Andrew Neel

Cybersecurity offers an abundance of fantastic opportunities, not only for personal and professional growth but also for the chance to actively be part of the fight against cyber-criminals, writes Sotiria Giannitsari, Head of Community at Hack The Box.

Cybersecurity professionals are also highly sought-after worldwide due to a 3.4 million skills gap, offering lucrative career prospects. The exciting news is that more and more women are also breaking barriers and finding their place in cybersecurity.

For me, I knew at an early age I wanted to work in tech. I went to university with the desire of becoming a software engineer and completed a Computer Science degree to get there. It was during university that I was introduced to the world of ethical hacking, and the concept of hacking to help people, and this ignited a passion in me that I have carried ever since. Now I’m Head of Community at Hack The Box, the ultimate hacking playground and cybersecurity upskilling platform.

Here are some pointers I wish I’d had early on in my career and for anyone looking to enter the industry.

Practice and curiosity are your greatest allies

To start of with, curosity is everything. When entering or exploring a new field, it’s important to engage in practice and continuous learning. While this may initially seem overwhelming, it can also be an incredibly enjoyable experience. During my time at university, I organised and participated in sleepless hackathons that lasted the entire weekend, collaborating with friends to teach one another new hacking skills.

So, solve all the puzzles on all the free cyber training platforms you can find and take part in things like Capture the Flag Competitions (CTFs).  These are online competitions where teams or individuals test their cyber skills in a race to solve challenges and capture the ‘flag’ – a secret code that unlocks points or rewards. These programs are often open to players at all skill levels and are a fantastic way to test the water. Not only that, but participation in CTFs can help you stand out to employers.

Foster both soft and hard skills

While cybersecurity is often perceived as an industry dominated by extensive technical knowledge and hard skills, it’s important to recognise that great cyber experts possess essential soft skills as well.

Hacking revolves around continuous trial and error, making qualities such as dedication, persistence, and creativity crucial for success. Despite the prevailing stereotype of “cyber geeks,” effective communication skills hold significant importance. The ability to convey improvements, potential threats, and their consequences to management and stakeholders calmly and clearly is critical.

Additionally, writing skills are incredibly valuable. As you hack, you will need to document each step you make, so start building a database of tools that will help you write reports from the get-go. So, don’t be afraid if you’re thinking of making the switch but fear technical prowess might get in the way.

When it comes to hard skills, start with a basic understanding of how a computer works and learn a programming language. Python is a good place to start.

Network and build connections

Last, but not least, it’s all about the people around you. One of the best things about working in cybersecurity is the community of enthusiasts, self-taught hackers and experts.

It’s important to maximise this and connect with mentors and role models. This can be done just by finding leading researchers on Twitter and Linkedin. Check out their “following” list and connect with these people too, as they are a good source of inspiration and motivation. Subscribe to newsletters and join platforms like Hack The Box that not only offers a space to learn, but to interact with like-minded individuals.

Businesses have their share of work to do too

However, it would be unfair to solely burden women with the responsibility. There are numerous initiatives that businesses, governments, and the education sector can undertake to encourage greater female participation in the cybersecurity industry.

The first step is to address and eliminate unconscious bias and entry barriers that may exist within the hiring process. Although challenging, this can be accomplished through proactive recruitment practices and the provision of equal opportunities for women to enter and advance in the field.

Establishing mentorship programmes and networking opportunities specifically for women will not only attract more individuals to the industry but also help retain those already working in cybersecurity. This support is crucial in instilling confidence and empowering women to pursue career advancement in the field.

It is also vital to continue promoting cybersecurity education and awareness in schools and universities. By doing so, a pipeline of talented individuals can be cultivated, and the visibility of women in the field can be enhanced.

We need to and can address cyber gaps with better female representation

While there is undoubtedly much work ahead, I wholeheartedly encourage all women and young girls to take the leap and explore opportunities in the cybersecurity industry. The industry greatly needs increased female representation, and by joining forces, we can not only address the skills gap and safeguard critical systems that drive our world but also foster a flourishing sector that embraces inclusivity and diversity.