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Working in cyber security

Posted by 4MAT Administrator
Posting date:12/3/2020 11:14 AM
Last year, Alex Graham undertook a cyber placement with Atkins. Having accepted a permanent role with the business this September, she here explores the cyber industry’s skills shortage; the UK’s north/south divide; and why she encourages others to get involved with placements and other initiatives for industry exposure. 

Was there a definitive moment that steered you towards a career in the cyber industry? 

Despite studying chemistry, I completed various cyber placements throughout my degree, which is where my interest developed. I realised that the realms of cyber are far reaching and go beyond the deeply technical. This was cemented during my  cyber summer placement last year, which  involved a research and development project centred around producing an operational technology honeypot; a system or device specifically designed to entice would-be hackers and learn more about their tools, tactics and procedures. 

The project was fascinating and gave me exposure to numerous clients and additional training. I took on the role of project manager, which enabled my development of leadership and organisational skills within a cyber context. The role seemed the perfect way for me to apply my interest in cyber while developing other skills such as project management and analytics, and after joining Atkins’ Junior Consultant Development Programme (JCDP) this September, I am excited to continue to learn and develop these s kills in both consultancy and cyber. 

Why do you think it’s important to work in and learn about this industry? 

It’s no longer a question of if, but when a cyber security breach will occur. Fast-paced technological advancements and digitalisation across society and industry mean we are seeing an increased demand to protect our assets, be that critical national infrastructure or our own personal data. As consultants, we help clients understand cyber security risks, how to mitigate them, and how to promote cyber resilience in the design stages. Beyond the risks, cyber is an exciting industry to be a part of due to innovative technologies and advancements which provide new challenges and opportunities, from the Internet of Things (IoT) to artificial intelligence. Despite this, the cyber skills shortage is predicted to reach more than 3 million by next year, proving that more needs to be done to promote such an interesting and vital sector.

Have you had to overcome any hurdles or unique challenges in your career? 

The main hurdle I faced was around location and opportunities in the North. Traditionally, this market has been South/South West centric, making it difficult for young professionals from certain backgrounds to follow this career path. After completing Atkins’ summer placement, I was offered a role, however the programme’s main office locations were London and Bristol based. I put forward a case to highlight the opportunities available in the North West within the cyber security industry. The team were receptive and extremely supportive, and I’ve been able to remain in northern England. 

Now I have joined Atkins as the first graduate in my division that’s based in Manchester. Covid-19 has helped to prove that flexible, remote working is possible and started to break down previous barriers around location. I have already found that this has provided me with more opportunities than challenges: I’m not in isolation, rather I’m in a unique position to help shape the future of the company and expansion across the country. Other industries, and government through their ‘levelling-up agenda’, are beginning to tackle geographic inequality and recognise that people from different backgrounds bring different perspectives and boost diversity of thought, so harnessing talent in the North could be a key turning point. This is particularly relevant to the cyber industry, as Manchester is recognised as the digital innovation hub of the North and champions multiple cyber security initiatives. 

How do you think we can educate younger generations about the cyber industry? What methods do you think work best? 

The cyber security skills gap makes it essential for cyber interest to be nurtured, to maintain the talent pipeline. I believe engagement from a young age is essential to cultivate this interest. Certain government schemes aim to do just this – partnering with industry and academia to support the next generation of students and cyber security professionals, helping them develop skills required for a rewarding career in cyber security. This is largely centred around the NCSC’s CyberFirst initiative, which provides a pathway of events and schemes including the Girl’s Competition, CyberFirst Futures and bursary schemes. Particularly events aimed at younger children should be interactive and challenging, as participants may surprise themselves in terms of what they are capable of, making them keen to pursue their interest in cyber. 

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