09 October 2018

#WomenInSTEM - Sophia's story

Sophia McCall is a talented Bournemouth University student currently working with IRM Security as a Junior Technical Consultant. Completing her industrial placement as part of her Cyber Security Management degree, Sophia is making all the right impressions for females in STEM. Sophia has competed in the Cyber Security Challenge as one of only two females, and is heading to the 2018 competition later this month.

To find out more about her involvement in the Cyber Security Challenge and her thoughts on STEM and the cyber security industry, we asked a few questions…

How did you get into Cyber Security Challenge UK (CSC)?

“CSCUK originally came to my university to do a careers fair for students wishing to break into industry. Through this fair I got talking to some of the organisers.  This is when I learnt about the fantastic competitions and cyber “boot-camps” they do. I started by attending their ‘Capture the Flag’ ethical hacking competitions and then through an improved skill set from these competitions, I thought I would give their other competitions a go; namely the online qualifiers and sequentially the ‘Face-to-‘Face’ competitions. They host these competitions throughout the year to select the top competitors in the country to compete in their end of year Masterclass competition. One of these ‘Face-to Face’ competitions also doubled as a qualifier for the European competition. I was lucky enough through my first ever qualification to the ‘Face-to-Face’ round to qualify for both the Masterclass competition and the European challenge in one go.”

What are the highlights/lowlights of doing CSC?

“I honestly can’t think of any lowlights doing CSC, but the highlights are endless! Without CSC, I definitely would not be where I am now in industry. CSC have helped me create a network of both industry professionals and other like-minded people trying to break into industry which has definitely helped with career prospects but also reaching out for “cyber” help when I need it. Before CSC, I wasn’t technical at all. By doing their cyber camps and competitions, my technical skills have evolved tremendously over the past 18 months. I am definitely more confident in my technical skills, and combined with my managerial skills that I have learnt from my degree – confident in evolving into a more “well-rounded” security professional striking the perfect balance between technical and management skills.”

What is it like being one of only two females at the competition?

“It feels great that we are one up from last year! Having two females instead of being the only female on the team is absolutely brilliant. It somewhat shows how females are making there way into cyber more, and that’s fantastic.”

Why do you think there are so few females in cyber and what more can be done to encourage females into STEM?

“I think that many females are put off by the idea of entering a heavily male-dominated environment. With a definite stereotype and culture surrounding what a “cyber” person or “hacker” is, many females avoid choosing cyber security as a career – it definitely did put me off a bit! One of the things I personally struggled with a lot when I started in cyber was the isolation I felt of being the only or one of the few females in university. With time, this feeling definitely faded – so personally I feel that it’s all about persevering and also accepting that at least for now, females will have lower numbers than males in cyber.”

What recommendations would you make to somebody starting out in cyber?

“One of the biggest things that helped me get into industry is utilising all the great online resources out there that can help newbies of cyber break into industry. This  includes blogs, podcasts, training labs (if you’re a student, Immersive Labs are a great way to learn fundamental ethical hacking skills and it’ll be free for you!) and tutorial videos on YouTube as well. The great thing I found about the industry is that the community are always eager to help people break into cyber, hence all the brilliant free resources that current professionals and budding professionals create! ‘Capture the Flag’ competitions played a massive part in improving my technical skillset within cyber, so I cannot recommend enough to try get involve in these competitions – the great thing about them is that it challenges and helps you learn real-world skills but in a more relaxed, fun, competitive environment. If you are still of student age or are at school, GCSE/A level choices can definitely help – choosing a STEM subject is great, but also remember that cyber security can be for anyone. Another thing I did when I was trying to break into industry is to attend career days when I could scout out the current state of the industry and what potential routes I could take into cyber. This way, I could tailor my self-learning towards those career paths.”

What impact do you think competitions like CSC have on the industry?

CSC has done an amazing job in highlighting cyber security as a career choice for young people and increasing the awareness of the wider societal issue of cyber security. Before I came to know about CSC I was a little bit unsure of what actually was available to do in the industry – and they did a brilliant job in helping me understand which path I eventually want to take. CSC also do a brilliant job in helping young people still in school become aware of cyber security. When I was in school, I had no idea cyber security could be a career and barely learnt about it – with the competitions and camps they run targeted for school-aged children, this definitely changes things for the younger generations. It’s not only the younger generations CSC has impacted, but also older generations who perhaps are looking for a career change in life through the competitions I take part in and also the career fairs they hold. CSC have impacted budding professionals of all ages and heightened the awareness of security within the public.

We wish Sophia and her team the best of luck in this year’s competition in London. If you want to find out more about the Cyber Security Challenge, you can visit their website. If you want to ask Sophia any questions, please contact us and we can pass on any questions.