The new cyber security vanguard

With Gen Z and Millennials making upto 39 percent of the workforce, according to the Cyber Security Workforce study, Rowan Pitt, Graduate Sales Engineer at Juniper Networks shares his insights with Security MEA into how he chose cyber security, some of the key issues in the sector, and how the next generation perceives these problems. 

How would you describe your journey in the cybersecurity space?
For the last two and a half years, I operated as a Linux engineer, where my role entailed overall system design and maintenance. I read computer science at college, then studied for a law degree, before earning my cybersecurity master’s degree with Northumbria University, which I did while working in cyber security. I now work as an associate sales engineer at Juniper Networks, with the intent of training to be a full sales engineer in the next year. 

What made you choice a career in cybersecurity?
My start in cyber security wasn’t entirely straightforward. After unsuccessful applications to several masters apprenticeships in the IT industry, I made the decision to pursue a legal education because it felt like the next logical step. The entry-level IT job market after I graduated from college was particularly intimidating due to the sheer amount of lifetime experience that was listed as a requirement on each job application. It’s the catch-22 really of needing a job to gain experience, but needing experience to gain a job, so I think the market really needs to address the issue when recruiting.

Established industry professionals with decades of experience have found these listings include experiences that interns would never be able to realistically attain. I persevered but could imagine the experience putting off many talented individuals from ever entering the IT or cyber workforce. So, I pivoted and went back for a Master’s degree. Out of pure luck, I filled out an application just as I was starting my Master’s programme and the company ended up hiring me. So, I secured a job even though I had already begun my degree. I think the market needs to do more in giving people opportunities. 

What would you like to say about gender parity within the industry?
I believe that as a field, we could be doing a lot more to work towards true parity. Careers in technology and cyber security should ideally be the best options for a more diverse set of people. Remote and hybrid working has made it possible for neurodiverse individuals, or those who are less at ease being in an office setting, to enter the workforce successfully, while feeling comfortable within their own personal space.

As an industry, we are working towards achieving that true parity between men and women. There’s still quite some way to go, but organisations such as Girls Who Code, Girls In Tech, and WISP (Women In Security and Privacy) are making exceptional in-roads by offering more opportunities for the women of tomorrow. However, these organisations can only make so much change on their own and have to be supported by additional policies from within large organisations. We’ve made great steps to bridge the gender gap, so it’s vital we continue this work.

How would you comment on generational gap?
Technically speaking, any generational gaps are more about mindset. The Generation X and Boomer generations approach challenges differently to Millennials and Gen Z, who tend to find solutions that are outside the norm. In comparison, older generations approach problems in a way that comes with experience and process. In my experience, younger generations don’t mind adjusting and bending the solution to find a new way of doing things, but older generations frequently hold onto their own unique rigid sensibilities and processes, which can make finding solutions a challenge. Mentoring between generations is a great way to expand mindsets. Being willing to coach others and to let someone who has more experience direct you can help to bridge this gap. 

There is a lot of talk about mental health in the work space, whats your take on it?
In our sector, mental health is a significant problem, especially in the wake of COVID-19. Unfortunately, some companies aren’t so effective at offering mental health support. This is a particular challenge for small organisations, or those with limited resources. I believe many larger organisations have much better processes in place. At Juniper Networks, they have mental health support services and are levelling up their offerings even further. They hold inspiration sessions where guests from the outside speak on how to encourage original thoughts. During the week, we have calls that aren’t always business-related. And, the Wellness Days have also been excellent. The good thing about a quarterly Wellness Day is that everyone at the company gets the day off so you can return to no emails.

According to you what’s next?
In today’s multigenerational workplace, each generation brings extremely varied expectations. It’s difficult to manage employees from different generations, and this is especially true when cyber security is involved.

Between now and 2025, the UK Cyber Security Council will develop cyber career pathways across 16 specialty areas that will map each role’s experience and certification requirements. Such measures will provide much-needed clarity, making it simpler for formerly underrepresented groups to enter the workforce, those already working in the field to advance, and the company to increase retention, which is essential to enhancing security posture.