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Insights How former teachers are thriving in cyber security careers

Kate is a cybersecurity consultant at AtkinsRéalis who transitioned from teaching A-level computer science to working in cybersecurity. With a rich background in PC support and over 15 years in education, Kate brings a unique perspective to the cyber front. Her passion for blending educational principles with cybersecurity challenges highlights the diverse opportunities in the field, even for those with non-technical backgrounds.

Photo of Kate smiling towards the camera

Meet the original #STEMGIRL

For as long as I can remember, I've been surrounded by computers. My father's career was in the IT industry. For most of my childhood, he ran the Computer Room for a large retail organization. Once computers became small enough, my sisters and I got to play with the computers he brought home. Everything from an early version of Pong, exploring VisiCalc and programming in BASIC. Although my school had a Computer Club, it seemed unwelcoming to girls—a contrast to the freedom I enjoyed at home to explore computing as much as I wished.

I enjoy using computers to solve problems, but I also love the challenge inherent in creating a solution to a problem. A passion I still have today.

Simplifying tech for others

I did a degree in computer studies, or what we now call software engineering. During the industrial year of my degree, I was lucky to be accepted for a PC support role with IBM. At IBM, I discovered I had a talent for explaining complex technical ideas in simple, easy-to-understand ways. Something I found very useful when trying to help someone solve their hardware or software problem! This led to jobs in PC Support when I left University.

Empowering users through education

I quickly discovered that just solving a problem was only half the solution. I found that explaining why a problem occurred and then training the user to solve it themselves ensured I ended up with fewer repeat incidents and more confident users. Training provides two challenges—how to solve the problem and then how to explain the problem and its solution to someone else.

Passion for teaching and technology

Training challenges were my favorite part of my role. So when I returned to work after having children, another training role seemed a natural choice. I chose to take the teaching route because it gave me a formal teaching qualification. Teaching young people worked around my own children, allowing me to spend all day sharing a subject I'm passionate about.

Going from teaching to cyber

Teaching is an all-consuming job, and when my children left home, I realized that the job was taking over. I had little time to enjoy my newfound freedom. I spent a long time considering where I wanted to go next. Teaching in a Sixth Form College gave me a wide range of computing skills, and I enjoyed them all! In 2020, I was lucky enough to attend a CyberFirst Train the Teacher Futures Course. I quickly realized that cybersecurity was what I was looking for as my next challenge. A sector that mixed people and technical skills equally and where training and awareness were needed.

Office days for team connection

As a teacher, being constantly surrounded by and talking to people was something I thrived on. Transitioning to working from home, I discovered just how much I missed the interaction. AtkinsRéalis supports flexible and hybrid working options, allowing me to spend a significant part of my week in the office or at client sites, reconnecting with the team and enjoying the collaborative buzz I love.

Leveraging my transferrable skills

Learning the cybersecurity skills was daunting at first. There seemed and still seems to be so much to learn, but the soft skills I honed while teaching have meant I am not afraid to ask for help, and I have found everyone willing and happy to support me.

Celebrating my cyber achievements

There are several things I am proud to have achieved since joining AtkinsRéalis. Firstly, I passed my ISO27001 and CISMP courses—it had been a long time since I took exams! Secondly, being part of the project team that delivered NIS-R training. I combined my teaching skills with my technical skills. I achieved a successful outcome for the client—all my reasons for moving into cybersecurity!

Building a cyber-aware future

People are the thing we can't control when it comes to technology. Training and awareness are the only ways we ensure that we keep people and their data safe without taking away their own agency. Teaching young people how to keep their data safe and why this is important would lay the foundations for a supremely cyber-aware workforce. Not only would this benefit the whole of society, but it would also help us meet the enormous challenges of the next century.

Diversity fuels cyber innovation

The bad guys are constantly inventing new ways to steal our data and invade our privacy. We can't fight that by repeating the same old methods. We, too, have to change, adapt and innovate. We can only stay one step ahead if we encourage people into the industry who can look at existing problems in new ways, innovate and think differently, and imagine the answers to the issues that don't yet exist. I believe we can foster this by making cybersecurity welcoming to all.

Shaping mindsets for cyber resilience

The technical Computer Science educational curriculum is a barrier to young people being taught more general IT and cybersecurity skills. There is an assumption that because young people have grown up with technology, they understand the risks associated with using it. We need to explain and help our young people understand these risks. Not only will this go some way to making staying safe online a default, but it will also ensure that a much wider group of people consider cybersecurity as a career.

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