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Insights How Suzanne went from military intelligence to cyber consultant

Meet Suzanne Wharton, a talented cyber security consultant in the Cyber Security Operational Technology Team at Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group. Her role is to provide cyber security advice, guidance, and effective resilient solutions for operational technology (hardware and software used to control industrial equipment, including across critical infrastructure). This is to ensure that the likelihood of incidents akin to STUXNET, WannaCry, or the Darkside targeting of Colonial Pipeline are reduced for our critical infrastructure.

Her colleagues describe her as an independent thinker, critical analyst and motivational leader.


Suzanne, what did you do at the Ministry of Defence (MoD)?


Before joining Atkins in September 2020, I was a military intelligence operator in the British Army for over 12 years. It was an exciting job that took me around the world to places including Germany, Norway, Kenya, China, and Afghanistan. 

I provided written assessments on political, military, economic, social or security-related events and their impact on ongoing or potential military activity. I was responsible for maintaining a detailed threat picture for overseas deployments. I also spent much of my career looking at the security measures at military establishments, ensuring they aligned with the MoD's policies and procedures.

What was it like transitioning into life at Atkins?


I choose to leave the military without spending any significant time looking at what I wanted to do instead. I knew I needed and wanted a change, but I wasn't sure what that change was, where it would take me or where my skills would fit. I spent time self-reflecting to find out what I wanted out of life—what I did and didn't enjoy doing, where I wanted to be, and what my hooks back were.

Once I had an idea of the area I wanted to go into, I signed up to several forums, online learning courses and careers fairs to understand the opportunities available. Unfortunately, my resettlement time was impacted by COVID lockdowns, however, thankfully many organizations were still participating in online virtual career fairs. It was at one of these that I first encountered Atkins.

From these early conversations I realised that Atkins understood my background and how to interpret my skills, understanding and experience, and were willing and committed to put time and effort into my development. They also could see the limitations I had placed on myself due to my location. 

"From my first call with Atkins all the way through to today, I have found the organization to be nothing but supportive. From day one, the culture and environment have focussed on helping me to progress my knowledge while encouraging me to use many of the skills I had developed within the military (self-discipline, team player, problem solving, leadership, and soft skills), to excel with colleagues and clients."


How has Atkins and our Partnering with the Armed Forces (PwAF) programme supported you as a veteran?


Atkins has provided me with a platform that allows me to excel, despite not necessarily having the appropriate educational certifications. The programme has given me an additional support network should it be required. It allows me to share my experiences transitioning out of the military with other serving personnel considering leaving the forces, which was something I found very useful when I was in resettlement. 

What skills from your military background have you found particularly useful in your career at Atkins? 


I was trained to listen to and understand customer requirements. I can look at the client's wider environment and understand where the ask came from and its intended purpose. This helps me pre-empt any likely additional asks. I can also identify crossovers with other work-streams underway with other team members. 

Thanks to my military background, I can negotiate work-stream requirements; manage and prioritize time and tasks; evaluate data; research, compile and interpret information; apply logic and determine patterns; then clearly and persuasively share any findings.

What key pieces of advice would you give to someone looking to transition from the military?


Breathe… Life outside the military is not scary. You have some life experiences that others couldn’t even imagine and has placed you in some unusual situations. This gives you a unique way of looking at things, and a solution focused approach to work.

Spend some quality time looking at what you want personally and professionally. Think about what you enjoy and what you need financially to live comfortably. 

There are many opportunities available outside of the military, and you can be better off for it if you understand these things when you go into resettlement.


What is it like being a woman at Atkins?


Atkins has a strong focus on empowering women and ensuring they can bring their true self to work, including a specific training programme (INSPIRE) which focuses on female development. I also see the organization making tangible improvements to gender balance. Employees are co-creating an environment where women can share their new ideas, best practice, and concerns.

The organization has also signed up to some pledges in the markets I work in, including the AXIS Pledge, Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter and Women in Defence Charter.