The IT Security Guru’s Most Inspiring Women in Cyber Awards aims to shed a light on the remarkable women in our industry. The following is a feature on just one of the many phenomenal women put forward for the 2021 awards. Presented in a Q&A format, the nominee’s answers are written in their own words with minor edits made by the editor for readability.
This year, the awards are sponsored by KPMG and Beazley.
Sophia McCall, Security Consultant, NCC Group
What does your job role entail?
Penetration testing and general cyber security consultancy.
How did you get into the cybersecurity industry?
I originally wanted to be a programmer, but after two years of building things – I found that breaking things was a lot more fun! With the encouragement of my college lecturers, I took a leap of faith and applied to do a BSc Cyber Security Management degree at Bournemouth University. Alongside my managerial degree, which mainly focused on strategical cyber security, I also completed CTFs and labs on the side – which sparked my interest in technical cyber security. From the first competition, I was hooked and knew that the technical path was the way for me. Following a placement year as a pen-testing intern, I was offered a graduate role off the back of that – and gladly accepted which paved the start of my post-graduate career in cyber security.
What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced as a woman in the tech/cyber industry and how did you overcome it?
On my university course, there was a huge imbalance of male to female ratio of course attendees. There must have been about 10 girls in a class of 70/80 – and this made it difficult to “fit in” and bend the stereotype of a nerdy, white male in cyber security. I had a lot of people challenge me about my achievements, such as saying I was a “diversity pick” or that I would never succeed in security but I could “flirt my way to the top”. I was even told, “women can’t be in cyber security”! This only fueled my urge to succeed, and to help combat the misogyny in cyber security, I created the brand “Security Queens” with two other females working and studying in security to empower females and encourage diversity.
What are your top three greatest accomplishments you have achieved during your career so far?
- Captaining Team UK at the European Cyber Security Challenge 2019
- Starting “Security Queens”
- Having my undergraduate dissertation about automotive hacking published by IEEE
What are you doing to support other women, and/or to increase diversity, in the tech/cyber industry?
Alongside “Security Queens”, I also work with the NCSC’s Cyber Schools Hub to promote cyber security as a career choice, in particular to girls and young females. I’ve hosted female-only workshops, as well as helped mentor students competing in the CyberFirst girls competitions. I hope that sharing my experience (as well as showing how awesome cyber security is!) will help encourage women to join the cyber security workforce, as well as educate the current industry about the underlying prejudices of females in the workforce.
What is one piece of advice you would give to girls/women looking to enter the cybersecurity industry?
Hold your head high and go for it, there will be barriers – but the community and industry as a whole are so welcoming and supportive. You’ll never be alone!