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Crafting a career in cyber security

Q&A with Jacinda Erkelens, cyber security graduate

Q   What is your current role?
• I am a cyber security graduate in Telstra’s Cyber Security team. I’m currently on rotation in Partner Security. This team works with business stakeholders to secure the data of the Telstra Group entities and our customers where suppliers are involved providing services, or where third parties may access our information and network assets. My next rotation starts in a few months and I will move to a new team with Cyber Security to learn a new capability.
What drew you to study and build a career in cyber security?
• I did a security degree, which covers all things security. There was only one cyber security unit.
• When I was in third year, one of my friends convinced me to help her form a team for a cyber security competition. I believe she approached me because: 1 – I would be one of the few people to join and 2 – it required a coach in academia or industry, and she knew my Dad was in IT. I didn’t know it at the time, but that kickstarted my passion and career in cyber security.

Q  If you could implement one thing to help students ‘see’ cyber as a career option for them, what would it be?
• Popular culture exaggerates a few very specific roles in cyber security, so something that would expose students to the breadth and reality of cyber security roles, which are also cool, would be ideal.
One could make some type of simulation of a company, where the players role (eg pen tester, security architect, third party assessor etc) decision/s or lack of decisions’ impact is played out. By having a feature which would affect time, you could see the next 24 months within 20 seconds. This would be an interesting way of showing what impact a role/function has within an organisation, as well as how quickly technology and cyber security changes.

Q   What are the top CyberSTEM skills gap in the workforce?
• CyberSTEM is so broad it’s hard to narrow down what gaps there are. I would argue there is a preference to have skills in both technical (coding, architecture etc) and business (policy, risk etc). Unfortunately, current qualification do not mix these very different skills and people come out far stronger in one than the other.

Q  What would you tell a year 10 student considering a CyberSTEM career? Tips?
• Play around. There are lots of open source tools, YouTube videos and free learning courses. You will be surprised how much one can learn simply by going through Google’s CTF and following GitHub instructions.
• You are at school, look at your available resources. Talk to your career advisor and see what opportunities they can help you with – that is what they are there for after all. Start looking at university and/or TAFE options (if you haven’t been advised to already). There are usually open days and it’s good to hear from current students and those teaching. There is also the possibility to hear about any programs they run for high school students during holidays. I spent my holidays during the HSC at short university courses.
• Industry events and conferences. Now these don’t happen too often and will occasionally cost money (lucky most places do discounts for students) but students are always welcome, and often taken under the wing of an industry person with clout, to be taught or mentored.
Who inspires you and why? 
• People who facilitate change. To continue with the topic of cyber security for students, there are people who make an effort to host events and run workshops for students. Instead of just talking about the skills gap, they do something about it.
• It’s also inspiring to be around people with decades of experience. There is a team member in my Telstra team who has done it all a few times and as a result, in cases where I know of one way to solve a problem, he knows three or four. I hope one day I will be as knowledgeable as this person.

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