I go in and assess their gaps and how they’re doing business. What I do is I take a full assessment, let them know their gaps, and recommend solutions. I’m not the solution provider but I am your strategy. I will recommend the people who provide these technologies and be the project manager to make sure things are working well, then train and onboard your employees so that you’re doing things correctly. As the example that you say, a lot of people do that all the time, all day, every day. There are different software platforms and apps that you can do things like that where it’s encrypted. You don’t have to worry about whether or not that’s going to happen.
You and I know that, but you have some people who do it all the time. They’re like, “Here’s my password. Here’s my login. Here’s my credit card number,” and they’re surprised at what happens. My kids laugh at me because I’ll go to a gas station and I’ll pull on the thing and jiggle it and make sure it doesn’t come off. They’re like, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “This is how criminals get your credit card number. You have to make sure that nothing is loose or there’s not an extra thing on here.” They’re like “Really?” I’m like, “Yes, you have to do these types of things.” My daughter is driving now and I told her the same thing like, “Before you put your credit card in, always check and make sure there’s nothing moving or lose. If it is, don’t use it.” She’s like, “Okay.”
I don’t remember where I was looking but those devices are so inexpensive. I was researching the trend, the evolution of those as well. Are they called card scrapers?
That’s it. I’ve never used them but I see these things and the device itself is under $100. It’s so inexpensive. They are even advertised as fast install from the sites you can buy these from because it only takes 90 seconds for somebody to install the skimmer. They work over Bluetooth. They even advertise the battery life on these things is like two years. That way, the criminal knows that they’re going to continue as long as the thing doesn’t get ripped off and somebody finds it, but it’s going to last them. It’s going to be a good investment of their time and the risk that’s associated with it in order to gain these numbers. That’s great but the point is that it’s so easy to perform these criminal activities and it’s all around.
You think about what you said. Let’s say even if somewhere along the line it’s discovered and somebody rips it down, you have to think about how many numbers did they get between the time they installed it and the time that they were found out. By the time they’re found out and they’ve gathered all the credit card numbers, they’ve already got a good return on their investment. They may have spent $200 on a device and they may have skimmed $2,000 so they’re good.
What’s one of your favorite apps for secure communication?
This is free and I say this all the time, I like Signal. Signal is encrypted. It’s free. That’s something I tell everybody. I’m like, “Use Signal.” If it’s something you’d need to get out of or you’re talking to people that you’re sending information back and forth and your only means is texting, get Signal. I don’t even recommend WhatsApp. I’m like, “Don’t do that, just do Signal.”
It’s funny because a lot of people still don’t know that WhatsApp is owned by Facebook. What’s ironic is that WhatsApp uses encryption from Signal, but it’s still under the Facebook umbrella. The difference is the encryption will make sure that it can’t get sniffed out of midair. If it’s going from your device with WhatsApp to the Facebook servers, which is the WhatsApp servers, nobody’s going to be able to sniff your stuff out of the internet world right from that transmission there. As soon as it hits Facebook servers, they can see everything that you’re doing. That’s also how they target you for different ads. There’s a difference between security and privacy at the same time. When it goes, “Don’t worry about that because Facebook saw all your crap. No problem because it’s encrypted to get to that other person. No big deal.” That’s a big deal. Even Jeff Bezos got hacked via WhatsApp.
People don’t realize that. There’s no discrimination between who they get. They just want financial gain. Whoever it is, big, small, rich or poor, if you have $20 in your account and they can take it, that’s what they’re going to take. It doesn’t matter.
If you’re not using Signal, don’t use WhatsApp to send that kind of information. The next best thing if you’re an iPhone user because iMessage is encrypted and they don’t share that information with the authorities but it’s still nothing like Signal. Signal is Edward Snowden-approved, if that carries any weight whatsoever. I heard a story. It was someone that I knew. They were having a conference in Canada. It was very sad because they booked Edward Snowden for their keynote. He comes in via remote. He’ll never go anywhere in person because he’s still out there. He’s still a fugitive. Is it Russia now that he has an asylum? I think so.
He comes in virtually to this thing. This guy had 1,000 people at his real estate events and had Edward Snowden come in as a keynote. It was within the first two minutes that he goes, “This was Edward Snowden. Do all of your attendees know about your criminal activities?” His face turned away. He hired the whistleblower for the keynote at his conference. He didn’t think that the whistleblower wouldn’t look him up and his stuff. He’s not in business anymore.
I don’t think he’ll be getting any more keynote invites.
That’s an example. He’s a guy in real estate, a prominent figure that’s holding events that teach people how to do real estate. It’s an example because that type of information is something that can be sniffed right out of WhatsApp. That type of information can be sniffed right out of a text message. Anybody can be an Edward Snowden and find out this information and blow the whistle on you. Outside of Signal, are there any other apps that you can recommend?
Signal is my favorite. What else? Something else instead of encryption. A lot of people are doing contracts now, especially since we are working virtually. Digital signature is my thing. That’s my jam because, for years, the military has been doing it. We’ve been doing it forever. Now you can get Adobe Sign. There are several out there.
There’s HelloSign which is part of Dropbox.
There are several. I can’t think of them at the moment. That’s the next thing I tell people to do because who does snail mail anymore? We know that mail gets lost. People get it. If you have contracts or things that you need someone to sign and they’re time-sensitive, do digital signatures. It’s secure, quick and it will hold up as a legal document. If you have somebody to sign that digitally, it is legally binding. Please do that. Signal and get digital signatures.
DocuSign is a big one. PandaDoc is another that’s a little less expensive. HelloSign is built into Dropbox. They are all good ways to use these things. I love our industry. I love where it’s going. I can see many opportunities all over the place. I can’t wait to see where we’re going in the next ten years because there are many good solutions. It’s almost like 2020, nobody wants to be involved in a pandemic. From a technology perspective, I feel that it’s accelerated or at least made aware way more of the need for some of these solutions. The old way of doing things was ineffective and it’s a different world. Now people are being forced into doing that. There’s one thing because we run great companies. This is for everybody that’s reading. I love that you’re recommending apps that are readily available to anybody out there because they are the best ones.
There are others that are in our industry that will resell things like a digital signature platform and white-label it. I always tell clients, “Don’t ever do that unless it’s a well-known name because the problem is to be integrations. The problem is going to be the backing of those companies.” Your technology provider like Trina here and I can be the ones to recommend these products for you, and consult you and guide you to get the right products. There are certain things that we’re never going to compete with because we’re not a multiple trillion-dollar company like Google. Go spend the $5 and use G Suite. There’s nothing that I can sell you that’s going to do as good of a job as something like that. I will help you secure G Suite. That’s still one of the best platforms for you to use. It’s interesting.
How do you work with that? Maybe we can end with this too. I don’t even call them competitors. I feel like I’m in a different class because of those things like separating. They use a very genderized old cliche. It’s like separating the men from the boys or the women from the girls. How do you handle those scenarios to where it’s like, “They told me they’re going to do this and they’re only doing it for half the price?”
I tell people the same thing. I’m not trying to be an Oracle. I’m not going to say, “I’m going to give you this whole platform,” and whatever. I’m going to recommend you to someone who has it like G Suite or somebody like that. I’m going to make sure it integrates with your business and it’s something that you need. You and I both know that they’ll recommend something to you just to say, “I recommended this.” It’s like, “If you’re this size company, you don’t need an Oracle platform.”
That was one of the things I hated so much when I was in corporate in IT. Many times, we would hire the big boys. We would spend millions of dollars on something and it wouldn’t even integrate with our systems. What would happen? Trina here would end up reprogramming a whole system to integrate and talk to and do the things that we wanted to do. When I’m thinking, “We just paid company X $10 million. If you had to pay me that $10 million, we could’ve had this done correctly.” What I try to tell my clients is, “You have people out there that will sell you any and everything to get you to buy it, but you want to know that it’s something that you need. It’s going to integrate with your business.” I’m not that person. That’s how I differentiate myself.
I’m not trying to sell you a million-dollar suite because that’s not what you need. A lot of times, I tell people, “You need Signal. It’s free. Get it.” That’s simple. That’s all you need. Why would I sell you? That’s like me selling you a Cadillac when all you need is a golf cart. You’re like, “I just want to golf and go from here to there,” but I’m saying, “Cadillac has this new golf cart and that’s what you need.” You don’t need it.
Trina, thank you for serving. I appreciate everything you’ve done for our country. Now you’re doing it in the private sector too. You’re beautiful and funny. Thank you for being on.
Thank you for having me, Rick. I enjoyed our time as a fellow Chicagoan and tech geek like myself. It was very enjoyable.
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