Archive | November 2020

Surf the wave of the Industry 4.0

Major industry developments are coming in waves. And just like surfing, catching a wave requires knowledge, skill and the right equipment. The fourth big wave is now coming towards us at full speed. How do you prepare yourself, your organisation and your industrial IT network to safely surf this next wave?

what is industry 4.0

Experts and trend watchers agree: the fourth wave is upon us. This fourth wave is called “Industry 4.0”. This new phase will see machines and other means of production supplemented with intelligence, communicating with each other, and being interconnected. The so-called Internet of Things allows sensors and smart machines to collect valuable data in the production process. For example, they can collect data about wear level of parts, measured temperature, or simply the number of goods produced.

IT and OT

IT systems collect and analyse the data, and then, for example, combine it with data from ERP systems. In short, the world of OT (Operational Technology) is increasingly linked directly to IT (Information Technology).

This combination of both worlds offers many advantages. Monitoring purposes are obvious. But smart planning of preventive maintenance before failures occur is another. The possibilities can go much further. Forerunners in the industry can create fully automatic production lines with smart machines and robots that can control and adjust themselves based on data. And they can do this without any human intervention whatsoever.

Massive risks

This close connection between IT and OT also creates new risks. Risks that cannot be underestimated. Production machines accessible to IT systems via remote connections are also accessible to people with less than honourable intentions.

The possible consequences for the manufacturing industry are disastrous. A hacked machine can literally bring a production line to a screeching and grinding halt. Utility companies particularly, for example, are in the firing line. It does not take much imagination to predict the possible consequences of a hacker taking control of the systems in a nuclear power plant or drinking water treatment plant.

Big waves? No excuse

Grab your board. Big waves are no excuse for not getting out to surf. In fact; they offer opportunities for a better experience than calm rippling water. The same goes for Industry 4.0. The risks of the fourth wave cannot be underestimated. The secret of enjoying success with that wave is to take a “frontside” approach to it – to face up to it. Be aware of the risks, make sure you have the right equipment, and get yourself in the right mindset.

My advice to avoid security wipe outs in your digital factory:

1. Collaborate

What does that mean in practice? First of all, IT and OT must work together. This may be a culture shock for some organisations. Previously, these worlds work often separately. But this mindset is no longer acceptable when navigating the fourth wave. IT must know what OT is doing, and vice versa. They must learn to communicate and overcome their differences.

2. Create visibility

Another important point is to create visibility. In particular, by mapping all the connected assets in a production facility. That is not an unnecessary luxury. If you do not know exactly which assets may be at risk, you cannot secure them.

3. Secure it

As said: surfing big waves requires good equipment. For industry, the required material is not a surfboard, but solid security solutions. Security services tailored for production environments. Solutions that not only keep a close eye on the connections between IT and OT, but also intervene when things go wrong.

Getting more information about Industry 4.0

Would you like to know more about how to safely surf the fourth wave with the right equipment and mindset? We would like to invite you to a no-obligation one-to-one expert session with our surf instructor (no really, he actually is a surf instructor!) to discuss this topic further.

Reach out to me or click here to claim your free session

3 Generations of Women In IT – Volume 2

Continuing on from Part 1 of our blog following Annette, Bharti and Sukh through their respective IT careers, this second part focusses on the career progression of each of these talented women.

We discover how their experiences influenced the choices that were made, and how they dealt with the more challenging aspects of both their roles and a career in IT. Has the industry changed in its attitude to women over the years?

These 3 very different experiences from such extraordinary women will challenge you to decide.


Q1: How has your career progressed from its initial start?

Annette

“I had completed my first and, thankfully, last programming assignment as an Andersen Consultant. Although, with the benefit of hindsight, I say “thankfully” with some reservations.

“That’s because I now recognise the satisfaction that male contemporaries of mine still get from solving technical problems in ServiceNow, the platform that we all work with. The technology has changed dramatically from clunky old IMS DB/DC and COBOL to the elegance that is ServiceNow.

“But there still remains the challenges of knowing how best to use the technology to meet the customer’s requirements. And this is clearly an enjoyable challenge for my contemporaries, as well as for my younger colleagues such as Bharti and Sukh.

“After finishing the assignment on the Slough Trading Estate – where, incidentally, the Mars factory recently celebrated its 100th anniversary – I did a series of small assignments, working for American oil companies who were just beginning to arrive in Europe on the back of the oil (and later gas) boom in the North Sea.

“I was subsequently assigned to a big systems delivery project for Wates, a construction company. I remember we replaced their existing back office systems, some of which were probably paper based, with a set of applications running on an ICL ME29. The ME29 was put into its own air-conditioned room, to which the whole team had access.

“I still recall the Andersen Consulting manager on the project announcing one day that he’d skin alive the next person who accidentally unplugged the computer, by tripping over the cable at the back of the machine.

“These were the days when the lifeblood of a company could be unplugged by the cleaner wanting to use the socket to plug in a vacuum cleaner!  Thankfully a scene that would be unimaginable to IT professionals today, all of whom are used to seeing their hardware tightly guarded in secure data centres.

“I became responsible for understanding the requirements for the Wates payroll systems. Amongst other challenges, I had to get my head around the processing of all the construction work related payments, such as inclement weather payments and protective clothing allowances.

“I quickly learned about managing difficult customers as the weekly payroll manager had direct access to the Managing Director’s office.  The weekly payroll process was business critical to Wates because if it didn’t run on time workers wouldn’t turn up on site and construction would stop.

“On reflection it is clear that some of this stress was self-inflicted as I would argue with the partner on the project, particularly about issues affecting women in the workplace. These were the days of the Guardian’s women’s page and I can remember regularly telling him to read the page to better inform himself about the challenges I was describing.

“Interestingly, many years later, when I was living with my family in Palo Alto (Silicon Valley), I bumped into the same partner in the queue to eat at Il Fornaio. In the late 90s, Il Fornaio was where the VCs and other Silicon Valley hotshots all hung out, so I’m not quite sure why I was even there. I went over to speak to him despite him being the number 3 worldwide in the Andersen Consulting hierarchy.

“Much to my surprise he was not only pleased to see his old sparring partner but he introduced me to his two colleagues with great positivity. He proceeded to bring me up to date with all the changes The Firm had introduced to make careers in the company better for women.

“Who knows, perhaps some of what I told him had penetrated after all?

“After the Wates ordeal, I realised that a career with Andersen Consulting, where such work-related stress was not uncommon, was probably not in my long-term interests. I started looking around for my next career move.

“I eventually found a position as a pre-sales consultant for a US software company whose European base was in Maidenhead in Berkshire.

“When I resigned from Andersen Consulting, the same Head of Recruitment that I encountered on my first day with The Firm informed me that I ‘had only one chance to leave Andersen Consulting.’

“The clear implication was that I was wasting this opportunity. I’m pleased to say I proved him completely wrong – but that’s for another blog.”

Bharti

“Once I had stumbled into the area I so badly wanted to work in – cyber security – it was time to start figuring out what happens next.  On the one hand, I had my foot in the cyber security door where I had always wanted to pursue a career, but on the other hand, it wasn’t the job I wanted to do. 

“In cyber security I discovered what it was like to be a woman in an almost totally male dominated sector. Male colleagues were selected over me for work, even if I had the ability and the interest to learn.

“My male counterparts made inappropriate comments and there was some hostility because I was younger and female. When your male colleagues point out to you how you’re different, you start to realise that something isn’t right.

“As the reality of my situation dawned, I had to choose whether to carry on in this unfavourable environment, or quit.  I knew this was not a place where I could grow, so I made the decision to leave and to pursue the career that I wanted, but in a company that would support me. 

“I now believe that the company has since made efforts to change this hostile culture, and to support women in IT careers in a way they clearly didn’t support me. I don’t know how exactly, but I hope that these steps help them to retain their female talent in the future.

“In order to progress, I felt that I needed to upskill myself if I were to be taken seriously in an interview, knowing that I would be asked lots of technical questions.  My previous interview experience had only led me to conclude that negative assumptions would be made the minute I walked in the door.  I had to prove I was just as technical, if not more so, than my male counterparts on the subject of networks and security.

“To prepare for the interview, I spent a week reading the Checkpoint firewalls book. I knew I was pretty good at networks, as it was my degree subject. I think it did the trick as the look of shock on the manager’s face during the interview process still makes me smile today.

“But in hindsight, it makes me sad. Sad that his initial look conveyed his low expectations of me and sad for the shock I saw, when he realised that I knew my stuff.  This was also the first interview where I had decided to wear a skirt suit rather than trousers. This may not sound like much, but for me this was a big statement.

“Consciously or subconsciously I was separating myself from the men they were interviewing.

“I was offered the job. I didn’t negotiate the salary, as I was just grateful they wanted to hire me. I took hold of the opportunity I was given with both hands and gave my all to the job. I had proven myself in the interview and knew I had set the bar high, which meant I finally had the chance to grow.  I was, of course, the only female in the support team, something that I was now getting used to.

“I picked things up very quickly and, although the role covered both networks and security, I found myself wanting to focus on security.  I had always known this at the back of my mind, but never thought I would be good at it. Turns out I was pretty good at understanding what was needed and how to use that information.

“My aim was to be a well-rounded security person, not just a specialist in one area but one who saw the bigger picture.  I enjoyed several roles over the years that gave me different experiences within cyber security.

“Eventually I progressed into the role of technical support engineer.  As I mentioned in the previous blog, I do love a good puzzle, and this is how I see cyber security and IT.

“Throughout my career, the support I received from my male colleagues has steadily improved.  I am not sure whether this is due to a mind shift about women in Security/IT, or because I have become much better at identifying a good manager, and being more confident in myself.

“Now when I go to an interview, I interview them. Will they be the right fit for me? Do I want to work for them? Will they help my career? I know how important it is to have the right manager more than ever, especially now that I am a mum and my life has very different priorities. 

“I have also been incredibly lucky to have some great supporters amongst the male managers that have hired me, worked alongside me, opened career doors and the colleagues who provided full backing. 

It did not go unnoticed and I will never forget.”

Sukh

“My IT career started about 4 and a half years ago at TeamUltra (now the ServiceNow Centre of Excellence at Computacenter), when I joined their Graduate scheme. At the beginning everything was new, the first few weeks were a whirlwind of crash courses in ITIL and ServiceNow.

“I was assigned to the Service Desk, providing support whilst managing day to day tasks with the rest of the Graduates. This was probably the most daunting part of my career; I was not only new to ITSM and ServiceNow, but new to customer management, another set of skills that I had to acquire quickly.

“I didn’t quite know what to expect working in IT and at the time I was hearing all sorts of chatter from my old classmates which wasn’t filling me with much confidence. I began to wonder if I was out of my depth.

“It was around this time that I began to notice and appreciate the company culture. Everyone was, and still is, so welcoming and supportive. I benefited greatly from an inspiring team spirit that was nurtured from the top, coupled with a community of ServiceNow experts.

“I was soon promoted to an implementation consultant. This was quite a jump and I’m thankful for colleagues that patiently supported me through the transition from the support desk to a whole new way of working on projects.

“Before I knew it, I was gaining experience, learning how to work alongside different colleagues and creating bespoke solutions for customers.

“I have progressed in my career and now proudly occupy the role of a Senior Consultant.  From working on a wide variety of engagements and interacting with a diverse number of people there have been many challenging moments for me.

“Reading both Annette’s and Bharti’s stories, I am grateful that I haven’t experienced anything like the obstacles they faced. A part of me feels very fortunate to have received great support from all of my colleagues, regardless of gender.

“Or perhaps I’m not lucky at all and this is the way it should be in all companies?  Nonetheless, I will take this moment to thank everyone that has helped and supported me throughout my career so far. I’m sure I’ll be relying on them in the future as I continue to grow. I only hope that, in return, I can be someone they can rely on too.”

3 Generations of Women In IT – Volume 1

Reflecting back on your career can elicit a mixture of emotions. For many, our interactions with colleagues evoke the strongest emotions. Because of this, many of our memories stem from events that revolve around people; whether this is our clients, peers or managers.

In this two part blog, Annette, Bharti and Sukh – 3 generations of highly successful women – to talk candidly about their experience of working within the IT sector.  We ask them to share how they first entered the industry, memories of their early experiences and how these influenced decisions on three very different pathways on the career ladder.  

Q1: What was your first exposure to computers?

Annette

“My earliest exposure to the world of computers came from my father who was a Patent Office Examiner. In the early 1960s, when many patent applications were being made for inventions related to computers, he was assigned to the team reviewing them.

“Sadly, much as the technology fascinated him as an electrical engineer, it also overwhelmed him as he wanted to understand it all. Even in the early 60s, this was too much for one person and so he transferred to electronic switchgear.

“But I think he always regretted giving up on computers and remained fascinated by them. He did pass his enthusiasm for them to my brother Neil though, who’s been a software engineer for most of his career.”

Bharti

“My first exposure to the world of computers was when I was quite young and had a Sinclair ZX spectrum to play games on. 

“Later on, when my Dad started his own business, I had access to a desktop PC that ran DOS. We had a few games on there so I would play them when the computer wasn’t being used by my dad.

I had my first experience of the Windows operating system back in the early 90s when I was still in primary school. I didn’t realise at the time that not many people had desktop computers at home.”

Sukh

“My exposure to computers started out in school during the late 90’s. It was mainly using them for basic Microsoft applications.

Over the next few years, I had a desktop computer at home and I started using it for learning, research, gaming and social media, like MSN and Myspace.”

Q2: When did you decide to work in IT?

Annette

“I’m not sure it was a conscious decision. I just found myself accepting a position in my mid-20s with Andersen Consulting – the forerunner to Accenture.

When I left school in the early 70s, and was undecided about what to do, I did a “computer aptitude test” for the engineering consultancy WS Atkins. I failed their test and was dogged for some time by the belief that the world of computing was not for me.

But I was an ambitious young woman. Indeed, for my 18th birthday, a supposedly good friend gave me Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch and inscribed it with the dedication: “To Annette – on the start of her career as one!”  I was also determined to show my doubting mother that I could be more than a housewife and mother.

Working in the computer industry – the term IT industry came later – seemed an attractive option for women like me in the 1970s, especially as it was not seen then as a particularly male dominated industry. But dogged by my perceived lack of “aptitude” I pursued my ambitions elsewhere.

Many years after leaving school, and after a year at Warwick Business School studying for an MSc in Management Science and Operational Research, I accepted an offer from Andersen Consulting. 

Consequently, I found myself on 2nd October 1979, in a room in 1 Surrey Street, WC1 with 10 men and 1 other woman, with no clue what lay ahead!”

Bharti

“Because I was exposed to a PC from quite a young age, when the A-level option to do Computing came up at school, I decided it would be something I would be good at. We were one of the 1st schools to have the Computing A-Level being taught as a subject, as part of a pilot scheme.

“Ironically, I didn’t think I was particularly good at computing and had decided not to pursue it after A-levels, but as I worked though my coursework every evening I realised I really enjoyed investigating the possibilities that computing offered. 

“I did much better in my A-level Computing exam than expected, and my teachers told me that I should have more belief in my abilities.

“Following this, I decided to do a U-turn on my chosen degree and to apply for a Computing degree course instead. I wasn’t great at programming, nor did I enjoy it, so I decided to do a degree that focused on networks and communication.

“During my degree I had the option to select certain modules and I chose security.  Choosing that module determined the route my career would take, as I was fascinated by security. In particular, the rapid changes needed, how clever the hackers were and how important it was to stay ahead of them. I always did love a good challenge!”

Sukh

“Working in IT wasn’t a career I had considered initially. In my senior school there was a compulsory course on IT. This focussed mainly on Microsoft Excel and there was little or nothing taught about IT or Computing. After completing my A-levels, I started training to be a dental nurse.

As I had some free time (my working hours were 09:00 – 15:00), I decided to find a course to fill in the free hours and attended an open evening looking for a suitable course.

I remember walking past the computing stand and thinking it looked new and interesting. After a chat with a few of the people on the stand, I abandoned the idea of becoming a dental nurse and enrolled in a BSc in Computing.

Q3: What was your early experience of working in IT?

Annette

“During my early years I acquired a set of analytical/IT skills and work habits that have stood me in good stead throughout my career.

“Our first few weeks were spent learning to program in Assembler. Back in the 70s this low, almost machine level, language was considered the only one that would give us a sufficiently good grounding in programming to enable us to be thrown into any client situation.

“As part of our training, we were sent for 3 weeks to either their main training headquarters near Chicago, or to the newly established World headquarters in Geneva.

“The Firm had the concept of a worldwide workforce all trained, developed and managed according to a consistent set of standards. This meant that, as project sizes grew, the project teams could be staffed from anywhere in the world The Firm had an office. Imagine my disappointment to discover that my first project was for a company on the Slough Trading Estate. There, after very little exposure to COBOL, I was given an assignment to build a stock control program in IMS DB/DC, a database and an online system I’d had prior exposure to.

“I was given 5 days to complete task, 3 days to code and 2 to test. I did deliver the program but, unsurprisingly, it took me rather longer than 5 days to complete it. Hardly a surprise as, in those days, we were allowed just one compile a day.

Bharti

“The experience from my first couple of jobs was not great, to put it mildly.  I had to deal with sexist comments, with my peers thinking it was not my place to do such technical work.  One male colleague decided I was ‘one of the boys’, and therefore much more acceptable than a female.  

“But I also had men who were fighting my corner.  Their support included helping me to progress my career, providing me with new opportunities to learn and giving me advice.

“I started in IT in a support role and was told by the owner of the small business I worked for that I would never have any issues progressing my career in IT if I could do the basics. Fix a computer, fix software issues, know Exchange and Active Directory, etc.

“He was right, and I took that advice with me to my next job where I learnt more about networks. I became a network support engineer, I did my server exams, my CCNA, and learnt how servers work and are managed. I then moved into security and for some time did both a network and security role in support.

“During the first few years of my career I did consider quitting IT because I realised it was going to be a battle to reach my full potential. I wasn’t sure it was one I would ever succeed in winning. I am glad I never gave up and luckily for me, I always had great supporters which helped to balance out those people that just wanted to hold me back.”

Sukh

“My experience in IT really began in college where I was one of only two girls in my class. It was definitely an odd experience but, as the rest of my (male) peers were welcoming, I didn’t feel out of place. During my studies I was often called ‘one of the lads.’ I also overheard someone shouting from the class next door ‘they have girls in their class’, as if this was something worth noting!

“My first experience of the extent of male dominance in the IT sector happened about 3 months into my first year when I was offered an opportunity to work for an IT support centre. I politely declined, as I already had a part-time job, but was then informed that the employer was looking for women for this role. 

“I asked why this was and the response was that ‘hearing a woman’s voice on the phone, especially when someone is angry, is believed to help defuse a situation’. I laughed it off but was left disappointed that my gender was the main focus, rather than the hard work and effort I had dedicated to gain my IT skills.

“This experience had a huge impact and made me realise there will always be stereotypes in this industry and occasions where I would have to prove myself in a way my male counterparts would not have to. But the experience just made me more determined to succeed.

“I have been lucky to have peers, teachers and friends who have supported my journey and made the overall experience positive.

“I’m still fairly new in my IT career and, reading Annette’s and Bharti’s stories, I’d say I’ve been pretty fortunate to enjoy a positive experience of working in the IT industry.”

Come back soon for part two of this blog, which will continue the story of 3 Generations of Women in IT and bring you up to date with where they currently are in their careers.