In June 2018 I was diagnosed by chance as being on the autistic spectrum, and it was like a lightbulb had switched on in my head. I finally understood why I had so much trouble relating to people, why I had been bullied so much throughout my life, why I struggled to make eye contact with people and why I felt so different and couldn’t relate to anyone. I started to raise awareness of cyber security as a career path for those who are neurodiverse and I am also a mentor to women who want to enter the industry.
For a long time, being a huge fan of Queen and Freddie Mercury, I had been looking forward to the release of the film “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which was a biopic of the band and of Freddie Mercury. When I watched the film for the first time in October 2018, I heard a line in it that completely resonated with me. That line was:
Fortune favours the bold.
I knew at that moment that my hard work in cyber security was only just beginning, and 2019 has seen me achieve things that I never thought possible. Having established myself as a cyber security industry thought leader and keynote speaker at conferences and events, I began to get recognised for my work in the cyber security industry. This year no-one was more shocked than I was to win a hat-trick of awards:
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 all deserve to be finalists.
Those awards mean the world to me. I have been through much adversity, especially over the last ten years. The life I am living now is not the life I thought I would have, I thought I would be a mother, but sadly it was not to be. Instead I channel my focus and energies into developing my cyber security career.
What does success mean to me?
Success to me does not mean having a multi-million-pound turnover businesses and the myriad of stresses that go with it. Success to me does not mean having offices with lots of members of staff to pay every month and having their livelihoods on my conscience. Success to me does not mean pushing myself to breaking point for my work. Success to me does not mean travelling to the office at the same time every day and leaving at the same time every day and getting stuck in traffic commuting.
None of this means success to me……
Success to me means being able to work remotely mainly from my fully equipped and state of the art home office. Success to me means being able to get up every day, have a coffee, take my dog for a walk and then start work at a time when everyone else is commuting and getting stressed in traffic or on trains that are running late. Success to me means being able to channel my passion and interest in cyber security into the UK Cyber Security Association whose mission statement is to raise awareness of cyber security and to educate everyone from small businesses, SME’s, large corporate companies and members of the general public as to the importance of cyber security and why they should take the growing cyber threat seriously. Success to me means being able to use my skills and experiences to be able to help others, either as a teacher or a mentor. Success to me means being able to do very best I can every day with the UK Cyber Security Association and anything else I do in the cyber security industry, and then stop to spend time with my husband Russell, my parents and my dog. After all the death, loss and grief that I have been through, my family is everything to me and comes before anything.
I believe in “paying it forward” and the “go-giving” movement. So many in the cyber security industry have helped me in the last ten years or more since I fully entered it that I want to give back to everyone who has offered me advice and who gave me resources to help me. Unfortunately, some in the cyber security industry have been less than helpful, and I have suffered from being bullied throughout my life which has been soul destroying. I am now a strong advocate for Bullying Awareness Week and the #StampOutBullying campaign. Despite what bullies have done to me, despite the betrayal and hurt I have endured in my lifetime and despite the challenges that life has brought me, I have prevailed, and I fully believe that karma will do its job one day.
Aside from my work in the cyber security industry I have other huge passions and interests. I have a huge interest in anything to do with nuclear war and I’ve written a book called “Picking Apart the Threads: How One BBC Docu-Drama on Nuclear War Influenced a Cold War Generation.” I have founded “International Freddie Mercury and Queen Day” on September 5 annually, which is Freddie Mercury’s birthday, to honour and remember him and to celebrate the music and legacy of Queen. I still love writing and blogging and I have won awards for my blog “Cyber Geek Girl”, which I update on a regular basis.
Life right now is still not without its challenges. I double up my work in cyber security with being a carer for my Dad who is now in ill health with epilepsy, significant mobility issues and possible dementia (we are currently going through the diagnosis process for this). As a consequence I never know when I will be needed or called upon to help with my Dad, which makes juggling my work quite challenging. I often need to reschedule meetings or appointments if my Dad has a seizure or if he needs me, and I do worry a lot that it makes me look and seem unreliable, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My Dad is my world.
Since seeing the film “Bohemian Rhapsody” and hearing the line “fortune favours the bold” in it, 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.” And you can, you absolutely can.
Coming in part 5….my advice to women who are looking to enter the cyber security industry.