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Spotlight Series: Dr Jessica Barker MBE, Author, Hacked: The Secrets Behind Cyber Attacks

Dr Jessica Barker MBE

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Meet Dr Jessica Barker MBE, Author of Hacked: The Secrets Behind Cyber Attacks! Jessica sits down with us to chat about her career journey into tech, getting her MBE and shares her career advice for other women in tech.

Dr Jessica Barker MBE is an award-winning leader in the human side of cyber security and has delivered awareness sessions to over 50,000 people.

She has appeared on media outlets such as BBC, Sky News and Wired and has delivered over 80 keynotes for organizations and conferences including NATO, the World Government Summit and RSA. She serves on numerous boards, including the UK Government Cyber Security Advisory Board. Jessica Barker has been awarded an MBE for services to cyber security.

Barker is the co-founder and co-CEO of Cygenta, a leading consultancy which advises businesses such as Mastercard, Microsoft and Cisco on their cybersecurity and cyber risk. She is also a prominent thought leader on the topics of cybersecurity and cybercrime and was named as the ‘Cyber Citizen of the Year 2022’ by the National Cyber Awards. She is based in London, UK.

How did you land your current role? Was it planned? 

Nothing about my cyber security career has been planned! After finishing my PhD – which was in the engineering field of civic design, and not about security – I was headhunted for my first cyber security role. That was 13 or so years ago and I’ve been growing my experience in this field ever since. In my current role, running a small cyber security company, I have been able to follow my mission of advancing the cyber security awareness, behaviours and cultures of organisations around the world. I wear lots of different hats in my work, as a keynote speaker, media commentator and author alongside the ‘day job’ of running a company. I’m a big believer in seeking out and embracing opportunities, even when that means stepping out of your comfort zone a little. When I first started professional speaking, it terrified me. But now, ten years later and having keynoted for clients such as NATO, the World govt summit and Arm, I love it.

What are the key roles in your field of work, and why did you choose your current expertise? 

Cyber security is incredibly broad and deep. Roles span technical, physical and human elements of the field – from ethical hacking to hardware reverse engineering to awareness, behaviour and culture (and lots in between). I’ve always been fascinated by people and trying to understand what motivates behaviour and make people tick. I value making a difference and find it so rewarding to help people. I’ve also always been interested in technology – not so much building it, or taking it apart, but more how we interact with it and the impact it has on society. My specialism allows me to lean into these diverse interests and I’m happy I’ve been able to make an impact.

What are you most proud of in your career, so far? 

I never could have expected to be recognised in the UK Royal Honours System by King Charles III for my services to cyber security. I recently received my MBE medal from Prince William at Windsor Castle and it is a day I will never forget. Meeting the future King was a privilege and he asked me thoughtful questions about cyber security before shaking my hand and thanking me for my work. It made me especially proud to see not just my work, but the human side of cyber security in general, recognised in this way.

Dr Jessica Barker
Credit: PA Group Ltd.

What does an average work day look like for you? 

There is no average day for me, but perhaps there is a collection of average days! If I’m working from home, I generally start early. Being based in the US now, I still have many meetings with UK and European clients, so will often be online for those between 5 and 6am. I balance meetings with focused work on projects, for example analysing data from our cyber security culture assessments. On other days I will be travelling for conferences and keynotes, meeting lots of people in between taking the stage. When I was writing Hacked, I had a lot of late nights and weekends at the computer but this was balanced with interviews where I heard from so many people across this field – investigators, researchers, ex-fraudsters and those who fight for victims. I love the diversity of my work and am driven by impact. Cyber security is a fascinating field that touches all of our lives, whether at work or at home. But too often the messages come across as dry and intimidating, wrapped in jargon. It’s always my aim to meet people where they are, showing them how cyber security applies to them and what they can do to manage it.

Are there any specific skills or traits that you notice companies look for when you’re searching for roles in your field? 

If you want to work in cyber security, developing the right mindset is key. In cyber security we’re often working on complex, interrelated problems that can’t be fixed overnight so it’s important that you enjoy a challenge and approach problems with curiosity. As it’s a challenging industry, knowing that you can learn and grow is really fundamental, so embracing a growth mindset is key. Patience is a vital trait – both with yourself, which is part of a growth mindset, and also with others because you’re often trying to influence positive behaviour change which can take time. Finally, empathy is the most important and underrated skill in this field as cyber security is about working with people as much as technology

Have you ever faced insecurities and anxieties during your career, and how did you overcome them?

I started speaking at cyber security conferences twelve years ago and I was terrified. If I rewind twelve years, I would feel incredibly anxious when I knew I was going to be speaking in front of an audience. I would wake up in the night in the months before a presentation and feel dread, then on the day itself I would be red-faced, shaking and nauseous. I overcame my insecurities and anxieties by feeling the fear and doing it anyway, while being as prepared as possible. The more I got up on stage and spoke, the more I realized the audience wasn’t an enemy, waiting for me to make a mistake or fall apart. They wanted to be there. And by being as prepared as possible, I was stacking the odds of success in my favour. I’ve delivered over 80 global keynotes and shared cyber security awareness-raising sessions to over 70,000 people around the world. I love speaking to an audience and the larger the audience, the better!

Entering the world of work can be daunting. Do you have any words of advice for anyone feeling overwhelmed? 

Take it one step at a time and know that ‘imposter syndrome’ is very common. Even people who have been working for decades worry that they don’t know enough and are going to be ‘found out’! When you’re new to the world of work, it’s entirely normal to feel overwhelmed and to question whether you know enough. Ask questions and see gaps in your knowledge and experience as a roadmap for how you can learn and develop, rather than feeling they are obstacles in your way.

Dr Jessica Barker MBE is the author of Hacked: The Secrets Behind Cyber Attacks, published by Kogan Page on 03 April

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