Intelligence services may seem elusive and mysterious, but they need to recruit staff like any other organisation. Ensuring that there is a healthy supply of talent entering the cyber intelligence workforce will help ensure national security for years to come.

Jade Demnar, Assistant Director-General, General Technology Engagement at the Australian Signals Directorate discusses how she is working with universities to develop a new generation of cyber intelligence officials. She also discusses her move into the intelligence community and her experience working with individuals of varying digital literacy.

Tell us more about your role. How do you protect the digital realm and improve citizens’ lives?

I am the Assistant Director-General, Technology Engagement, at the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD). I am responsible for ensuring ASD’s new capabilities to protect Australians are delivered both effectively and efficiently – whether it’s through partnering with research institutions and universities to build our pipeline of incredible people, ensuring our portfolio manages risks and benefits appropriately, or through delivering new platforms to use across the cyber security community.

What sparked your interest in cybersecurity?

I love tackling big challenges and making a difference to help people. I was previously a management consultant for many years, and when I considered a move from the private sector into the public sector, I wanted to work in a place I felt was at the cutting edge of technology, and that had remit for our national security. What better place to do that in Australia than in ASD and the Australian Cyber Security Centre.

What has been the most impactful project of your career?

I’ve been lucky to work on so many incredible projects. Back when I was a consultant, we worked to digitise paper-based processes for field workers on behalf of a local city council. Some were very digitally savvy, whereas some had never even had a phone (let alone a smart phone). We had to ensure everyone was equipped to use mobile devices to complement their work, and that they followed appropriate security protocols to protect citizen data. This was a big learning experience in trying to communicate with people at all levels of the digital literacy scale, and helped me learn how to approach a variety of different requirements for different people.

What challenges would you like to take on in the next year?

One of my teams is responsible for boosting our applied research and academic institution partnerships to grow our capability pipeline. I am on a mission to ensure that as many university students as possible are aware of ASD and the work we do, especially in the cyber space. I also want ASD to continue to be audacious in concept and at the cutting edge of technology, by leveraging incredible innovative research and new technologies.

Who or what inspired you this year, and why?

I’ve been inspired by so many things this year so far. At work, the tenacity of our teams to continue to deliver incredible results throughout Covid-19 and lockdowns has been remarkable. They haven’t skipped a beat and I think cyber security has become even more important in a world where many people are working from home, and organisations have new challenges to manage the security of their networks.

On a personal level, my step-daughter was impacted by Australia’s bushfires in 2020, and has now had to navigate her senior school years learning from home during the pandemic. She will likely have to do her final exams in very tough circumstances, either online, or distanced from her peers. She loves languages and music, and seeing her commitment to learning through this time inspires me to continue to learn new things, regardless of the circumstance!

What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in cybersecurity?

There are so many opportunities out there, so I’d recommend you do some research to find roles that resonate with you. If you’re still studying, I suggest you reach out to potential employers to get their advice about what subjects you should consider. It’s also important to read lots and stay up to date with the latest tech and cyber news. Even if you’re not looking to work in cyber security right now, start researching opportunities now! And importantly, don’t let a perceived lack of skills deter you. You don’t have to have STEM or IT qualifications, and there are many skills that you can often learn on the job. If you’re enthusiastic, committed, proactive, and want to help others – there will be a role for you.

If you could sum up your life motto in one sentence, what would it be?

The grass is greener where you water it! Say yes to cool challenges, don’t let nerves get the best of you, and try and find the silver lining – or at least the learning opportunity – in everything.

Image courtesy of Australian Signals Directorate