Dita Pesek is a security consultant at cyber security company WithSecure, with a focus on hacking and securing cloud technologies.  

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role?

A career in cyber security was not what I imagined doing when I was a little girl, but now I’m a cyber security consultant at WithSecure.  As I hear from many women in tech jobs, most of us moved into technology from different career paths; my dream was to be a film director. I studied directing and script writing in the Czech Republic, where I come from and my first job was being one of the directors on a Hungarian version of Big Brother.

However, the Czech Republic felt small so I decided to move to the UK and try to break into film industry there. But as it is in life, things do not go according to plan and I ended up working in accounting, as a project manager for a startup, while I also started my hypnotherapy practice specialising in anxieties and depression.

My decision to switch to cyber security was fuelled by a long-term interest in technology and social engineering. In my current role, I work as a pentester focusing on cloud and application security. I am intrigued by cloud technologies, and hope to be involved in the research of not only hacking cloud and apps, but also humans.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I used to plan my whole life, but certain events taught me that everything can change in a nick of time, and adaptability and spontaneity are the most important skills if you want to stay happy.  At least for me. I have some vision of direction I would like my life to take. I say life because I do not differentiate between life and career as they both go hand in hand. Though if an unexpected opportunity presents itself that looks intriguing and exciting, I will take it even if it does not fully fit the prior vision.

I love a quote from Bruce Lee that goes like this: “Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

I approach life in the similar way. Life changes all the time. There are a lot of things that are outside of our control. It’s good to have a vision but visions do not have to be set in stone or control us.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

The biggest challenge I faced was getting into tech. It took me a year and half to find my first role. Part of the search was happening during covid which made things even more complicated.  A lot of things were changing simultaneously during that time, which turned my life upside down. I knew I had to keep on looking for a suitable role because eventually there would be someone who believed in me. The strategy that really helped was not being set on a specific role, but applying for any technical role that would fit my knowledge.

The most important thing is to get your foot in the door, and then you can pivot to where you want to be. I sent about two hundred applications. In the end it was Cisco where I got my first break. I remember going into the interviews with determination that I would get the job and the interviews are just chats with my future colleagues. And it worked.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I have not reached my biggest career achievement yet. There are only a few things that I would consider being major achievements, like being invited to do a TedTalk, having my screenplay made into a film, or working with one of my idols. People sometimes tell me that I should be proud of myself because of where I have got to, but I do not find it as a major achievement as I would like to achieve more in life. It might seem like a negative approach, but I find more happiness in focusing on the journey and not the end goal or peaks in my life and career.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Persistence in combination with self-reflection. Persistence on its own can be a double-edged sword; if you keep on doing the same thing repeatedly and expect that it will get you to your goal, you might end up in a maddening loop. But if you are persistent and keep on tweaking your approach in relation to what did not work for you the last time, you have much higher probability of success.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Have fun. Don’t chase certifications because you think that they will look good on your CV, or get involved in projects that give you no joy but could be beneficial for your career. If you do not enjoy what you are doing it is not the right career.

In technology, we need to keep upskilling and stay current, and that requires certain level of passion. If you discover a subject or aspect of tech that you feel excited about, do more of it, even if it is not major part of your job. The success will naturally come, and you will find that you are becoming an expert in something that you are excited about which others can sense. That will open doors to more opportunities.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There are not as many barriers for women entering tech world as there used to be, but there are barriers once you are in a job. If you work in male-dominated environment, you still need to adapt to that environment. I am very lucky with my job where the guys are supportive and amazing to work with, but if you end up working in a place where majority of men decide they do not want to work with women, they can make the working environment unbearable. I have heard quite a few stories about toxic environments from women I’ve met at different tech meetups. We will not eliminate this behaviour fully as we do not live in a perfect world, but we can create strong networks where women talk and share their experience and support each other in applying for jobs in companies that appreciate and support them.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

This is a tough question because many companies have already done a lot to make it possible for women to get into technical roles. Women tend to question their skills more than men and being in the male dominated environment can make you feel like the odd one out. Communication is a key and introducing a culture where women can safely speak up and get the support they ask for is a big part of success.

A lot of companies do not appreciate that they are made by their employees, both male and female. We all seek appreciation and the feeling that our voices are heard, and companies that embrace this type of culture develop more successful talent.

If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I don’t think we need a magic wand for that! Women are encouraged by many companies to apply for tech roles, and I have not come across any bias towards my gender when interviewing. We must accept that there will be a lot of industries where one gender is represented more than the other and that should not be viewed as a downside.

What we need to focus on now is having more female role models within the tech world that do not only speak in tech conferences, but who reach out to wider audience and show to women out there that technical jobs are not just for geeks and introverts. We need more keynote speakers who can engage with wider audiences to also reach women and girls who have not been considering technical roles, just because they do not know any other woman in tech and what type of opportunities there are.