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Finding a role in cyber was ‘tough’ for Cheryl Torano. Now she’s determined to help other women join an under-represented industry
Cheryl Torano/Supplied
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Finding a role in cyber was ‘tough’ for Cheryl Torano. Now she’s determined to help other women join an under-represented industry 

When I decided to upskill to change careers at the age of 30 and dive into the digital world, I knew I would be starting out at the bottom of the career ladder again. Having previously worked my way up through office administration roles, I’m no stranger to hard work but never did I imagine that I would go from student to manager of Scotland’s cyberQuarter within four years.

I didn’t realise that the skills I’d gained whilst working in office admin roles were transferable to the tech industry. The soft skills, business techniques and experience I already had, paired with the new technical skills I learnt at college and university made me a valuable asset in the cybersecurity sector.

In summer 2021 I landed my dream job as the business development manager for the brand new Abertay cyberQuarter. After waiting six years for it to become an actual job role, I was delighted when I got that phone call offering me the position. I first heard about the idea for a cyberQuarter in Dundee when I was a student on Abertay’s Ethical Hacking programme. I was immediately intrigued by the concept and knew I wanted to be a part of it.

When I graduated in 2017, finding a cyber role within Dundee was tough. I was lucky enough to find a role as a Security Engineer for a local MSP but others aren’t so fortunate. Due to the global skills shortage in the sector, every year we see Scotland’s excellent graduate talent snapped up by other UK or overseas hubs – I want to help change that and retain some of the excellent talent that the city has to offer. The Abertay cyberQuarter is going to provide us with an important building block to address that challenge. By harnessing the local talent that we have and blending it with academic and industry expertise, I believe we can create something really special.

The cyberQuarter combines Tay Cities Deal funding and Abertay co-investment to provide a much-needed home for the Scottish cyber community: a space where industry, academics and students can come together to create new products, markets and services; catalyse the growth of a cybersecurity cluster that will retain and attract talent and investment; and make businesses and citizens more cyber-resilient. We will generate new jobs, de-risk R&D for new companies and secure further investment to grow the Tay Cities Region cybersecurity sector.

The model we have developed for the cyberQuarter, invites industry to partner with us, which gives us the capability to work with not only our students but also with businesses across all sectors, which will raise awareness of cybersecurity, it will provide re-skilling and up-skilling opportunities and it will also allow us to develop fit for purpose cybersecurity solutions to help solve global cybersecurity challenges.

All of which is why I got into cyber in the first place. I’m regularly asked my thoughts on how to improve cybersecurity and my answer is always the same…….education. If we educate employers, employees, friends, family, parents, grandparents and most importantly the children on what cybersecurity is, then that would make a huge difference in the current digital threat landscape that affects us all.

Every man, woman, child and sector embraces digital in one form or another; it is already ingrained in everything we do, it is our future. Therefore, cybersecurity awareness training should be easily accessible for all. It should be key part of our education system in Scotland.

We wouldn’t let someone operate a piece of machinery without first educating them on how to use it safely, so why would we give someone a computing device without first educating them on how to safely operate it? Yet it is common practice for schools and organisations to issue digital devices without giving any sort of cybersecurity awareness training. To me this is irresponsible madness!

By empowering people to learn how to defend themselves digitally then they will also have the tools needed to defend their employers, colleagues, friends and family, too. Not only am I passionate about empowering people to learn good cyber hygiene and growing the Scottish cybersecurity sector but, I’m also devoted to encouraging more females into the industry.

Part of my re-skilling journey into cyber included completing an HND in Computer Networking at Dundee & Angus College where I was the only girl on the course. Similarly, when I went to university there were only another three girls on the course with me. This needs to change! Females within the cybersecurity sector only make up around 12 per cent of the workforce.

When considering that half of the population is female, and the biggest majority of those females use technology of some kind, it blows my mind that more women aren’t working in the industry. To help solve this problem, the cyber ladies of Scotland have teamed up to create a Scottish Women in Cyber group, of which I am fortunate enough to be a committee member.

I am also in the process of setting up a Ladies Hacking Society student chapter at Abertay University. Both of which are aimed at encouraging and supporting other females in cyber. Now when I walk into a male dominated tech conference, I can usually spot a woman that I’ve connected with, whom I can approach for a chat. This is another huge win for cyber, one that I hope will pave the way for other females, making it easier for them to join what is stereotypically known to be a male-dominated industry.

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