In our series 'Tech Talks, my career journey' we dive into the career journeys of individuals from across the tech industry.
Our aim? To motivate, spark curiosity and inspire.
By exploring the challenges, triumphs and experiences of our talent network, through this series we will highlight that there are opportunities for all in the tech industry. In a sector that has been traditionally seen as lacking in diversity, we want to inspire people from all backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, levels of experience and education, to realise their digital ambitions.
In this Tech Talk, Account Manager Jessica Thompson speaks to CEO and co-founder of th4ts3curity.company Eliza-May Austin about her career, her role models and her advice for women on getting in tech.
What were your career aspirations when you were growing up?
I didn’t have any specifics. I knew I wanted to be the boss, wear a skirt suit and stomp around in heels. I pretty much did all of that - it's as satisfying as it sounds!
Who is your all-time role model?
Did you ever see ‘Casper’ (1995)? I was oddly inspired by Carrigan, and unfortunately for the world I think she may be my spirit animal... I have always felt inspired by strong women who, love’em or loathe’em, do whatever the hell they want!
You have forged a successful career in tech – in your opinion, is the industry now a more accessible career path (for women)?
Yes definitely. There is a common sense recognition now that we need more people defending our national infrastructure. As business owners we can’t afford to discriminate against anyone, and that includes white men too, regardless of pressing narratives. You have to hire whoever is best and more and more women are fitting that bill, which is awesome. Mostly women stick together in cyber security too, which makes the industry a much friendlier place for everybody.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your career? Do you think this relates specifically to the Tech industry being male dominated?
Cybersecurity is no more sexist than any other industry I’ve worked in or had exposure to. It’s just that there are so few women to counteract it, so potentially negative male behaviours largely go unchecked. My biggest challenge has been Ladies Hacking Society. Getting it going, keeping it alive and trying to manage it alongside running a business.
What is your proudest achievement?
There have been many! I think when a company left a large vendor and came to us (th4ts3cur1ty.company) for our services instead. That was pretty cool.
Do you think education or experience is more important when looking on embarking on a tech career?
Experience. Academic achievements are great and they represent an ability to work to a certain level, sustained interest and a degree of seriousness about the subject. BUT you don’t need ANY academic achievements to work in cyber security. Those who claim you do normally have invested interest in academia.
I know some fantastic people working in both heavily technical and non technical roles who don’t have a qualification to their name. There are different learning styles and academic certificates represent just one.
Do you have any advice for balancing home and work life?
Drink wine! Seriously, you have to let your hair down from time to time, If I didn’t have my occasional night in with my girlfriends, with zero work chat I’d probably implode.
There is a lot of emphasis on people being a proud workaholic, as if it’s a badge of honor. Well I’m afraid when you are the boss you have a duty to set an example and I don’t want people I value and respect to burn out. Therefore, a none infosec life is absolutely encouraged.
What one thing have you learnt during your career that you could pass on?
Cybersecurity is weird, it’s a huge sea of subtopics, each with deep specialisms. You are not EVER going to know everything, and thinking you ever will shows a lack of understanding and respect for the complexities of the industry. Chill out, be kind to yourself, respect the fact that it’s going to take some time to hone skills and acquire knowledge. Get your head down and get on with it and before you know it you’ll be the smartest person in the room. By then it’s time to move to the next room.
Do you have any advice for any future talent looking for a career in tech?
There is a wealth of free information out there just waiting for you: edx.org, udemy.com, pluralsight.com, cybrary.it and more all offer free or easily affordable training. Experiment with the different topics of cybersecurity, see what inspires you and try going with it. There’s no rush, enjoy it.
Shout out 3 incredible people in your network that are doing great things!
1.Pat Ryan, she is a total 'shero'. I only recently became acquainted with her, she's in her 80s, worked in National Defence for many years and is a philanthropist. She also founded ‘Cyber First Girls’. I smile from ear to ear whenever I hear from her, such a brilliant person.
2.Christopher Hadnagy, he founded the innocent lives foundation, they track paedophiles and aid in their prosecution to protect children. You can donate here: https://www.innocentlivesfoundation.org/donate/
3.Is it cheating if I pick my own business partner Stephen Ridgway? He’s a great person to work with, we hate each other from time to time, and I’m pretty sure we’ve said some unforgivable things to one another, running a startup is (at times) stressful, but there is no one in the world I’d rather run a business with.
If relevant, how have you dealt with the hurdles of career transition and /or returning to the workplace?
EVERY industry, job, interest has its downsides, that’s life. When we strive to eradicate things we don’t like we make things dull for everybody. I’m lucky I’ve worked in some brilliant places, with some wonderful people. I’ve also been in a couple of awful situations in this industry, but I learnt from them and those lessons will benefit my company’s culture. So the hurdles do come down, you just have to give’em some welly.
In conclusion, are there any other comments you would like to make?
We live in a unique time of extreme entitlement, no one owes you, no one owes you a career opportunity because of a personal characteristic. No one owes you a job, no one owes you an award, a social media plug or an invite to an event. Cybersecurity is the fastest growing industry in the world, don’t wait for the opportunity, create it.