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How women bring a new perspective to infosecurity

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Nicola O’Connor

Chief Information Security and IT Risk Officer

A love of numbers convinced Allied Irish Banks’ chief information security and IT Risk officer Nicola O’Connor to ultimately follow a STEM career and she wants more girls to do the same.

I was so keen on maths as a child that I used to add up the figures on car number plates when we went on family trips.

My knowledge of the STEM sector was quite limited during my early education so, considering how much I loved maths, a career as an accountant seemed a more obvious path for me.

In the end, I studied computer engineering at University College Cork. I was outnumbered five to one by men, but I found the course fascinating, and this was my route into the STEM sector.

I joined Intel in 1996 covering a number of technical roles including IT construction project manager and data centre change manager position. I joined Allied Irish Banks (AIB) in 2007, initially to help with business re-engineering.

Women will succeed in STEM jobs if they are confident and resilient and willing to be flexible when it comes to developing their career.

It’s my job to manage risks to the technology we rely on

I soon focused more on operational risk and IT strategy and became AIB’s chief information security officer in October 2017. My job is all about managing risk around the technology that AIB uses.

There are some great opportunities in AIB for girls starting their career and for women returning to the workplace. It’s important to always look for talent in this area and have active internal networks that encourage and develop people from diverse backgrounds to pursue a career in AIB.

This can open up doors for women joining the sector for the first time from the worlds of finance and business.

In such a male-dominated industry, it is not always easy to challenge what can appear the norm. Yet the infosecurity sector needs people who can bring a new perspective. We have to confront traditional stereotypes and the mind-set of ‘this is how we’ve always done things’.

I also want girls to love technology as much as I do and realise it is not static or geeky – it is constantly evolving.

For successful growth, banks need to be seen as technology-led, adopting new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and chatbots as well as ensuring customers are able to interact with them through best-in-class digital channels.

For example, the application of artificial intelligence can analyse behaviour and changes in how consumers interact using different devices.

Diversity is crucial for organisations, because your employee profile should match your customer base. Within AIB this is a significant focus.

I love getting inside the mind of a cyber criminal

I love the responsibility of protecting the business from cyber threats and using intelligence to discover who the ‘bad guys’ are and what they are doing. We profile cyber criminals and investigate the tools they are using. There is an element of psychology involved and we become experts in understanding the cybercriminal motivations and behaviours.

Women will succeed in STEM jobs if they are confident and resilient and willing to be flexible when it comes to developing their career. This is a focus area for us within AIB.

My advice is to not always take the obvious promotion and pay rise. There is so much going on in STEM that sometimes a sideways move will allow you to grow your skills and improve your career in the long-term.

My main message to girls is this: do not rule out a career in STEM too early because there is so much going on that you may not know about.

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