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Building a successful career in cybersecurity: our 4 tips

Three managers. One question: what advice would you give to someone starting his/her cybersecurity career? Four tips.

Anne Kent, Head of the Consulting & Audit Unit, Mathilde Dupont, Manager of the Cybercrime Team, and Olivier Vergonzeanne, Technical Director at Orange Cyberdefense, manage together nearly 250 employees. We asked them a simple question: what advice would you give to someone starting in cybersecurity?

Tip #1: Speak up!

Olivier: At the beginning of my career, I was relatively discreet, focused on my work. My colleagues didn’t know what my missions were, what I did daily. My manager at the time helped me a lot on this point: he taught me to communicate about my work, what I was learning. Knowing and sharing knowledge are two fundamental notions of our profession: today, I encourage my teams to do the same and be open.

Anne: Communicating about your work also means knowing how to put yourself forward. It is not easy, especially when you are just starting. We often list the things we do not know how to do instead of focusing on our strengths – this seems to be more common among women, although it is changing positively. At Orange Cyberdefense, we have the particularity of operating as a start-up. Still, with global resources: this is an unprecedented opportunity, which you have to know how to seize by sharing your ideas with as many people as possible to see them succeed.

Mathilde: There is nothing worse than limiting yourself. You have to dare, even if it is scary. I don’t regret any of the times when I dared to put myself forward, to share my knowledge or ideas. But I have felt remorse for all the times I have stayed discreet. The crazy bets I took were the ones that made me grow the most, professionally and personally.

Tip #2: Take risks

Anne: I came to cybersecurity through service integration (networks, telephony, and security) after 20 years in the telecom industry. When I was asked to become Head of the Consulting & Audit business unit of Orange Cyberdefense, I was more than aware of the challenge. It was a risky bet, but today, looking back, I think it was the biggest revelation of my career. Cybersecurity was like a breath of fresh air because everything had to be built in a constantly changing environment. It was already an adventure at the time, but it is even more so today. This position made me change my view of my role as a manager and evolve in every aspect. I’ve always taken risks in my career, I have worked in marketing and sometimes run daring campaigns, but that was nothing compared to this career change. You have to be daring, always.

Mathilde: Lexsi [a company acquired by Orange Cyberdefense in 2016] had decided to open a branch in Canada. Together with one of my colleagues, we were sent there to lead this ambitious project. Everything had to be built, literally: I even remember the furniture that we assembled ourselves. It was a question of creating a new entity, with real financial support, in a country that we did not know. It was one of the best experiences of my career and the most significant risk I took.

Olivier: When I joined Orange Cyberdefense, I was given ambitious goals and total freedom to achieve them. It was a great proof of confidence but also a real challenge. I could have been worried, but in the end, I think that is what gave me the most energy. And that is what I want to pass on to my team. I let them work independently. I share all my ideas, and we build each project together. Contrary to what one might imagine, large-scale challenges are rarely taken on alone. And we have challenges every day.

Tip #3: Plan for the long term

Mathilde: The working world is changing, and this change is disrupting all sectors. This is even more true for our field of activity. New technologies are evolving at an incredible speed, and it is crucial for all of us to continually upgrade our skills and evolve. The answer to this challenge is often to move from one company to another; the fear of putting down roots pushes experts to think of their career in snacking mode. This is a real shame because there are real benefits to evolving within the same entity. The key is continuous training. You have to find a company that invests in its talents. My team members have to choose a project to focus on and their assignments and see it through. The subject is free. The idea is not to learn for the sake of learning but to know how to make it happen. To do this, they have to train themselves, work hand in hand with other people, who most often have very different professions from their own. In this way, they develop new skills through contact with others.

Anne: The relationship between candidates and recruiters has changed. Today, it is up to us to sell ourselves and highlight what we can bring to a future employee. This is a significant challenge because our sector is facing a real shortage of skills. This situation pushes us to surpass ourselves as an employer to offer the best to our teams. Because recruiting is not the only challenge, we also have to keep our talents, who regularly receive job offers from competitors. Within the Consulting & Audit unit, we have therefore created skill clusters. Each consultant is free to join as many as he or she wants to develop new skills and pass on his or her own. Each pole also aims to create new ways of working, to move from ideas to their realization. We try to give experts the chance to develop internally and enjoy professional and personal stability. Changing jobs every two years is exhausting.

Olivier: Technical experts have to evolve constantly. This is a fact. Working in cybersecurity also means being part of a sector where everything is not written in advance; what is true one day may become obsolete the next. To respond to the innovations demanded by our customers and the challenges of the market, we invest a lot in training and our lab, which enables our engineers to monitor technological developments. This involves developing skills and clearing out subjects for which we do not have all the answers, searching and testing to create our expertise. It is an ambitious approach, but one that makes sense for many experts, enabling them to make a long-term commitment to us.

Tip #4: Be part of a team you feel good about

Anne: At work, you have to feel good about yourself. The atmosphere and the company culture are just as important as the tasks you perform daily. Working close to home, having a good work-life balance is essential.  These criteria must also be taken into account when choosing a job. I realized early on that one of my missions was to make sure that my department’s life was good. This means nice premises, enjoyable parties, geographical mobility so that employees are closer to their families, and a good balance between autonomy and daily support. I try to be present on the subjects where the teams expect me to be and to leave them free on those they master.

Olivier: Working in a team where relationships are warm and where employees support each other is essential; this is a criterion that should not be overlooked. I would also advise learning to collaborate with the different company units, whatever they may be, even with employees who do not do the same job as you. For a technical profile, this implies popularizing one’s work to arouse interest in one’s projects. This is difficult at the beginning of your career, but it is a trick you have to learn if only to feel ready to face a client.

Mathilde: In cybersecurity, nobody works alone. You have to feel comfortable in your team and be sufficiently at ease with other professions. As a manager, I like the idea that the group can exist outside of work, that the links created are sincere. Getting along well with colleagues also means moving forward hand in hand with someone who has different opinions from your own, creating standard models of understanding. So I would advise, in addition to finding a team in which you feel good, to get to know the members who compose it.

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