Poppy Wood is a founding member of CyLon - Europe’s first cyber security accelerator programme. As far as experience goes, she has got it in spades. Having worked in the cyber industry for three years and helped numerous cyber startups grow, Poppy noticed that the landscape and awareness of cyber security have started to change over the last couple of years. “I’ve noticed that people are now starting to feel more comfortable talking about it. Three years ago there was no way my family would have talked about cyber security at a dinner table,” she says.
Part of this shift in the attitude towards cyber security is the fact that the issue hits the headlines on a regular basis and it has taken a front role on the international stage. “Five years ago fintech was something that existed in a particular part of the economy, in particular parts of London and it was for financial services geeks. Cyber has in some ways overtaken fintech as a theme that people know is an issue but are not necessarily comfortable with the details. People are a little bit more confident considering cyber as a career path. I’m certainly seeing early-stage businesses pop up more frequently in a cyberspace,” Poppy adds.
So, as cyber security becomes a big part of our everyday lives, in this interview, Poppy shares her wisdom on what she calls “a booming sector” and how you can get your foot in the door.
Why cyber security is important
“Cyber security is like water and without it nothing else can grow or flourish,” Poppy claims, referring to the key role cyber security plays in innovation and economy. Unfortunately, as she adds, its importance, though undeniable, is often overlooked.
“Cyber security is like an underlayer that’s taken for granted in a digital economy. It’s absolutely fundamental to everything else, but it’s been underloved and under-cherished over the past few years, but at least now we’re starting to see a big change of tide. It’s a core component in the digital economy,” she says.
The biggest worries of those thinking about getting into the industry are that they do not possess the right skills or that there is not enough money in it. For them, Poppy has got the answers.
Myth #1 - You have to be technical to work in cyber
“I studied ancient Greek and Latin at university. Before I worked in cyber I worked for the government and before that in banking. I am not a technical person but I work in cyber the same way that someone works in PR who didn’t actually study PR. You have to take your talent to the industry. There is this expectation that cyber people are young spotty teenagers with their laptops. When I say that I work in cyber people are surprised, but I’m convinced there are transferable skills and cyber needs a whole range of people.”
Myth #2 - There is not enough money in cyber
“There’s plenty of money floating around to invest and support early-stage businesses in cyber security. Of course, investors are very nervous about cyber investments because it’s a deeply technical area. But there is enough money and enough investors in this space.” This particularly applies, Poppy adds, at the early stage of investment. The biggest challenge these companies face is accessing customers, not cash.
How to get into cyber
If you are not a technical person and looking to get into cyber, it is slightly more difficult but the good news is that the community is really buzzing. Poppy says that there are plenty of meetups, cyber industry events, talks, hubs such as CyLon, where there are loads of interesting companies. She adds: “While cyber sounds like a very big area, it’s actually quite a small industry. Once you're in it, people are very supportive. The main thing is to get out networking.” In terms of developing technical skills, and pivoting towards cyber, Poppy highlights organisations like Immersive Labs, which train cyber talent to improve their technical skills and practice in the cyber environment.
Poppy, being from a completely different background, has learned that cyber applies to every single industry - and vice versa. “Whether you’ve got a psychology or creative industries degree - cyber security needs you. If the company is building an insider threat product, which is a huge industry, you need to understand human behaviour and to do that there is no better way than to have a human psychologist or an anthropologist,” she says.
Benefits (and drawbacks) of joining a cyber startup
When it comes to upsides of joining a cyber startup, Poppy claims it is much like any early-stage business. “It is exciting, dynamic, you have got autonomy, decisions are made really quickly, you work in a very small team,” she says.
However, as it is a deeply technical field, cyber is not something everyone understands. “Sometimes it (explaining cyber) can be quite challenging. If you’re at a consumer company or you’re building an app for a beauty product, then it’s easy to explain around a dinner table, but it’s harder if you’re in cyber. So if you want to be able to explain what you do, cyber is not always the easiest place to work,” Poppy adds.
Still, at least cyber is interesting, right? “Nope,” Poppy laughs. “People think it’s incredibly boring. There are absolutely brilliant cyber companies out there but I suspect they don’t get invited to dinner parties very often.”
A typical day of a ‘cyber woman’
“I don’t think it’s that different from a ‘cyber man’. We’re running a cyber security accelerator, so in the morning I like to look at the news because cyber is something that hits the front pages. It’s very important to check what’s happening in the world because cyber is a geopolitical issue. I read cyber-specific blogs. The Cipher Brief is the one that I like to read on a daily basis. There is also Politico and general tech blogs like TechCrunch.”
“I always meet a new company, or a new founder, that we’ve supported, so it maybe one of our Cylon alumni, check in how they’re doing, what’s their progress, if they are raising money, do they need support with their product. The other thing that makes a day nice is going to speak to a large corporation and explaining to them what we do because often they have no idea about these early-stage businesses sitting out in west London.”
Bringing it all together
Now you know all there is to cyber from an expert, who has made a success of herself and many startups she has helped. You know how important cyber is in the modern world and that there is potential to grow in the field. So what’s stopping you getting into it?
Before you go, here're some cyber tips from Poppy.
“Have a password managing tool like LastPass and use it properly. Don't use passwords like “Password12345” for everything. Use a tool that generates secure passwords and stores them for you. Otherwise you’ll always end up with the same password.”
“Go online and use websites that check whether or not their information has been breached. Check if you have been phoned, for example. Go online and see: was your Instagram account one of the ones that was hacked and has your password been stolen? If so, change your password. Go on Dynarisk – they offer a similar service.”
“Don’t be naive. If you’re putting your information online, remember that it’s ready to be used by someone else. So think about what you put online. I just assume that anytime I buy something online, or log on to a new website, or sign up for a newsletter - that information is out of my hands and is ready for someone who wants to find it. And sometimes I accept that because I really want to sign up for that newsletter or I really want to buy that product. Be conscious of what you’re putting online because it can be used and it probably will be used by someone else for monetisation or malicious purposes.”