Senior Lieutenant Colonel Vicky Wang leads her troops to give early warning to national cyber attacks, and protect military networks. How did she prepare for this role?

As Commander of the Singapore Armed Forces’ Cyber Defence Group, Wang stands on the frontlines of defending the country’s cyberspace. She trained as a signals officer and underwent rigorous training, spending four months at Fort Gordon where the US Army Cyber Corps is based.

But not all cyber professionals’ paths look the same. How can budding cybersecurity talents get a headstart, and what should mid career switchers looking to pivot to a new field do? Wang, along with two cyber leaders, share their advice on Singapore International Cyber Week’s Women in Cyber panel.

Be flexible

First, don’t be limited by your course of study. Wang holds triple majors in psychology, political science and East Asian studies. Tan Chen Kee, Divisional Director of Student Development Curriculum at the Ministry of Education, is a biology teacher by training. Today, she designs cyber curriculum for schools.

“There’s room for everyone,” assured Heather Ricciuto, an Academic Outreach Leader at IBM Security, Canada. “I have a degree in business and a degree in French, and here I am now talking on a daily basis about cybersecurity.” She works globally to raise cybersecurity awareness and discover talent.

Ricciuto sees this trend across her organisation. “We have people in IBM Security with degrees in history and political science – in musical theater, for heaven’s sake – and former teachers and lawyers,” she added.

Those looking to switch to a cyber career from another industry shouldn’t worry too much. Technical skills can be learned, and there are plenty of transferable skills from other domains, she said. “In cybersecurity, we talk often about the value of curiosity, the passion for continuous learning, collaboration skills, and communication skills,” she explained.

Be curious

Tan has a resounding message for young people interested in cybersecurity: be curious. “Don’t wait around for your teachers to come and give you the information,” she said.

It’s now easier than ever for people to find out about the cyber field. Ricciuto pointed to the International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC2), a nonprofit organisation that provides cybersecurity training. They could even join interest groups such as Women of Cybersecurity to meet people in the field.

Raise awareness

The industry has an important role to play in training more cyber experts. Ricciuto started CyberDay4Girls to teach young girls about cyber hygiene and the opportunities in the cyber industry.

The latter is something cyber professionals need to talk more about, said Ricciuto. “Teachers and parents and guidance counselors are not all equipped to talk about cybersecurity themselves,” she explained.

Ricciuto sits on several advisory boards to build awareness for the need for cybersecurity skills. This is one important way for cyber professionals to “give back”, she noted.

The programmes she advises reach out to school children and graduate students. “The need for this awareness spans all ages, frankly, and we need to get to young people to help them understand that we need them to work in cybersecurity,” she said.

Teach cyber responsibility

Schools are well-placed to equip the next generation with cyber skills. Cyber experts have spoken of the need to teach the implications of poor cyber hygiene at the Singapore International Cyber Week. “It starts with education and it starts with the young,” Tan believes.

Users also need to learn cyber responsibility from young. “Imagine if I’m just careless for a moment. I affect everybody else, I affect my family, my community, my school, my organisation,” she explained. “So it’s a matter of imbuing in them a sense of responsibility.”

Singapore does this through its character citizenship education curriculum, which it enhanced earlier this year. Schools will spend more time discussing cyber wellness issues, according to The Straits Times. “In these past eight months, it’s just become very apparent that this is crucial, and it needs to anchor all the things we do with education,” Tan said.

Digital societies can only go as far as their security allows them to. Nations will need leagues of cyber aces to step up and secure their network frontlines. Schools, industry and individuals will each have a part to play to raise the next generation of cyber experts.