How to get into cyber security with no experience: two leaders share their stories

Shaun Cheatham, Chief Commercial Officer at Hays

For the last year or so I’ve had fascinating conversations with leaders in tech around the world on the ‘How Did You Get That Job?’ podcast. In each episode, I meet a new guest who shares insights into how they’ve got to where they are today, what their role entails, what motivates them and how to start a career in tech. In some cases, they didn’t set out to work in their field at all but found themselves there, enjoyed it and stayed along for the ride.

Since it’s Cyber Security Awareness Month, I thought I’d look back at two great guests who are now cyber security leaders. Neither one started their career on this path, but it’s the one that took them to the top and they’re still enjoying it.

Search for your next job in cyber security here.


There’s no right way to get into cyber security

In Series 1, I was fortunate enough to speak with Jessica Nemmers, the Chief Security Officer at Elevate. Jessica didn’t take the traditional route into technology. She actually trained as a ballerina in Dallas, and performed professionally as part of a troupe. So how did she go from dancing six days a week at high school to a successful career in cyber security?

As she puts it, her “leap” into technology came by chance. When her ballet company had to fold due to lack of budget, she interviewed for a project in Dallas run by Electronic Data Systems and Hitachi. That gave her a first taste of working in tech, and it led to her applying for another role at Perot Systems. In Jessica’s own words, she “had no skills at all” – but, as she says, she “fell in love with tech!”

And look at the career it’s led to! Twenty-five years on and she’s moved into cyber and been CISO at two organisations.

A year later, I sat down with John deCraen, the Associate Managing Director for Cyber Advisory Services at consultancy organisation Kroll. Like Jessica, he didn’t start out in cyber security, although he had experience in data. He too found himself out of work when his previous employer closed down, and a recruiter got him an interview at Alvarez & Marsal. He was reserved about taking the job, initially on contract, but by the end was “not only in love with their services, but the company itself”. It’s funny how things work out that way!

As he says: “It’s never too late to start over again.”

The top skills you need for a career in cyber security

John describes himself at the start of his career in cyber security as a “middle-aged senior associate”, specialising in computer forensics. He was 35 while most of his peers were a decade younger. After almost 17 years at Alvarez & Marsal, John moved to Kroll and found himself in his current role just ten months later. To what does he attribute his success?

Among other things, he stresses the importance of having a strong learning mindset to future-proof your skills. Keeping up with new technologies is necessary in any role, but in cyber, it’s about staying ahead of the bad guys too. That passion for learning is key.

Jessica’s transferable skills were of huge help to her. Specifically, she credits her ability to be unfazed by presenting or speaking on stage, as well as her discipline. She also says that her flexibility (not just physically!) is a huge plus.

Initially, she suffered from imposter syndrome as a woman in tech without a formal background. However, her strengths were exactly what the role demanded. In fact, she’s not the only one – she’s since found a community of former artists and performers that work in cyber!

What next?

Want to find out more?

To hear further advice from Jessica and John, listen to our interviews here. You’ll be able to find all episodes of the ‘How Did You Get That Job?’ podcast, where my next guest will be Julie Matira, SOC Manager at CyberQ.

Additionally, if you’re looking for a new role, why not get into cyber security? Check out our available jobs in cyber here. Who knows, like Jessica and John, you might be surprised.



Shaun Cheatham
Chief Commercial Officer at Hays

Shaun is responsible for the creation and execution of sales strategies, as well as running the Major and National accounts organization, for Hays in the US. With over 20 years of staffing industry experience, Shaun now hosts the Hays Technology podcast, ‘How Did You Get That Job?’.