By: Lisa Ventura, CEO & Founder, UK Cyber Security Association and a finalist in the Security Leader/ Mentor in the Security Serious Unsung Heroes Awards 2019
I have been in the cyber security industry for over ten years, and my career did not go in a straightforward linear line. It has had many twists and turns, false starts and failures but one thing is certain – I never gave up. Everything I’ve been through over the years has taught me a valuable lesson that has got me to where I am today.
I started off my career in a very different industry – the entertainment industry. Straight from studying I spent seven years working with Chris Tarrant, the host of the hugely popular and globally successful gameshow “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.” However, alongside this my ex-husband was in the IT industry as a coder, document management specialist, disaster recovery specialist and eventually be became an ethical hacker. I was absolutely fascinated with what he did and would often quiz him about his work, and I was intrigued by the psychology of hacking and cyber security.
In 2008 my ex-husband invented a software tool that identifies undetected vulnerabilities in routers, switches and firewalls. It provides exact fixes to help organisations stay compliant and stay secure. To cut a long story short, I joined his company when he founded it in 2009 and it grew organically very quickly. This was how I formally entered the cyber security industry and when we separated and subsequently divorced in 2012, I knew that I wanted to stay in the industry.
I joined BT and worked on their Assure Cyber product following on from what I did at my ex-husband’s company. However, in 2013 I remarried and found out that I was expecting a baby boy that would have significant disabilities, so I arranged to leave BT and put my career on hold to be a full-time mother to my son who would need 24 hour round the clock care. Having done this, my son was subsequently stillborn. It changed me forever.
At this point I had two choices – I could merely survive, or I could thrive. I chose to thrive, and thrive I did, despite a myriad of further close family bereavements that affected me greatly. I also had to accept that I would never be a mother. That part of my life was over. It was at this point I had an idea to create a trade association for the cyber security industry – and the UK Cyber Security Association was born.
The UK Cyber Security Association (UKCSA), a membership association that is dedicated to raising awareness of the growing cyber threat to its members who range from individuals who actively work in the cyber security industry, businesses of all sizes from small to SMEs to large corporates and the general public. The association provides information that is easy to understand and assimilate so that all members and subscribers can understand the growing cyber threat and how they can take an active role in preventing cyber-attacks and cyber fraud.
In addition, I work tirelessly to raise awareness of the cyber skills gap and neurodiversity and cyber security. As someone who was diagnosed as autistic in June 2018, I am a huge supporter of cyber security as a career path for those who are neurodivergent.
However, one of the biggest areas of my work is raising awareness of cyber security as a career path for women, and this is where I channel my skills as a mentor to help women who may want to enter the cyber security industry but who feel put off or intimidated by joining what is still considered today to be a largely male dominated profession.
Alongside my work as the CEO and Founder of the UK Cyber Security Association I have become a cyber security thought leader, author and keynote speaker at conferences and events. I have been published in various publications globally including Counter Terror Business Magazine, FC Business Magazine, Global Europa, SciTech Europa, International Financial Law Review and more. I’ve also taken part in numerous panel discussions, podcasts, interviews and videos and I am currently writing a book called “The Rise of the Cyber Woman” which is a collection of first-hand and personal accounts from women who have entered the cyber security industry. This book is designed to inspire other women to consider cyber security as their profession.
This year no-one was more shocked than I was to win a hat-trick of awards:
Contribution to Cyber Security – SC Awards Europe
Cyber Security Personality of the Year – Cyber Security Awards UK
Cyber Security Supporter of Women – Women in Cyber Security Awards USA
I am also a finalist in this year’s Computing Security Awards in the Contribution to Cyber Security category, and I am proud, humbled and honoured to be a finalist in the Security Leader/Mentor category for this year’s Security Serious Unsung Heroes awards. Just to be a finalist is a huge honour – everyone in every category is working so hard to combat today’s growing cyber threats and you are all amazing.
There are a few mantra’s that have helped me get to where I am today, and the first one is “fortune favours the bold.” I am a huge fan of the rock band Queen and Freddie Mercury, so when I first saw the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” for the first time I heard that mantra in the film and it clicked completely with me.
Since then I have been bold and asked for things that have helped to progress my work and my career. I have asked people who I have admired in the cyber security industry if they would mentor me, and they said yes. I have been asked to be a mentor, and I have agreed. I asked leading figures if I could interview them for my blog and the UK Cyber Security Association website, and they said yes, and I did it. I could go on, but I think you get the idea!
Another mantra I have is “follow your dreams, and don’t let the b**tards grind you down.” I heard this from the great actor Brian Blessed when he gave a talk at Worcester Cathedral in 2012. But the mantra that sticks in my mind the most was from Professor Sue Black, who I had admired greatly for many years, and it is this. “If I can do it, so can you.”
Having a mentor has helped me in my journey and if it wasn’t for my mentors I would not be where I am today. They kept me going when I wanted to give up, they helped to give me confidence when people were nasty to me and bulled me (and I have suffered bullying my entire life). They helped me to grow my skills, be accountable for my actions and helped me to expand my network. I knew that I wanted to give back and be a mentor myself, and I now help many others by being their mentor. Life often doesn’t go the way we want it to, nor does it follow a straight line. There are also times that we don’t get what we want in life, and through sharing all the experiences that I’ve had in both my career and my life in general, I can help others achieve their goals.
To anyone reading this who might be interested in entering the cyber security industry, you can absolutely do it. I will help you. I will be your mentor. I will pass on as much of my knowledge, skills and experience as I can. Be bold, be bright and never, ever let anyone dull your beautiful sparkle – no matter who they are. No-one has that right. You matter. Your thoughts and opinions matter. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.
Fortune really does favour the bold.