I have a passion for empowering women to take the leap and take that job in cybersecurity. I don’t come from a traditional background in tech. Nor did I go to university or study IT. Before getting a technical role at Microsoft, I didn’t even work within tech.
All I was given was the opportunity to learn – so I took on the challenge! I want to inspire others that with the right mindset and passion, you can do whatever you want to do.
My background is quite varied. I studied art at college, was a groom, worked in retail then got into procurement for a variety of clients before I ended up being at Microsoft.
During my time in procurement, I got headhunted by a manager at Microsoft that I’d been working with for over a year. He’d seen me have the confidence in meetings to speak up. I also proved that I enjoyed a challenge – I had been given some difficult tasks from that team and managed to complete them with great success.
“Have you ever thought of being a Premier Field Engineer?” he asked whilst I was at a recruitment event Microsoft had put on. My initial response to him was one of shock. But I was also confused he’d asked because I had absolutely no background in technology – apart from a passion for Microsoft.
Building new skills and gaining confidence
I was helping bring in contractors with over 15 years of experience that could land in the role running, and here I was with none. He explained that Microsoft sometimes hired people who proved they could ramp up into the role.
Once I expressed my interest to take on this opportunity, we came up with a plan. Over the next 12 months I would study and show my ability to learn by passing a technical exam. I was also able to shadow a few of the engineers to see what I thought of the role.
After a year of working evenings and weekends building machines, running through labs, deploying devices, and understanding the technology to a deeper level, I was ready for my interview! I couldn’t believe it, but I got a job as a Premier Field Engineer. Within six months of ramp up in the role, I was out with Microsoft’s customers travelling around the UK and Europe delivering sessions and technical expertise all on my own.
I was really supported during the onboarding process. I was only put in front of customers when I felt ready and confident. Other businesses can learn from how Microsoft have supported re-skilling and upskilling employees into different roles. Giving people access to the right resources and education gives them more technical understanding. The opportunity to shadow others in the role and other roles gives them full visibility of the whole business and where they sit within it. Doing this helped me understand so much more where I fitted in. It also helps better understand the organisation’s values and gives them a sense of purpose inside the role and the team.
One of the biggest challenges that I have faced is sitting exams. I find the whole exam process really tough – even if I know the answers. Microsoft managers have been really supportive and understanding during this which has helped my confidence in exams.
The gender gap in technology
From my previous role working in procurement for Microsoft hiring technical contractors, it became really apparent that there was a severe lack of women in the tech industry. All the applications coming through for the open positions were male. Great CVs, but there wasn’t much diversity in them.
I was invited to a few meetings with managers to discuss how we could bring more women into the roles, one question was “how do we make this job description friendlier for women?” Searching for the answer in my head, I couldn’t understand how you could make a job description like that.
It was then that I knew that the description wasn’t the problem. It was the lack of women looking for those jobs, especially in cybersecurity, or women who thought they didn’t have the right ‘qualifications’ for the role.
Two years into the Premier Field Engineer role and I could count the amount of women that I worked with at customer sites on one hand. I knew that I could help change this.
Using skills to open opportunity
In my Premier Field Engineer role, part of the technology that I was working with was IT security. Cybersecurity has always fascinated me. To learn more about it, I focussed my work around security with customers that I engaged.
After about a year in the role, I decided to speak to a manager in Microsoft about becoming a Security and Compliance Technical Specialist.
Again, I did find myself questioning if I would be successful in getting the role, as I didn’t have the experience like others who were already doing it.
However, I was given the opportunity to prove that I could learn and grow into it. I worked with the manager to ramp up the best I could, spending time with the team to learn more about the role. I successfully got through the interview about a year after that first discussion. It can take time to get the role that you want, but at least you know that you really are ready for it. Also, there was a lot of cross over from my other role which made the transition easier.
Since starting the new job, I’ve delivered a session at Ignite to a large audience on Azure Identity. I’ve also been actively working on ways to bring more women into cybersecurity roles.
I wouldn’t want anyone to not consider a role in security or a tech company because they don’t have the background or skills for the role. Soft skills can grow with practice and training. Technical skills can be learnt. It’s most important to have that drive and determination. Microsoft’s supportive approach and growth mindset will open opportunities up for you that you didn’t know were possible. It’s given me the trust that you can do anything you want to do, if you want it enough.
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About the author
Eli works at Microsoft as a Security and Compliance Technical Specialist.
She grew up in West Sussex by the South Downs, and spent a lot of time outside enjoying nature. Now, Eli lives in Surrey with her husband – who also works at Microsoft – and their rescue dog, Pippin and rescue cat called LP. She met her husband through a car club that they were both members of, you could say they are petrolheads. As well as diversity, she is also very passionate about sustainability.