Nicola Jakeman, Orange CyberdefenseIn four years, Nicola has built a new intelligence services department, which is now known as the UK CyberSOC, heading up the department with responsibility for consultants, analysts, pre-sales support, platform management, research and a thriving vulnerability management team.

Nicola’s team, with the help of different experts within Orange Cyberdefense, work to curate a world where we watch over our clients, ensuring that they are protected from the relentless cyber underworld.

Nicola believes that publications like this are important to recognising that women are just as capable as men in this field and should be celebrated for currently being the anomaly to the rule and blazing the trail for all future women in cyber.

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

I am a 37 year old woman working in cybersecurity. My job title is Head of UK CyberSOC and I have responsibility for analysts, technology specialists, consultants and managers, delivering threat detection and hunting, vulnerability scanning and SecOps services to our clients.

And about me? I was brought up in a household with a self proclaimed nerd for a brother and a father who was an IT manager. This meant that I grew up in a technology lead home, playing games on a BBC Micro in the 80’s and learning to touch type on a typewriter from a very young age.

I started my career in the telecoms industry working for a reseller in Kent, and made my move into security in 2016. I was brought into SecureData for my operational experience to manage the CyberSOC (known as the Greater Intelligence team at the time). The CyberSOC provides a number of detection services to clients predominantly using SIEM technology, integrating threat intelligence and some very clever analysts and specialists.  I was set the task to implement processes to make services that work well and wow our customers. It’s been a wonderful, challenging and interesting journey so far watching the industry evolve.

In my years at SecureData, we saw the acquisition of SensePost, which brought about an elite consulting arm to the business. This side of the business always excited me and really gave me a feel for the industry. With that came an opportunity to take on a team in South Africa who provide managed vulnerability scanning services to clients. These services focus on identifying and scanning the assets in your business, ensuring you are aware of the assets in your environment, have up to date vulnerability information and can prioritise next steps using the vulnerability dashboards.

In 2017 the managed vulnerability scanning teams and managed threat detection teams joined forces to create a Security Intelligence Unit to unify these services and give our customers a joined up experience. Within this team we also had a very strong research and development department who helped us to innovate creative solutions to solving problems, such as using  Windows Sysmon that monitors and log system activity to detect endpoint based threats.

 We were then acquired by Orange Cyberdefense and are now part of a much larger family. This means a larger talent pool and our industry expertise has grown overnight. All departments are working together and sharing ideas and concepts. Once a fortnight our security analysts from across the business all join together to celebrate each other and present any interesting findings that we have come across. It’s so great to see everybody coming together in this way.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

First I wanted to be an actress, then a theatre make up artist, then a lawyer – so no! Sometimes life does not work out in the way you expect it to, but that is in no way a negative for me as I love my job and get great satisfaction out of what I do.

Don’t get me wrong, I have reached crossroads in my life many times, and had to make big decisions about what I do with my career next. I may not have planned to work in tech, but I chose to stay in it. I have also been offered positions in more customer focused roles – such as customer experience managers, managing service delivery management functions, but there’s something very rewarding about being in the heart of the tech industry, managing technical teams and solving problems.

It’s a different challenge and also an area where I can add value – just not in the way you would typically expect from a technical leader. I cannot assess my team’s technical aptitude with ease and precision – these skills can be obainted through certifications and training courses, but I can teach them a whole other facet of their roles – leadership, communication and customer interaction. How to handle the business side of such roles and achieve results. I also dedicate a lot of my time to developing my team with soft skills and personally in their futures. If you want people to succeed then you must invest in them as people, not just your staff members.

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

I have faced many career challenges, but it is these that you must learn and grow from. Life and personal developments comes in seasons – when it is winter you must knuckle down and prepare for the spring to begin again.

The biggest challenge, naturally is being a woman in a male dominated industry. Be under no illusion, sometimes this is tough. Mysogony exists, and some people still do not believe that women should be in senior positions. However, calm, poise and dealing purely with the facts when addressing people is the only way forward. The facts will always speak for themselves.

In addition to this, I became a manager in my early 20’s. It was tough at times to gain respect from team members who were older than me and couldn’t possibly see how I could be managing them. The best way to overcome this is to earn the respect of your team members, peers and superiors alike. I did this by being consistent, having integrity and being honest. At times you also have to show a little vulnerability – this is not a negative – we are all human.

I cannot stress enough that the way to overcome a lot of challenges is through being human and learning to communicate effectively. Emotional intelligence is a skill that is imperative to success. Without being able to read people and understand where they are coming from, you are unable to empathise and understand their challenge. Everybody is fighting a battle of some description both personally and professionally and it is very, very important to understand that it will not be the same as yours. This is also key to developing relationships and working with people to get results.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Building the CyberSOC I lead now is by far my biggest career achievement. I came into the business years ago and very little existed. We had technology and we had people, but we had little process and no real tangible service to speak of. Over the years I have worked with a skilled and amazing team to build something we can all be really proud of. We have been through immense difficulty, worry and stress, but with that came reward, achievement and success.

Part way through this I also took on the responsibility of the managed vulnerability scanning team in South Afrtica, as it was not running to it’s full potential, and worked with them to make a gold star service. It’s been challenging but I’ve learnt a lot both personally and professionally, and watching a team of professionals flourish in front of your eyes is the reason I’m in the job.

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

Proactivity. You get out of life what you put in. When I started in telecoms resale in my early 20s, I was determined to make a success of myself. I was constantly pushing myself to improve and learn new things. I looked at the senior people within the business and I aspired to be like them. So I knuckled down and did not expect to be given anything on a plate. If you want to make a success of yourself then you must work hard, be positive and keep pushing forwards. If you are reactive, I find opportunities do not present themselves so easily. Once you have those opportunities, you have to embrace them and give your all.

In my current role, I would also say that my difference in perspectives has contributed very strongly to my success. I bring a different view to a lot of my team, and with different perspectives comes more creation. I then just used my proactive ethos as mentioned above and ‘got it done’!

And as previously mentioned, emotional intelligence is the key!

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

Have a good work ethic, challenge the norm and be positive. Work on yourself harder than you work on your job. With a lot of technology focused businesses, a lot of emphasis is put on the technology itself and less on process. Process is key to making things run smoothly, otherwise you end up with single points of failure, breaks in the chain and reduced customer satisfaction.

It’s also really important to remember that just because something is done a certain way, it doesn’t mean it’s the most effective or efficient way to do something. Can a human process be automated? Can you communicate better? Communication breakdown is a big issue in the technology industry still, from how we convey messages to what we convey both internally and externally.

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

I think that the world is changing and equality is breaking through, but I believe that these barriers do still exist.

There is still prejudice against women in this area in some cases because they don’t fit the modus operandi of people in this industry. In order to overcome these barriers we all need to accept that men and women are different in a lot of ways and we need to play to that. We need to support women in tech and remind them that they are good enough, and that they are more than worthy of being in these roles because they bring a new perspective to the table. When these different mindsets come together, you can be more creative.

However, it’s also important to remember that not all men are stereotypical and neither are all women. This is a sweeping generalisation that should be avoided. I am contradicting myself slightly in answering this question. However, I think that is because contradiction and confusion still exists. I believe still that this innately goes back to caveman times and that sits within us still. However the important thing is that it is changing.

I think these barriers are overcome through time and learned experience. Support and interviews such as these are helping to raise women’s profiles in the industry and hopefully I can help just one woman on her journey by showing her that it is possible to achieve success in tech and be female.

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

I think there are multiple things that companies can do. The first thing is that appointing a senior female mentor to each woman trying to succeed would be of great benefit. I was very fortunate that the Operations Director I worked with for 10 years was a woman and she helped me a great deal in this area. Now I am able to do the same. I have a very intelligent and capable young woman on my team who is new to the world of cybersecurity. Over the last year we have been working on her confidence and abilities, and last month she won an award for her great work. This makes me proud!

I also think that businesses can make it easy for women to openly discuss these things. There should be an open communication culture, and talking about the challenges of being a female in a male dominated environment should be the norm – not something that women should be afraid to raise for fear of being cast as ‘emotional’ or ‘creating issues’.  Things are changing and we need to support these changes.

And also, lets not make women in tech an elephant in the room! Yes we are women! Lets not be afraid to acknowledge that.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, 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 think that this all revolves around perceptions. Perceptions of role models in the industry are men. I think we need to create more female role models and start to get a more female influence out there and celebrate their successes. You have to break the chain. If everything is designed and worked by men, then the outputs will always be reflective of that.

But also, maybe there is another reason only 17% of women work in tech. Maybe those 17% are interested in tech and the others aren’t? I am a woman in tech, maybe we need to ask the women who are not in tech to answer this question and try to build from there.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I am a big fan of Jim Rohn who made some very good points in his life about success and how to be successful. This is where I got the quote – ‘work on yourself harder than you work on your job’

I also cannot recommend enough the book ‘The road less travelled’ by Scott M Peck. This again is not a tech book, but a book about learning basic life skills that will set you up to handle challenge and difficulty.

But if I was to recommend any tech books at all then I would recommend the Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford. It tells the perfect story of typical IT /development functions and how they go wrong, and gives some super sound advice on how to fix these in an entertaining way rather than just reading a text book.

And lets not forget my earlier mentioned book ‘Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus’! Honestly this taught me some very important life lessons about the innate differences between men and women (apart from the obvious!)

Why do you think that women are shying away from working in tech?

I think that there is a misconception that the tech industry is all about reading logs, configuring various devices and reading binary. The tech industry is a very broad term – it is an industry after all! And within this industry (as with any), many different roles are needed to effectively run a business.

The tech industry in my view, focuses too much attention on the technology and not enough about the processes and customer experience. This industry needs transferable skills the same as any other and I think that women and men who are not technically focused will disregard these opportunities because it’s not an area of interest to them or they are intimidated by it.

I’ve lost track of the number of times on a daily basis that I hear ‘I’m not technical so I can’t do that’. Sometimes a technical mind is not needed – a problem solver or a manager or a process custodian is needed. This is a confidence issue, a mindset issue, and a communication issue. This desperately needs to change and we need to remove the stigma of saying ‘I don’t understand, could you possibly explain this to me another way please’.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here