Our community blogger Catherine Heath has struck again! She's now written us a blog on the latest Hack Your Career in Cybersecurity event earlier this month. Read on for more information about what was discussed at the event...
Contrary to what some might think, the field of cybersecurity is more than just protecting systems against potential hackers. There are a huge range of careers available in this area, and we had the pleasure of listening to a very impressive panel of speakers who came from backgrounds ranging from top management consultancy firm KPMG, the Cabinet Office, high end supermarket Marks & Spencer and an ethical hacker start up firm Hacker House.
This diversity shows the wide reach of tech in the current job market, where the Internet of Things has made even reading a book into a connected experience, and, consequently, increased the number of insecurities in data systems.
Cybersecurity is a field relating to the need to make sure that we understand the importance of protecting our data in both the business world and our personal lives, guarding against people who might wish to exploit weaknesses in business infrastructure with the aim of causing damage; perhaps even holding sensitive data ransom.
The panel mentioned the likelihood of the next world war being a cyber war. They also referenced the security breach in broadband provider Talk Talk’s network, which involved British 16-year-olds hacking their customers’ personal data.
This case in point illustrates how the complacency of businesses can endanger their customers' privacy, and underscores how some simple preventative measures could have saved them millions of pounds. Even if customers’ privacy does not stir the sympathies of the company board, the bottom line just might. Businesses are waking up to the fact that they need to invest in cybersecurity, and as a consequence the job market is expanding.
This is the job that Michal Koczwara, an ethical hacker and red team member at Marks & Spencer is employed to do: without warning, his team schedules attacks on the company’s data networks to highlight any weaknesses, analyses the results, and then patch as needed.
This is an incredibly forward-thinking initiative of M&S, in light of the fact that most companies still hold the attitude of ‘it won’t happen to me’. While Michal’s role is extremely technical, the panel stresses that there are many other jobs within the cybersecurity industry that do not require an in-depth knowledge of programming languages.
Bedria Bedri has spent 20 years working at KPMG in a mixture of cyber security and financial services. She’s made a career out of educating senior members of organisations with the knowledge that security is not just an IT issue, but something that affects everyone in the company.
She argues that technology is now so advanced that society is not ready for it, while not enough companies are taking the risks seriously – except those in government and banking.
And cybersecurity is also the focus of Ben Aung’s job within government. He is head of cybersecurity in the Cabinet Office, though he originally started his career as an illustrator in advertising firms. He highlights the skills shortage in the cybersecurity industry, not just for technical roles but across the board.
He argues that we need to empower people to enter cybersecurity, without scaring them with the potential severity of the risks if we don’t tackle these problems now. He has educated senior cabinet leaders in the dangers of neglecting cybersecurity, and reflected that there is an appetite for change. More than ever, Ben argues there is a huge talent pipeline shortage in cybersecurity.
All in all, the panel is made up of people from both ‘technical’ backgrounds (Michal used to be a developer before taking a job at M&S) and non-technical.
Luciana Carvalho is the co-founder of ethical hacking start-up Hacker House and SE3 Solutions Ltd. Hacker House rehabilitates former young hackers, and she has a degree in law. She has always enjoyed playing with technology, teaching herself to code as a child, but was inclined to follow a more traditional academic career until she experienced her ‘quarter-life crisis’.
And that is one of the most prominent themes about the Code First: Girls “Hack your career” events: anyone and everyone can enter the tech industry if they have enough interest and dedication to learning the necessary skills. You don’t need to be a genius to work in tech – but you do need to be passionate and determined to work in such a fast-paced and exciting industry.
Bedria recommends taking only roles where you do what you love, and always keeping your eye out for the next opportunity. She counsels against comparing yourself unfavourably to others, despite the strong temptation to do so. Luciana suggests knowing yourself – both your strengths and limitations, and seeking out mentors to guide you.
This was originally published on Gender and the City, and can be found here.
Beverley Newing, Programmes Intern at Code First: Girls, reflects on why she stopped coding as a young teenager, the issues she faced in STEM and how she’s now gotten her coding mojo back.
Code First: Girls (CF: G) is a not for profit social enterprise startup with a mission to get more women into technology & entrepreneurship. I work on community programmes there and we offer free coding courses to women to help them get into coding. Over the past 18 months 3000+ participated in one of our courses or events. In telephone interviews I do at CF:G, I often get insights into the crazy gender imbalance in university courses across the country – there often being only 3 women in computer science courses (for some weird reason, it’s always 3) and that only 17% of those in the tech industry are female – and I’ve been wondering why this ever since starting this job. There is a personal story behind why every girl interested in STEM subjects turns to alternative subjects, and so I’ve decided to share my own.
When I was a young teenager, I used to start and tweek the HTML of Invisionfree forums. I loved books, and living on a lonely farm in the middle of nowhere, used to chat to people on a huge online forum instead. I soon realised there were also lots of smaller communities of groups who had created their own forums and before I knew it, I was creating, publicising, customising and managing my own with a group of international friends. I loved this community and the creativity, and was always pestering my mum for more internet time (back then, it was 1.5p per minute through the phone line in the evening!). This world was a home to me in those early teen years.
Despite this hobby, STEM subjects didn’t come easily to me at school. My engineer maths-genius father was disappointed at my choices at GCSE – ICT and languages, not Design Technology. This was a blow to me, and his knowledge of technology wasn’t sufficient for me to explain to him that I did actually enjoy making and creating things just like he did. Further disappointment came after a year of classes, when I left the last Further Maths class of year 12 in tears with an exam that was graded 30% and the written recommendation that I move down to Standard Maths.
My Further Maths class was a male-dominated class, and the (always incredibly) enthusiastic help I asked for from my male peers was often overwhelming. I’ve found that men and women often communicate differently, and my low confidence meant I often felt bad interrupting the well-intentioned but overwhelmingly long explanations from men to speak up and ask the small questions I really needed to ask. I quickly got left behind and felt like an outsider because of this.
The failure hit me hard. In hindsight, the qualities that I had used in the forums – Googling bits of code, troubleshooting things myself and with the help of peers – would have translated to Maths, but I’d lacked the confidence to do so. Over the same years, personal issues hit me hard and some home issues meant I had limited internet access, so my online communities all died as we all drifted apart. I drifted away from STEM and away from coding.
After the Further Maths failure, my university options for studying Physics were limited – Russell group universities were only an option if I went down the English and German route. In a year 13 assembly, the headmistress announced to us all that University ranking, not subject, mattered the most, and so a bit spooked, I applied for and got accepted onto English and German Literature at Warwick University. I spent four years on the whole enjoying my degree but wishing I was doing Physics instead.
Five years on, by a twist of fate, I noticed the Code First: Girls internship advert in the Warwick Graduate Internship scheme and successfully applied. I’m now back to coding after having done one of our own HTML/CSS courses and co-organising the same coding courses for women all over the UK. Beyond HTML/CSS, the course taught me that it’s okay to ask questions, to not know or understand everything and to use Google. I’m once again in a motivating, friendly, coding community.
As well as this community helping to rebuild my confidence, coding itself is empowering. You start with a blank screen and end up with something you’ve designed and created yourself with your own bare hands. I’ve seen the same enjoyment in lots of my female CF:G coder peers. I’ve found the passion for coding again that I’d lost all those years ago, and whilst it’s not all plain sailing, I’m so happy.
If this resonates with anybody else, I’d love to hear your stories. I’d also like to say that there are also tons of communities out there to help you get back on your feet. Code First: Girls offer amazing courses, and Founders and Coders and Women who Hack for Non-Profit are wonderful as well – there really are so many organisations. Get Googling and reconnecting! There are so many groups out there for you who would love to have you join them.
Delighted to introduce you to our first community blogger Catherine Heath. Read on for Catherine's write up of the event...
The evening began with a definition of health tech - useful as this was a careers-focused event. Unsurprisingly, the term 'health tech’ meant different things to different people, but perhaps the most comprehensive definition that surfaced was the many technologies available to us that support our health objectives.
The Speakers and their Definitions of Health Tech
The speakers on the panel were an impressive bunch and came from a variety of backgrounds that include an academic department, a tech startup and even a top consulting firm. Mark Bartlett, from an entrepreneurial background and now working for the NHS in health tech, suggested the term health tech refers to any technologies we can use to improve our health. In contrast, Debbie Paterson, working in healthcare innovation design, suggests that tech should support the design rather than being the focal point.
Bobby Dhaliwel, who works in analytical environments, states that wearable tech is exciting because of its possibilities for helping hospital patients to manage their conditions more independently. UCL PhD student David Crane, in contrast, focuses on the prevention of disease by using mobile apps outside of a clinical setting in order to limit alcohol consumption and other destructive behaviours. Sheridan Ash, director at Price Waterhouse Cooper with a history in fashion modelling as well as pharmaceuticals, argues that we need to use technology to solve our problems.
Overcoming the Difficulties
David argues that our vision should be to aim for better communication between data scientists and marketers, thus enabling improvements in the use of customer insights across the board. We need to avoid a Big Brother-style scenario and steer away from health apps that become overly controlling, but equally we also need to be aware of security issues surrounding patient data. Sheridan pointed out that, contrary to popular opinion, technological systems are far more secure than paper ones, and that new technology Blockchain has the ability to provide high-encryption systems for patient data.
An attendee pointed out how, in a ‘real life’ setting, given the difficulties in getting patients to follow a medical program prescribed by a doctor and take their pills, it’s no more likely they will listen to instructions from an app. David argues that we need to reward users for using apps by showing them the benefit of completing an action, such as showing them what they will gain in the long-run if they drink less alcohol.
The Possibilities of Health Technology
Another attendee pointed out how, in a global market, technologies such as apps are less relevant to individuals in developing countries, many of whom may not own a smartphone. This raised an interesting discussion about the importance of knowing your audience, and the conclusion that poorer countries, because they lack the somewhat cumbersome infrastructure of health systems in developed nations, may have an advantage in the area of health tech as they are more able to implement new initiatives more quickly and easily.
The NHS in particular is notoriously slow in its uptake of technology, partly due to the aforementioned concerns about security in regards to patient data and also the NHS's historical infrastructure. However, new tech initiatives are being launched slowly but surely, Sheridan tells us, and she cites examples such as the creation of digital roadmaps for patient journeys. She also highlights the NHS's aim to be completely paperless by 2020. Mark reminds us of his work on an app called Doctor Doctor, which is being used to help more patients to attend their appointments and reduce cancellations.
Women in Tech
Sheridan brought the discussion round to reason we were all there - the serious lack of women in the health tech industry. The large number of women in the room was nevertheless an encouraging sign.
While there is often an equal intake of genders at entry level, statistics show that women are far less represented at senior levels in tech. One possible suggestion for this trend was the tendency for women not to return after maternity leave, perhaps due to the unfavourable culture in the working world for women trying to balance their careers with motherhood.
And, of course, our ethos here at Code First: Girls is to encourage and help more women to enter tech and entrepreneurship roles. The pleas for job applicants came thick and fast from many of the speakers, as well as co-hosts DigitasLBi, Digital Innovation Group, and Healthtech Women. Sheridan promoted an exciting Women in Technology initiative at Pricewaterhouse Cooper that she has pioneered, which seeks to employ more women at the firm in tech roles.
The Changing Roles of Doctor and Patient
The final and most interesting discussion was how tech will influence the roles of doctor and patient, which have already changed in recent times. For example, many patients now search online for answers to their health questions, and bring their research along to doctor’s appointments. An audience member asked whether complex machines may one day supplant the role of the clinician entirely, to which Mark responded that this was unlikely. Technology can never replace the educated professional.
David raised the interesting point that we are at a stage in society now where we have vast amounts of information at our fingertips and yet most have not developed the ability to discern between the credibility of sources. This means that some websites - NHS Direct, for example - are much more reliable sources of medical expertise than others. However, he also argues that the more serious the health issue is, the more likely a patient will be to take the advice of a team of clinicians over their own online research.
Career Advice from the Speakers
Finally, all panellists provided some advice for people setting out in their health tech career.
Mark: Make sure you expand your options, take available opportunities and attend as many events as you can like Hack your career in health tech!
Debbie: Don’t limit yourself by staying in one field but work in many different areas to gain experience. You don’t need a ten-year career plan.
Sheridan: Women are needed in the tech industries, so know your value - and watch this space!
Bobby: Make sure you get cross-industry experience, get a LinkedIn Premium account and email people in the industry to ask for advice.
Dave: There’s no shortage of jobs, especially in UX and coding. Go for it!
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