Women in Cyber: Creating cybersecurity mentors in South Australia
By Sean Nolan
Paula Oliver, Manager of the AustCyber South Australia Node, shares how a culture of cybersecurity is being fostered across her state.
Paula Oliver, Manager, AustCyber South Australia (SA) Node, Department for Innovation and Skills, SA Government discusses how she is fostering a cybersecurity culture in her state. She explains how mentoring programmes, school curriculums and women's groups are creating awareness about cybersecurity.
Tell us more about your role. How do you protect the digital realm and improve citizens’ lives?
It’s all about AustCyber’s mission of growing, educating and exporting. Growing SA’s cyber industry to be vibrant, innovative and competitive and fostering a collaborative culture in SA as well as helping to grow a strong future talent pipeline! No two days are really the same, one day I can be meeting a new cyber start-up, the next attending a cyber career expo and the next (pre-Covid) on an international trade mission!
Best part is bringing people together and finding the ways for people to connect and produce greater outcomes together.
Knowing that we are growing an industry that is so important to all other industries in such a positive way certainly makes you feel as though you are contributing to a worthwhile cause.
Its fun, diverse and most of all rewarding!
What sparked your interest in cybersecurity?
I’d consider myself a bit of a cyber convert! Having previously worked for a number of years in ICT in SA Government, I had seen the introduction of this “security” thing and at first saw it as something which just really slowed everything down and was a bit of a barrier to any new process or technology we wanted to use…..until I was given the opportunity to work in the security and risk team and trained in understanding WHY security was there. Once I learnt what risks existed or were possible it was just such a no brainer, security needs to be addressed from the start – in design, in production in development etc.
It opened my eyes to just how far-reaching cyber security was and now is even more so. It isn’t something you can ignore unless of course you are prepared to accept those consequences and impacts!
Looking at everything through a different perspective just spurred me to help others understand. Running employee cyber awareness sessions and information security programs was inspiring to see people switching on to the importance of cyber security.
The role which I am in now has really opened my eyes even further to the breadth and depth of cybersecurity not only as a need within business and national security, but also in the way in which we live our lives day to day. Getting to know the cyber security companies in SA and the amazing technologies and capabilities they is so inspiring, and how cyber security is being used to demonstrate strength in product market as a means to be more competitive instead of a compliance tick box.
To see so many people trying to make a difference with creative and innovative projects and initiatives particularly in the skilling and education space, it is just great to be a part of something that you know is for the greater good.
Having a strong cyber security sector will ultimately underpin the future success of every industry in the our economy.
Gone are the days where I thought security was a barrier! Now its security as the enabler!
What has been the most impactful project of your career?
I feel as though they have all in some way been impactful, or at least I hope they have. But one project which I feel has had great reach and strong positive impacts has been the SA Cyber Edition Mentoring Program.
We first ran the program back in 2020 with a start-up company from Canberra called OK RDY who have an innovating mentor matching platform. We have just relaunched the program for its second year. It was initially designed to support the first cohorts of cyber trainees in SA but quickly expanded to support all people studying cyber security in South Australia to give them the best chance to kickstart and grow their career in cyber.
We have some amazing willingness here in South Australia for people to help one another on their journeys and so lots of willing mentors generously donating their time to help emerging talent into the industry.
We’ve seen some fantastic success stories from the first year with some students really being able to identify where they want to go and even landing their first job! We hope 2021/22 brings many more.
What challenges would you like to take on in the next year?
There are too many to choose from! A couple of key areas I would love to tackle in 2022 would be cyber education and more women in cyber as well as regional outreach.
First being programs to increase the number of women in cyber – we have made some progress to date but there is still such a gap in gender that more needs to be done. In the past 12 months the SA Node has supported two females from University of Adelaide undertake their project placements with industry and also sponsored placements for females on a number of training courses. As a member of Australian Women in Security Network (AWSN) I am always looking for opportunities to bring more females into the industry and shine a light on their amazing capability. Ensuring there is strong female representation in our speakers at events and actively mentoring women entering or transitioning into the workforce are all small ways which help. But 2022 is definitely going to be the year of women in cyber for the SA Node!
The second area to tackle is cyber education for our young people. Delivering cyber security education and skilling into primary schools as well as high schools. We have seen a number of initiatives surface in the past twelve months which have really made strides to strengthen the education sector in SA as it relates to cyber, with activities such as Cyber Security Training workshops for teachers (via the University of Adelaide) as well as SACE - South Australian Certificate of Education – trialling cyber curriculum in schools and cyber traineeships established. These are all very positive signs that cyber is now being recognised not only as an industry which can provide a career pathway opportunity, but also now an essential life skill. Regardless of what industry our children end up working in, or what career path they choose, our next generations have a digital life ahead of them and it needs to be secure and safe for them to live and work in.
Tackling awareness of cyber much earlier, beginning in primary schools is something which would provide an opportunity for early intervention to ensure greater safety online and to hopefully provide greater insight into what opportunities the sector means.
It was great to see Palo Alto’s CyberSAfe Kids program launch this year from SA and I’m hoping to see and support more activities such as this in the years ahead.
Who or what inspired you this year, and why?
My children have certainly been my inspiration this year. Seeing how adaptable and resilient they have been through Covid-19 and helping grow an industry knowing that what we do is important to their futures makes the world of difference in terms of motivation! I strive to have their optimism and their creative thinking.
What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in cybersecurity?
DO IT! Make the leap and jump in. Forget the cliched stereotype of cyber being the hooded young male tech geek.
Women bring diversity in thinking, and a different perspective. Diversity in thinking is essential in cyber, being able to think ahead of the game and consider all possible options or outcomes means we need a variety of thinking to be able to be the most prepared we can be.
If you are contemplating a career in cyber or pivoting into a new career know that in Cyber there is a role for everyone. The breadth of cyber roles and its relevance to so many sectors means that there is choice! Both technical and none technical options.
Employers recognise and appreciate that not everyone needs to have a degree these days either, if you have the right attitude and aptitude and are willing to learn there are pathways for you. If you find the right employer then they will be willing to invest in training you in areas you need. But recognition of transferable skills is something which goes a long way. Certifications, micro credentialling, self learning.
We need cyber trainers and educators, we need analysts and we need advisors. We need policy writers we need incident responders, we need lawyers and we need managers. These are just a few examples which show how broad the role and career opportunities are.
If you have come from the finance sector for example and want to move into cyber, you will be bringing with you a wealth of transferable insights and skills which will be valued by an employer.
If you are interested in a career in cyber check out a nice workforce framework for cybersecurity which provides all the detail on the different categories skill areas as well as roles in cyber security. This will help you understand perhaps where your skills set has the strongest alignment to a particular category of cyber and from there help you identify a role. AWS cyber has an amazing dashboard on its website where you can explore the nice framework. I would also recommend that you look at joining AWSN. This amazing network of women working in security across Australia have recently launched training programmes including for introductory levels for women who want to work in cyber or are already working in cyber to advance their skills and capabilities. This group also has a strong networking community and helps you to connect to like minded women in your state or territory and become part of that community. The last piece of advice would be to seek out a mentor. In fact seek out many mentors. Mentors that work in the industry that you want to work in as well as those that work outside of it are also beneficial. If you're in SA, consider joining the SA cyber edition mentoring program!
If you could sum up your life motto in one sentence, what would it be?
All you can do is your best! Get up, dress up, turn up, but don’t give up!