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Rebecca Taylor: from English and Creative Writing to Threat Intelligence Knowledge Manager

Social media handle(s): LinkedIn

A few words about me:

Hello, I'm Rebecca - A positive, motivated woman in cybersecurity and advocate for all things diversity and inclusion. I am mumma-bear to two wonderful children and I'm determined to show that anyone can be successful and fulfil their career ambitions regardless of having kids or a lack of STEM degree!

I had an alternative pathway into cybersecurity, and I am now the happiest I have ever been working as a Threat Intelligence Knowledge Manager in Secureworks Counter Threat Unit. My role is primarily focused on the implementation of knowledge management processes and procedures, the ingestion and management of Threat Intelligence knowledge, and its associated quality, storage and maintenance.

Are there any professional experiences you've had that are quite unexpected compared to what you do nowadays?

As with most school leavers, at around 16 years old I was asked to think about what career I wanted, what I would study, where I would go to University. I think at the time I wanted to be a Child Psychologist, and as you can see that is definitely not where I have ended up! I took the best path for me at the time and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth.

On graduating I worked in the white goods insurance sector in an administrator role.... again not STEM! I hadn't yet found my path. And so when I had a call from a head-hunter saying Secureworks were looking for a Personal Assistant (PA) to join its London office I jumped at the opportunity. I didn't know what it would mean or look like, but I knew cybersecurity was an interesting space.

So I begun in cyber in 2014, as a PA in the sales and marketing team. I was responsible for supporting sales meetings, booking travel, collaborating on events and general office administration. In my very first week I saw the opportunities ahead of me; how Cybersecurity was growing and evolving, and that associated threats and risks to organisations and even to life, mirrored that growth and change. I could see there was a home for me and if I put in the time and effort I could truly make a footprint and have the career I had dreamed of.

Over the past eight years I have worked and studied hard, gleaned as much exposure as I can to the threat landscape and best practices for protecting, detecting and responding to or against threats. I have worked across a variety of teams including global operations, change management and incident response (IR). Working my way up and across the organisation has helped me build lots of fabulous relationships, understand and appreciate the dynamics and strategy of the organisation and pace my career in a way that suited me. Coming from a non-STEM background, I now embrace STEM in the everyday, and try to ensure it is an inclusive, collaborative, safe space.

Is your background more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or non-STEM related?

I am a professional in the STEM space having found my route in regardless of my educational background. I have however over the past few years gained several tech/cyber qualifications including my GSEC, GISF and ISC2 CC. I took these for my own benefit and to speed up my career progression rather than them being a requirement of the field.

Where did your professional journey start?

My professional journey really began with my role as Personal Assistant at Secureworks. Whilst until this point I had had 'jobs', this was the start of my 'career'. As I said, I knew there was a space for me to progress, learn and be successful but that it would take time, effort and exposure. I needed to gain a good understanding of cybersecurity practices as a topic, and the STEM studies I had missed. But I also needed to build self belief in my own capabilities.

If my Secureworks opportunity had not happened, I have no idea where I would have been now. It took that moment for me to see the space, the expanse of career possibilities and for STEM to become accessible. This is why I now take every opportunity I can to speak to individuals and students about the roles available in STEM, to help others see they can be in this arena too and contribute regardless of their educational or professional background.

How did you get into tech and what motivated you?

I got into tech by seizing the opportunity and taking a chance. It was not planned, managed or expected.

My motivation has always been to squash bias. Differing attitudes across my career in cyber have pushed me harder and made me want to almost prove others wrong. I wanted to show that I could be whatever I wanted to be regardless of my age, or gender and now as a working parent. It is also very important to me, particularly in relation to my daughter, that I provide a good role model and demonstrate we can all be whatever we want to be.

Have you experienced any 'career in tech' challenges / stereotypes?

I think one of the biggest personal challenges I have faced is being 'shoe-boxed' based on my gender. I vividly remember in 2016 being at dinner with someone I hugely respected, and him telling me how he thought I was ‘very capable’ and could do ‘so much more’. He followed it up by saying I would be ‘great for a role in HR or Marketing’. Whilst there is nothing wrong with being in HR or Marketing, I felt like I had been typecast, or shoe-boxed into a certain stereotypical mould of what it would mean for me to be successful or progress in cyber, because of my age and gender.

For women, the topic of children and even plans for childbearing, is an issue that still plays a part in career discussions when it should not. From my experience, the key though is to take those attitudes, approach those biases head on, hold myself high and not let the opinions of others hold me back.

"Whilst cultural and gender representation across technology continues to evolve and improve, significant progress needs to be made from a diversity and inclusion perspective."

What you wish you knew before getting started in tech...

I wish I had known success wasn't driven by the amount of qualifications you had to start out with. Over time I have found there is less of a pressure to come equipped with big certifications, and instead I find it is more now about what you bring as a person and demonstrating a willingness to learn and progress. It is more about gaining experience and knowledge as you go.

What has been your biggest 'wow!' moment related to working in tech so far?

My biggest 'wow' moment was presenting at FIRSTCON in June 2022.

I had summoned up the courage to submit a proposal for their Dublin conference, having never done any public speaking previously. The opportunity saw me talk in front of 200 people about best practices behind Knowledge Management and Incident Response.

The opportunity opened up so many doors, enabled me to do my first blogs and podcasts, and helped me feel far more confident as a subject matter expert. Since then I have had opportunities to speak at other conferences including the Secureworks TI Summit and Women of Silicon Roundabout London 2022.

What do you like / not like about working in tech?

In cybersecurity, good or bad the threat is evolving – the bad guys are learning new tradecrafts, adapting and developing new malware, new groups with new targets and ambitions are coming to light.

Cyber threat intelligence is not boring, it is never static, and that’s what keeps me excited about the role and what I can do to make a difference.

If I consider what I don't like about working in tech, my mind always goes to diversity and inclusion. Whilst cultural and gender representation across technology continues to evolve and improve, significant progress needs to be made from a diversity and inclusion perspective.

Typically females will have different wants and needs to their counterparts, face different adversities, different stereotypes, potentially different external demands such as that from their families or communities. If I take health as an example, females experience different health requirements and adjustments to male counterparts if we consider conditions like pregnancy, menopause, endometriosis and fertility as a whole. These in their own rights can be time consuming, disruptive or even halt career progression and in a way be isolating. Organisations must acknowledge this and make the appropriate accommodations.

I would suggest many tech organisations are not as equipped as they want to be for these conversations but also from an ‘enablement for female success’ perspective. With technology typically being a male dominated environment, team members, particularly leaders, need to be comfortable and confident to make adjustments and embrace these kinds of gender differences, but also to show consideration and awareness when supporting females in their organisation. Adversity will be prevalent for everyone in their own way, but if we truly want to make technology a diverse and inclusive space, we need to adapt and improve the way we support and encourage females, and make sure they are enabled to be as successful as they choose in spite of any adversity, stereotype, demand or condition.

"I got into tech by seizing the opportunity and taking a chance. It was not planned, managed or expected."

What's been your favourite / most memorable / funniest 'career in tech' moment so far?

My funniest moment was when I had to present on my role to the rest of the Counter Threat Unit as part of our yearly get-together in 2022. I had already approached my Leader as I wanted to do something 'different', and so instead of a typical PowerPoint I had arranged a big game of pass the parcel! At each level, whoever the music stopped on would take off a layer, read out the Knowledge Management associated word, and then I would talk to it.

The icing on the cake was when we got to the prize at the end. Revealed to all was a stuffed doll cushion of our Vice President. The room erupted in laughter, and for the rest of the get-together the doll came everywhere. I still receive pictures today of the doll cushion in meetings, on visits, and in the background on conference calls.

And to wrap up, is there any advice you'd like to give to others interested in a career in tech?

My first would be to dream big and go for that career in STEM. You can spend years waiting for the right time, right set up, to have a certain qualification, tenure or for the stars to somehow align. In reality, I think very few of us ever experience that perfect alignment and so if you see that advertisement or that opportunity and you want that role or part in the tech world, then embrace it. The world is your oyster as they say!

My second piece of advice would be to have a development plan or at least a goal. I’m not personally the biggest fan of ten year plans or setting goal ‘deadlines’, but having objectives and markers for success is what drives that motivation to succeed, but also allows you to pat yourself on the back when you do succeed in those accomplishments. Socialising your development plan or goal then with your own leadership and mentors means it’s on their radar, they know what you are looking for from yourself and them, and subsequently they can put you forward for opportunities or learning experiences which match or aid you accomplishing those objectives.

Finally, I want to stress the importance of having a reliable Mentor. Mentors are trusted advisors, they can introduce you to new people, help you develop and enhance skillsets, and nurture you to the point you gain greater clarity. There are many fantastic charities and organisations which offer mentorship opportunities, as well as in house offerings. I would go as far as to say, even if there isn’t anything in house, if you find someone you feel you can learn from and who inspires you, have that conversation and see if there is a potential for a mentorship arrangement.


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