“Surely we don’t want women’s voices to go unheard when shaping the future of our increasingly digital society? So, what are you waiting for? Get involved, get a voice, make a difference!”
Dr Leila Powell is a security data scientist at Panaseer. She explains that you don’t need to have a technical background, just a passion for making a fundamental difference to our everyday lives.
Tell us a bit about your journey into the industry – did you have a previous career? Did you have formal training or work experience?
My journey into security could be described most accurately as taking the “scenic route”! In fact, right up until the moment I landed my current role, I had no idea this industry was to be my destination.
I’ve been a security data scientist at London-based startup Panaseer for nearly three years, but I began my professional life as an astrophysicist. I earned my PhD at Oxford and then went on to hold postdoctoral positions in Paris and Munich.
My focus was on using supercomputers to simulate the formation and evolution of galaxies in the Universe. This probably sounds lightyears away from security, but actually the key skills I developed in understanding large datasets serve me well now. I essentially learn about security via the data from tools like vulnerability scanners – and from the excellent security teams I get to work with.
What are your top tips for those looking to get into the industry?
When you’re just exploring your options, I’d strongly encourage you to go to the many free security events and just chat to people there. Make sure you research the types of roles that are available – they are many and they’re extremely varied, requiring very different skill sets.
Consider startups as well as established organisations, as you’ll be able to get involved in a wide variety of activities when a company is in its early days and it’s rewarding to see the business grow. There’s a whole generation of UK-based security startups coming up right now, so it’s an exciting time to get involved.
What are three of the top traits you should have to work in cyber security?
● The ability to own your mistakes. No company can be completely secure, no person can make zero errors. What matters, particularly in this industry, is reporting issues and dealing with them in a timely manner. Think you clicked on a phish? Tell someone now!
● Attention to detail. Security is a complex domain, where little things can have a big impact, so being detail-oriented is essential. However, you do need to balance this with a dash of pragmatism – you can’t fix everything (see 1).
● Communicating to your audience. If you can explain to anyone from your boss to someone at the pub why they should care about security, you’re on to a winner.
Anything else you’d like to say to inspire women into this sector?
Cyber security is no longer an issue that only governments and banks need to worry about. It affects every member of the public and its importance will only increase as more and more aspects of our lives are played out online.
This is a sector where you can genuinely have a positive impact on fundamental areas of our daily lives, from keeping money safe to protecting medical records – and yet we’ve got a severe shortage of skilled people to help. What’s more, women are under-represented in the security workforce. Surely we don’t want women’s voices to go unheard when shaping the future of our increasingly digital society? So, what are you waiting for? Get involved, get a voice, make a difference!