Cyber Discovery chats to Elite student Jess Ingrey about girls in cyber security!

Jess at the CyberStart Elite camp in London

How did you discover your interest in the cyber security industry?

I’ve always loved maths and especially problem solving (the buzz I get from finding the solution makes the hours of hard work spent on the task worth it), but rather than pursuing the money-minded career that is synonymous with these skills, I decided that I want to do a job that helps others. So with that in mind, I set my heart on working in ‘intelligence’, especially as an ‘ethical hacker’ — that seemed to be the buzzword at the time, not that I had a clue what it actually meant!

I ended up attending a GCHQ sponsored CyberFirst course in the summer of 2017, where I first properly came into contact with what cyber security actually is; to be completely truthful, I felt extremely out of my depth while I was there (most of my peers were self-taught and were spouting out acronyms all over the place that I had never heard of), but when we were given the go-ahead to hack into other teams’ networks, my excitement spiked at the challenge, and we came up with the most elaborate, non-technical and surprisingly-successful plan ever — it was so much fun!

Looking back, I think the best thing to come out of the week was the knowledge of a new programme, called Cyber Discovery, which, when November came around that year, a friend from the course and I decided to sign up for on a whim.

Over the past year, the interactive, game-like programme has accelerated my independent-learning more than I ever imagined was possible and we even managed to gain a place at Elite — now I am one of those people with all of the technical acronyms!

Do you notice a gender gap divide in the industry?

I think everyone is subconsciously affected by the stereotype for a ‘hacker’, due to the negative way they are portrayed in the media: rebellious, anti-social teenage boys in black hoodies, who sit in their bedrooms 24/7, staring at their computers. This stigma caused me to be very apprehensive to attend the earlier mentioned cyber security course (the very thing that sparked an interest in me for what is now my dream career), but I had just enough confidence to go, and ended up being stuck with the most welcoming and diverse bunch of people I’ve ever met (only a small few actually fulfilled the stereotype)!

What do you think could be done in the future to encourage girls into the industry?

Obviously the negative, off-putting stereotype needs to be changed, and I think a way of doing that is to recognise female role models in the industry, in order to inspire young girls and to give them an insight into what they could achieve when they’re older. It is widely known that men dominate the tech sector (from Alan Turing to Bill Gates, you could easily name a male that has contributed to technology, right?), but that doesn’t mean that women haven’t had a monumental role in its innovation (in fact, did you know it was a woman, by the name of Ada Lovelace, who was the world’s first ‘computer programmer’) — this often-assumed case needs to be corrected.

If you could give a message to any girl thinking about a career in cyber security would what it be?

Even though the prevalent gender gap is a major problem globally (due to the lack of diversity in thinking), I would say to view it as an opportunity:

You have something — almost — unique about you, that is highly sought after and will help you stand out from the crowd.

Take advantage of all the competitions and courses out there; if you decide this area isn’t for you, then you have lost nothing, but if you discover you love it just as much as me (which I am confident that you will), then you have found yourself a life-long career that you will actually enjoy. As I have experienced myself, you can feel very out of your depth and intimidated at the beginning, but my advice to you is to persevere and don’t be scared to simply google any new ideas that you’ve never come across before — I know it’s cheesy to say, but in this case, Google truly is your best friend!

What was your key take away from your Cyber Discovery experience?

Definitely the necessity of teamwork. This may seem ironic considering that Cyber Discovery is a competition for individuals, but I have learnt that in problem solving, it is so important to discuss and share ideas with others, and to combine skill sets if the task is extremely challenging — in my opinion, this is the best method of learning!

Through this, a community of us have built up a network of friends, from all around the country, who all participated in the programme last year; we all talk daily about both cyber security and things in general, and often meet up.

It’s such a nice change to actually have peers with the same interests as me and to not feel so isolated, like I was in lessons.


Haven’t registered for Cyber Discovery yet? You can sign up for Year 2 of the programme! To learn more about Cyber Discovery and get involved, visit www.joincyberdiscovery.com