27th June 2022

My Journey from Military Life to Cyber Security Specialist

Nikki Williams
Cyber Operations Manager

I never imagined I would have a successful career in the cyber security sector. I grew up in the ‘90s, when internet technology was relatively new and felt like a huge unknown. When I left school, I decided to pursue a career that would push me way beyond my limits and joined the military – not a common choice for women of my generation!

Life in the army tested me in every way. I was physically and mentally challenged constantly. But it also really developed me as an individual. I learnt about leadership, how to deal with conflicting priorities, and about working in high pressure environments. These skills were crucial in my military career and they’re still crucial to what I do today, dealing with cybersecurity incidents.

So, why cyber security? In short, I’ve always wanted to be part of the fight against cyber criminals. It’s a passion of mine. When I transitioned from the military to a civilian career in 2016, I was super fortunate to have an abundance of resettlement tools available to me and I completed a Bachelor’s Degree in IT and Telecommunications. Then, when I decided to move into cyber security incident response, I only ever encountered support and encouragement to pursue my dream of working in the area of cyber-defence.

While it’s true that tech is still a male dominated industry, I haven’t been held back by my gender at all at Vodafone. I’ve found that if you work hard and are determined – two attributes I brought with me from my army days – you will be completely accepted for your knowledge and experience in this organisation, and not defined by your gender.

What made me choose Vodafone

An opportunity came up for me here in 2021 and I was attracted to the company immediately. I was very impressed by its values and inclusiveness. That first impression hasn’t wavered. From the day I joined, I’ve been made to feel welcome and part of the team, and better yet, I’m encouraged to pursue my goals and given opportunities to learn on a regular basis.

Within one month, I was able to pass the CISSP exam, something that would not have been possible without the encouragement and support of Vodafone’s UK Cyber Leadership Team. Overall, my contributions and experience are always recognised and appreciated at Vodafone, and that keeps me even more motivated.

The core of my role

With the constant and increasing threat of cyber-crime, the Cyber Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) at Vodafone provides a vital function within the business. We could be called to support an incident at any time of the day or night. It can be quite a pressured environment and we have to think quickly, but that makes it exciting too! We monitor and respond to a multitude of security alerts, from malicious email delivery to vulnerability exploitation attempts, and are always working to improve the business security posture.

People ask me what the key to this job is and I tell them that first and foremost it’s curiosity. You encounter many different situations and scenarios and it’s so important to be continuously looking into how and why they are all happening.

As an example, when you are observing DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack attempts, it is important to keep situational awareness – could this attack be a distraction for another attack vector? Remaining vigilant and understanding the TTPs used by threat actors is vital in a DDoS scenario because the main aim of this type of attack is to impact normal business operations.

Go for it!

I have actually felt very empowered since I entered the field of cyber security. It’s a career I am truly passionate about and I think that really shows. I was promoted quickly from a Senior Cyber Security Analyst to a Team Lead at Vodafone.

I’m lucky to have such a great team right now as well. We share a common passion for cyber security and lean on each others’ wide variety of experience and knowledge to really get it done together.

I actively encourage women with an interest in a cyber security career to just go for it! There are many resources out there to support you on your journey, such as the Code Like A Girl and Step into STEM programmes. If this field interests you, don’t let anything stop you. I’m so glad I stuck to my ambition and pursued this direction and I hope my story encourages other aspiring female cyber security specialists to pursue it too!