“Be yourselves. Fearlessly. When (when, not if) you mess up – own it. It is not a big deal. Don’t agonise over it or overthink it. Own it, learn from it, let it go, move on,” says Rebecca Harrop. She has been a key educator in the UK for more than twenty years; teaching thousands of people computing skills. She is currently Senior Lecturer in Cybersecurity at the University of Bedfordshire, Associate Lecturer in Computer Networking and a Study Advisor with the Open University, Cisco Networking Academy Manager and – not so long ago – recipient of ‘Role Model of the Year’ in the Women in IT Excellence Awards.
In an interview with Insights Success, Rebecca shares her insights over modern security trends and its changing aspects, leadership and most importantly how women are making their way in tech world.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Your opinion as an experienced educator, how have things changed over the years in Network Security?
I have been doing ‘Cybersecurity’ since back when it was simply ‘Network Security’. Now it is about twenty different specialisations and the world is crying out for everyone, and anyone, capable. Now is a very good time to pursue a career in IT, Networking and Cybersecurity. There is something for everyone in these careers – risk assessment, business management, information security; it is no longer just technical roles.
I have been a further and higher-level educator for nearly 25 years now, teaching thousands of people of all ages, all abilities, all backgrounds.
I think this prehistoric vision of the middle-aged white geek-guy with pens in his top-pocket can still put people off pursuing careers in Technology. There are still traces of that stereotype but now there is plenty of room for anyone that is qualified.
What are the vital traits that every businesswoman should possess?
I think fearlessness and to realise that making ‘mistakes’ is how we learn. Not to be frightened of making fools of ourselves – a little – and to be immediately suspicious of anyone who calls themselves an ‘expert’. Anyone who professes to be ‘an expert’ in anything has usually both underestimated the complexity of the issues and overestimated their own abilities.
When working in a predominantly male dominated profession, women also need tenacity and self-confidence; sharp-wits and a sharp-wit can also help.
Where are you focusing your energy right now, and where do you hope to make an impact next?
Interestingly, overcoming the COVID challenges has paved a way for new teaching and learning practices. My experience in remote teaching with the Open University helped me to efficiently move all my lectures and practical classes online, so I just buckled up and ran with it; and so, did the students. We have some valuable teaching insights that should be built upon when we return to a new normal.
These instances of remote working in a changing landscape make it globally important that everyone realises we must take a personal, as well as corporate, responsibility for Information Security. I think that is where my current interests lie.
As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career? And how did you overcome it?
There are issues that I have had to ‘overcome’ to become a successful Woman in Tech, but the reality is far simpler and less gritty – nobody ever told me that I couldn’t do it (or if they did, I never listened) and so I just did. So, have faith in yourself and don’t ‘worry’ too much. If you find a thing that you love – just keep with it, regardless.
I worked hard in a pre-dominantly male-oriented arena, but I knew my stuff and eventually that earned respect from my peers, regardless of gender. I came to realise that there are a lot of ‘blaggers’ out there who pretend to know what they are doing but really, they don’t. Perhaps it is like the geek equivalent of not knowing if your car-maintenance person is ripping you off or not until you understand engines.
How do you balance work and life responsibilities?
My mum died of cancer at the start of 2020, a month or so before the first lockdown and that brings many things into perspective. Vulnerability and mortality remind us to grab opportunities where we feel alive and truly ourselves; it can be the simple things: flying a kite, watching your children, sharing a coffee and a smile – these are the moments that we really live for.
It is hard – but you do what you can, whenever you can, and remember to find the moments, the memories, the love and laughter, the spaces in-between wherever they present themselves.
What would be the biggest challenge for the next generation of women and how can one be a strong role model for them.
Women can, at last, be more outspoken, brave, bold and clever! This is a good thing, but women can sometimes think they have to be aggressive or cutthroat to others to show strength. Not so. We can be brilliant without a need to bring others down. We do not need to be confrontational just for the sake of it, nor at someone else’s undeserved expense. I used to love the saying: ‘Never attribute to malice that that can equally be explained by stupidity’.
Look after yourself, help others where you can, give the benefit of your experiences, but it is not your job to chase them or berate people if they won’t follow – and don’t assume they are out to get your personally, they may just be a fool.
Women do not have to act like they ‘think men might’ to succeed. They can just be themselves. It is simply the skills and experience that should be the key factor regardless of gender.
How do you cope up with capricious technological trends to boost your personal growth?
Capricious technological trends: blockchain, AI, bitcoin, data mining, wearables. Use it where it is genuinely useful to yourself or your clients and not just for the sake of latching onto a new or emerging tech. And for goodness sake – think of the consequences of a breach of the data before deciding if it is worth implementing. Do the consequences outweigh the convenience? Understand risk.
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