Inspirational Woman: Julia Ward | Principal Client and Markets Liaison, WithSecure

Julia WardJulia combines a mastery of the threats and opportunities that organizations face when it comes to information technology with a keen understanding of the wider context of how policy works, and technical research affects economic ecosystems.

Her work as the Principal Client & Markets Liaison for WithSecure as part of the CTO’s office continually blazes new paths in the industry, both for clients and professionals beginning their cyber security journey.

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

As the Principal Client and Markets Liaison for WithSecure™, I work as a director in the CTO office, which supports innovations within and beyond our existing businesses. I bring to my work an understanding of the challenges faced by organisations when it comes to cyber security, which has helped me to take on additional responsibilities during my time with the company.

I coordinated WithSecure’s response to the EU consultation on Digital Operational Resilience for the Financial Services sector, informing the process with insights gained by working intimately with the largest financial institutions in the UK.

A year later I became a certified cyber risk practitioner, which has helped me to be able to communicate the intricacies of cyber security in terms everyone can understand. I find that I can give this advice in a way that is easy to digest to a variety of audiences.

Additionally, I represent WithSecure at the Tech Accord, a collaboration of over 150 organisations fighting cybercrime across five continents. During my career, I have presented to the Westminster Parliamentary Forum on emerging tech, and I initiated the Greater Manchester Cyber Foundry Clinic to support small businesses with free cyber security advice. In an effort to bring people together to share knowledge, I established a series of ‘Inoffensive Security’ meetups face to face in Manchester and online.

I’m passionate about making a difference. I love understanding what makes people tick and unearthing challenges to solve. I’m full of ideas and enjoy brainstorming and collaboration. I get huge fulfilment from solving problems and helping people. I also find technology fascinating. Though I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘technical’ person, I’ve always worked in roles that have required technical understanding.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I had vague visions of the type of role I wanted but had no idea how to get there. I certainly didn’t plan to be in technology, but I was drawn to it because I found it interesting and find the possibilities associated with it fascinating.

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

Challenges early in my career included being the only woman at trade shows and being asked where my male colleagues were so they could be asked technical questions about our company’s products. Being referred to as ‘eye candy’ in this atmosphere (yes, unfortunately, that happened) was very hurtful. I overcame this by answering technical questions myself and presenting audiences with technical demonstrations, although, it took some resilience to be taken seriously.

In cyber security, I feared the mountain of knowledge I would seemingly need ranging from acronyms to detailed complexities. I overcame this primarily by having fantastic colleagues, sitting alongside some of the best minds in the industry, asking them questions and working through the logic of technology. My curiosity and love for technology has kept me asking questions, even to this day.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest career highlight was representing the cyber security industry perspective on the topic of supporting emerging technology in the UK at a Westminster policy forum.

The work I am most proud of is bringing together leaders from numerous industries for candid, off-the-record debates about how to best confront the security complications that arise when organisations face constant demands to adopt, innovate and optimise new technologies. I’m continually interested to discover what is on the minds of security leaders and why – not just that, for example, ‘Cloud is complex’ but why is it so? And what do you wish you could do about it? The three years I spent leading this forum helped fine-tune my ability to act as an interlocutor between business and security stakeholders. The insights gained from the constant engagement with the wider world guided me as I sought out new challenges whilst driving internal R&D for a company that forged new trails in cyber security for more than three decades.

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

The courage to overcome the fear of failure and learning that nothing I set my mind to is unachievable.

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

I would suggest that everyone should find mentors, role models and networks to join. Seeking community guidance and asking questions is key, you will be surprised at how many people are willing to help.

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

As with any environment, people tend to stick with what they feel comfortable with and sometimes the loudest voice in the room is still the one most listened to. The more that women are referenced for their ideas the better; unfortunately, we still need to prove that we deserve a seat at the table.

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

Consistently ensuring an inclusive company culture breeds an environment of curiosity, learning and knowledge sharing.

Much too often, office socials and recreational areas are geared towards the alpha male stereotypes. For example, I have spoken to women in technology who find the idea of “pizza and beer” socials off-putting, so these issues should be considered in the planning stage.

There are currently only 21 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?

Women in younger age groups are still not made aware of the opportunities that are out there. More hands-on experience with technology and ‘day in the life’ stories from women in the space would spread the word. This could greatly impact those in school, increasing the number of women seeking opportunities in technology.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

When I first started in the cyber security industry, a wise colleague advised me to watch the Harvard Computer Science (CS50) lectures on YouTube. These are very accessible, logic-driven lectures that gave me a good fundamental understanding of how computers work and with this understanding, it was much easier for me to imagine how the technology could be maliciously interfered with.

It’s also a good idea to keep up with cyber security news, I find the Sans News Bites a very good summary.