By Gemma Allen, Senior Cloud Security Solutions Architect at Barracuda Networks

Woman on LaptopMy first exposure to cybersecurity began when I attended a school workshop on touch typing.

This was of course a very different time, in which anything to do with the internet wasn’t considered as a viable career option and writing code in international databases or architecting modern data platforms in the cloud wasn’t an issue. Computers seemed so vast at the time, and I became intrigued by the internet when I was 13. What could I learn from this? How far does the internet reach? What new possibilities are there?

As it turns out, the internet opened up countless possibilities. My passion and curiosity for tech expanded, alongside my thirst for knowledge. This has allowed me to explore different career paths, from network engineering and IT consultancy through to my role today as a Senior Cloud Security Architect at Barracuda Networks.

What can I say about my experience of being a woman in a male-dominated industry? I think it’s certainly obvious that there is a large disparity between male and female roles in tech, and I think that giving a voice to this discrepancy is the first step.

From my perspective, we need to give serious thought to the potential for gender bias’ from a diversity quota viewpoint. The issues with this is that it has become a major contributor to the false narrative that women in technology have inferior technical competencies compared to men in the industry, due to the increasing need for organisations to fill a diverse workforce. This ‘positive’ discrimination can start to work against the women it’s meant to empower. If people start hiring based upon gender quotas, then there is a risk of employing individuals who are unsuitable for a role. This is counterintuitive and threatens to make the hiring process a box ticking exercise which could ultimately reinforce the notion to co-workers and management that women are inferior. Not only can this could discourage the hiring of a suitability qualified female candidate in the future, but it can also widen the gender disparity in tech. So, how can women navigate this tricky landscape?

Let’s start with the discourse around women being criticised more for making mistakes. What women in tech should realise is that everyone makes mistakes. Learning from your network as well as having this support in place can, in fact, really help with your personal development. Take my first major screw up for example. I was working with a third party support engineer and made a programming error, resulting in a shutdown of the database and consequently, the systems went down during the working day. This taught me numerous valuable lessons including the importance of backing-up your data correctly, testing before implementing and learning to roll back, but also the importance of resilience in the face of unexpected difficulty.

This was something that I also experienced when it came to the increasing need to network using social media. For someone who isn’t active on social media, honing these skills was an important factor for me in order to gain a support network through mutual respect and word of mouth. Before the prevalence of social media ‘techies’ had relied on building our skills up before we were confident to network. Social media is a good tool for networking, but in following trends you might not be working to your best skills or discovering new ones. It is important to remember that in discovering new skills, mistakes will happen (such as wiping an entire database on your first job) and this is just a part of being human.

The cybersecurity field is vast and, with the increasing skills shortage, there is no time like the present to flex your knowledge or sharpen your expertise. Utilising free resources, such as Microsoft Learn and AWS Resource Hub, in conjunction with attending breakout workshops and tech conferences are all valuable to career progression and self-improvement. Don’t let anyone stand in your way.

As I’ve mentioned before, your strongest allies in starting out in the tech world are your skillset and the internet. The great thing about modern technology is that you don’t need a library to learn – there are plenty of free programmes available online and you can access great research for free.

You will be faced with knock-backs, but you have to live with yourself and your decisions at the end of the day. So, take the plunge – you never know where you might end up at the end of your journey.