My journey to Panaseer: Why I chose security data science over Icelandic poetry
How do you land your dream job in London? You may have decided that you want to work in a tech company, and maybe also in a particular industry — or not (don’t worry, I hadn’t!), but where do you proceed from there? In this post I am going to describe the route that I took to becoming a Security Data Scientist at Panaseer.
Last November I had just finished my MSc in Pure Mathematics and was not sure what to do next. I love learning new things but knew I didn’t want a career in academia. My background didn’t direct me to one specific industry either. Mathematics can be applied in pretty much any field and my other specialisations varied from ballet to developing risk management models to writing poetry in Icelandic so it was unclear where to start.
I do still plan on creating a dance piece inspired by a particularly interesting mathematical proof delivered like a poem — but while that is a fun one-off project I think it could get a bit repetitive as a career. I therefore set off looking for a career that would allow me to apply my skills in a new setting while satisfying my intellectual curiosity.
I knew what sort of general traits I wanted in my next role and that I wanted to work for a small but upcoming company, but London is a big city with many intriguing things happening, so where does one start looking? In my case at Silicon Milkroundabout.
Why should you attend a career fair?
There is no one approach to locating a job that is unarguably the best or bound to work. I would have loved being able to google “tech jobs in London that are interesting, mathematical, creative, challenging, at a small innovative company […and so on and so on…]”, getting a list of companies that suit me well and contacting them directly. This approach is however unfortunately unlikely to work unless you have a way clearer idea of what you are looking for than I did. An alternative approach which can be helpful is speaking to job agencies and looking on job boards but as these can be quite impersonal I found job fairs, like Silicon Milkroundabout, the most useful by far.
The sheer volume of small tech companies in London can make it difficult to locate the right ones, but these events are like guides through the forest of companies — shining light onto ones that you often would not have heard of otherwise but are likely to suit people like yourself. The speed dating form of these events give you a chance to connect with various companies in one go and get answers to any questions you couldn’t find online.
Even if you don’t end up finding a company you want to work for these events are generally really fun. I learned a lot about fields I had never come in contact with before and spoke to various interesting people. More importantly, I ate delicious cupcakes and left the venue with about 5 free coffee mugs.
Should you prepare before attending?
Yes. Granted — this is common sense, but I cannot emphasise how important it is. This is your chance to make a good first impression and stand out when speaking to future employers.
Furthermore, this is a unique chance to ask the employees of your potential future workplace what they think makes their company special or what the morale in the office is like, so don’t let it go to waste.
Research the companies attending the event you are going to. Identify the ones you would like to speak to and the information you want to get from them. After I’d created my shortlist, I made sure to print out enough copies of my CV to hand out to these companies if I wanted to.
How do you shortlist companies?
Identify what’s important to you regarding future employers and pick a reasonable number of companies (I’d say that 10 is fine but 20 is too many!) that you want to speak to. I found the short descriptions that companies wrote about themselves particularly useful. These gave me information beyond the typical “We are X and we do Y”, providing a glimpse of their personality which helped me assess what it might be like to work there.
I was not particularly looking at Cyber Security at all when I shortlisted companies. I had always thought that the field sounded both cool and mysterious but I had very little knowledge of the field beyond the usual antivirus and WannaCry familiarity. The challenging mathematical problems of the field fascinated me, but it wasn’t until I read about Panaseer that I gave the industry a serious thought — simply because it had previously seemed too inaccessible.
In the first pass of reading about companies attending the event I highlighted ones I thought were interesting and then I loosely grouped these by what they did. Finally, I chose the top candidates from each category and by doing this ended up with a list of a suitable length.
How do you approach companies?
This part is actually easier than it sounds. Formality is minimal and the atmosphere is one of peer-to-peer friendliness. You will most likely be speaking to a person in a similar role to what you are looking for, and in many cases these people will have previously attended the event as someone looking for a job so they know how you feel.
If you find it difficult to speak to people you don’t know it can be useful to come up with some conversation openers before-hand. I hadn’t planned my opening lines specifically but found that I often started out with general questions like ‘My background is X and I am interested in your company because Y. What do you look for in new team members?’ This led to many interesting conversations, one of which was with Panaseer — I actually hadn’t heard about the company before SMR.
If all else fails, just go up to the companies you want to speak to and say ‘Hi, my name is [insert your name here 🙂 ]’. They are looking to recruit people so they will be equally interested in speaking to you as you to them.
How do you get the most out of your day?
Firstly, take notes during the event. During the day you are likely to speak to many different people and after the event it can be difficult to remember their names, and all the specifics of the conversations that you had. Having notes to remind yourself can definitely be helpful when it comes to following up with them afterwards.
Secondly, arrive early if you can. I could only attend the last three hours of SMR. Before the event, I thought this was enough. However, I was very pushed so I would recommend allocating plenty of time so you can relax and enjoy the entertainment available in between speaking to companies.
Thirdly, go through the list of companies you spoke to and decide which ones you are most interested in continuing your conversation with. In my experience, they’re generally quite quick at following up from the event if they’re interested in what you have to offer. Sending a message to emphasise your interest will send out a positive vibe.
Why did I choose Panaseer?
After adding Panaseer to my SMR shortlist, I met some of my now co-workers at the event. I must admit that the day was long, and things got a bit fuzzy after speaking to many different people (and I made the beginner’s mistake of forgetting to take notes!). I can’t remember who I spoke to (I hope it wasn’t my boss because then this won’t sound too good 🙂). However, they really made Panaseer stand out from the crowd. It was obvious that the company was ambitious and doing well (some research before I joined revealed that funding rounds had been successful and the company was scaling quickly), but they were also very honest and didn’t pretend to have answers for every problem. The work being done sounded interesting and innovative, but the authenticity of the company played as big a part in my decision to join.
Panaseer is still growing, so our work is far from repetitious and there are real opportunities to have impact on the product, working methods and the direction of the company. At the same time, we’re big enough that many of the initial start-up struggles are over and achievements are clear.
On a practical note, the Security Data Science role provided plenty of opportunity to use my mathematical knowledge in a new setting, and to some extent, the same applied to the knowledge acquired during my risk management days.
What really made Panaseer stand out is its attitude and culture. Inclusion is key, which has built a team of interesting people from all over the world and with various backgrounds working together. People are not hired on the basis of fitting into a predefined box — what matters is doing their work well — and enjoying it, too. There’s an encouraging atmosphere in the office and cross-functional team projects help us to continually do better and push the boundaries further.
Want to hear more about life at Panaseer? My colleagues, Jacopo (a Front-Ender) and Tobias (a Back-Ender), promised to share an insight into their experiences. Stay tuned to find out more…