How to inspire careers in cybersecurity

In this article, Robert Hannigan, Chairman of cybersecurity firm BlueVoyant International discusses several ways that companies can diversify the cybersecurity industry and inspire careers in the sector.

Addressing the Skills Gap

The cybersecurity skills gap is the biggest single issue facing the sector. The skills shortage isn’t going to improve overnight; tackling this problem requires more collaboration between the government and private sector.

It is a strategic necessity to ensure that more people from underrepresented communities, such as women and ethnic minorities, are empowered to pursue a career in cyber. Not only will this provide a much larger pool of talent, but it also ensures there is a greater diversity of experiences and viewpoints, which will be important in keeping up to speed with the tactics deployed by cyber-attackers.

Improving Accessibility of Careers

Although great strides are being made within the industry, with the introduction of cyber internships and mentoring schemes for disadvantaged communities, persistence and patience are required to see results stemming from such initiatives. It’s going to take some years to actually shift the overall picture on cyber-skills, but we have to be open to trying new things.

As well as making a cybersecurity career more accessible to those from underrepresented groups, the sector needs to become more inclusive to those from non-technical backgrounds. Organisations should be open-minded and not have tunnel-vision for a candidate with a computer science degree; they should be much more open to experience and aptitude.

We’ve been much too traditional in the cyber sector in the way we recruit and measure skills, and it is very possible to learn technical skills outside of traditional academic settings. This is why initiatives like apprenticeships are especially important in enabling this.

Acquiring Technical Skills to Succeed

My background is not deeply technical, so I’ve had to learn along the way, either by asking others or studying. The great thing about the cyber age is that yes, there’s a skills shortage, but if you want to acquire those skills you can gain these through online courses.

However, it doesn’t substitute for years of technical practice, so it’s important to be honest about what you do and don’t know. New technical skills can be acquired in a number of ways. For example, you can regularly ask questions of colleagues with greater levels of expertise in order to learn from them. Additionally, there are a number of great online training resources in cyber that can be utilised by those considering switching careers.

Making a Career Change

It’s incredibly important for companies to emphasise that it’s never too late to join the industry, and to learn new skills in cyber. Therefore, as well as focusing on underrepresented groups, such as women, we should try to encourage mid-career people to switch across and to specialise in at least one niche area of cyber. You don’t have to be 20 years old to do this.

Cybersecurity is a team sport, made up of different, but equally important, individuals. Although we focus on technology in cyber, it is actually all about people. If you bring the right people with the right skills together, that’s when amazing things can happen. That’s true in GCHQ and it’s also true in the private sector. For more experienced people, it’s all about having some humility around your own role and enabling others to be their best.