For Salt’s latest Women in Tech interview, we caught up with Heide Young, Head of Cyber Security Strategy at Polytronic Training Systems to share her experiences and advice.
The Women in Tech interview series speaks with thought leaders from around the world to get their opinion and advice on how they have grown their career in tech and overcome challenges and adversity during their career.
Heide comes from a business development background. Having travelled extensively as a child, growing up on multiple continents, she made friends from diverse backgrounds fast. Working in business development suited Heide well, working with diverse teams and clients, building relationships.
Fun fact – I did not study cyber security or even have much of an interest in tech until later in my career. My interest in cyber security came about suddenly, when I realised how poor my own cyber security practices were. I dived into the field head on, reading, taking short classes, attending seminars and conferences, speaking to anyone I could in the field, to expand my knowledge. Everything snowballed from there, and hasn’t stopped. I love cyber security, there are so many moving parts, it is constantly evolving, and I am always learning something new. Currently, I am studying my Masters in Cyber Security Strategy & Diplomacy.
What is your current role and the most exciting part of your work?
I am responsible for designing and implementing cyber security strategies. Being in the UAE, where there is a wide range of cultures, I get to work with an incredible diverse team. The other part is that I am constantly being challenged to build upon my knowledge base.
What has been your most career defining moment that you are proud of?
Moments when I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone. When I submitted my first paper to speak at a conference, applying for a new job, even if I didn’t tick all the boxes, and saying yes when opportunities came my way. It’s important to mention about not ticking every box, as many women examine the long list of requirements, and if we can’t say yes we can deliver 100% on every item, we can have the tendency to decline to even apply. It’s important to push yourself and challenge yourself.
The best advice I received a former boss was to make myself a little bit uncomfortable every day – every day I should do one thing that is uncomfortable. Because getting out of your comfort zone is when you learn and grow and become better.
What do you think we should be doing more of to encourage more girls to consider a career in tech?
It’s about making the conversations more relevant – show how combining technology with your passions work well together, how pivotal technology’s role plays, and how it intertwines in our daily lives. Showcase how exciting tech is!
What challenges have you faced in the workplace, especially your experience in male-dominated environments?
After having kids it was all about timings. In Australia, so much happens outside of office hours, after work conferences and networkings, being restricted to pickup times made that part a challenge. My husband’s position required frequent travel. I was very fortunate to have my mother fly out to live with us for nearly a year, so I could take advantage of every conference and networking opportunity outside office hours to build my career and better my knowledge base.
What is the biggest deterrent in your opinion to women succeeding in the workplace?
Being quiet, shy, and not speaking up. Being afraid of getting it wrong.
I push myself to speak up. I had moments where I felt that I didn’t belong at the table – I focused on all the incredible experience everyone else had and I focused on how amazing they were, while forgetting that I too have something to offer and am there for a reason. So I’ve had to learn how to get over that.
There will be times when you make a mistake. Everyone has. The important thing is to own up to your mistake immediately and learn from them, don’t make them again, and move on.
Who is my modern day hero?
Who do I look up to, respect, and seek advice from? People who make time for me when I need encouragement and words of wisdom. People who are incredibly accomplished and have shown me that it can be done, if you really want it. And people, women and men, who are strong supporters of women in cyber security. A few of those people are: Jacqui Loustau, Ian Yip, Amanda-Jane Turner, Abeer Khedr, Dr Reem AlShammari, Andrew Cross, Priyanka Chatterjee, Basma Hmaidouch, Chris Cubbage, Irene Corpuz, Amy Roberts, Heather Hoddinott.
As an employer what would you recommend to other companies regarding infrastructure to have in place to develop the best talent?
In developing the best talent you need to have everyone on board and on the same page – your recruitment team and hiring managers need to understand the goal of the positions. Recognizing that talent isn’t always the clear cookie-cutter form you imagined, but need to better understand how transferable skills add value. With the cyber security skills shortage at a global all time high, transferable skills and learnability need to be in focus.
In a management position how have you found it best to promote and nurture women in the workplace?
Empowering the women in your teams. At meetings ask women directly for their input, encourage them to speak up and give them the platform to do so.
What are some of the best and worst workplace initiatives you have seen/heard of to help promote diversity?
Companies who focus on diversity for the sake of diversity is not the way to go. You need to find the right person for the position, however, you might have to look a little harder and longer to get more diversity.
Any reading/website you would recommend to stay updated?
My favorite app is Blinkist. I generally have a long list of books on my want to read list, but not all the time. So here I can get read the condensed version of books on my list, mainly those of cyber security, AI, productivity, management & leadership, and science. It’s my favorite timesaver!
What is your biggest stress reliever?
When I have time to myself: running while listening to audio books. When I’m with my family: embracing the silly and dancing around the house with my kids.
Is there one piece of advice you wish somebody gave you at the beginning of your career?
It may sound too generic, but the truth is I wish I was given more practical advice on how business works. The real every day challenges we all face.
What job did you dream of when you were a kid – your Plan A career path?
Even as a kid, I loved traveling, learning and speaking different languages, and interacting with people from other cultures than mine to learn more about them. As a kid, I didn’t know what job would give me all those things, but I’m happy to have figured it out.
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