“I work as a Senior Threat Intelligence Analyst,” John Southworth says over our virtual call, once he’d got the green light to chat to me from PricewaterhouseCoopers, his employers. “What that means on a day-to-day basis is that I check the activity of hacker groups and develop ways to detect and track that hacking activity. Companies will generally approach us to ask us to review their cyber security and help them protect their systems.
“You find that firms will realise that they’ve been hacked and quickly want a solution. So that’s something I get pulled in to, helping to work with firms to see where the weaknesses are in their systems and where the breach is.”
John left Framlingham College a few years ago to go straight to Bath University to study maths, where he excelled before taking an internship at PwC cybersecurity, which sparked an unexpected fascination with the sector. He says: “I kind of stumbled into this. I feel quite lucky to be honest. When I was at university, I was applying for all kinds of internships at traditional financial services firms and then I saw PwC were recruiting for interns in their cyber security team. The internship was great for me as I realised, completely by accident really, that this was something I was interested in.”
Cyber security, like many other highly technical modern digital industries, seems, on the surface, like an area of work exclusively ringfenced for coding obsessives. But according to John, it’s more accessible than people think. He says: “I think with cyber security, it can feel like there’s a barrier to getting into the industry, which puts people off. But it’s such a broad sector so there are so many roles within it. It’s definitely something you can learn on the job.
“It’s sometimes a little bit like detective work. We have software where it looks like you have strings connecting all these people together, a bit like police TV dramas.
Imagining a scene from The Wire, I’m curious to know more about John’s working conditions in Central London, where he goes to work every day when there is not a global pandemic. He says: “I started work in late 2017 and when I started, when it was just a small team, we were all on just a couple of rows in our office. Now I’m part of a huge team, with hundreds of people. It just shows how fast the industry is growing.”
As the UK Government so callously pointed out last summer, while performance ballet is an industry on pause, there are an increasing number of jobs in cyber security. John continues: “Unfortunately, these cyber threats are getting bigger and bigger and there are more groups hacking all of the time. Therefore, the industry is constantly growing, both in the public sector and the private sector where I work.”
As a pupil here at Framlingham College, John was, like many young people, unsure of which direction his career would take. He says: “I started at the Prep School in Year 7. It was a great experience for me. I think that Framlingham College has a really good balance of good academics, where I knew that whichever subject I took an interest in, I would have great teachers to help me develop, combined with the extra-curricular stuff that goes on across the school. I really felt that I could do anything.”
“I should also just say a public thank you to all of my family who have been really supportive throughout my education and career as well as my music.”
While the man staring back at me from my computer screen, who works for one of the ‘big four’ accountancy firms, seems confident and appears to have the world at his feet, he says it wasn’t always this way. “I remember being quite a shy child for a while,’ John adds. “I think the nice thing about Framlingham College, was that I got plenty of opportunities to step out of my comfort zone. So, music was really big for me in that respect in that I would stand on a stage and perform in front of people and speak in Chapel. I got my self-belief to go on and do the things I wanted to do from my education. I still play the piano.”
Looking ahead, John, like the rest of the UK, is looking forward to the reopening of leisure and hospitality this summer, following a difficult year. But for those in the cybersecurity industry, the switch to home working has been seamless, he tells me. “One of the best things about this work is that it can be done anywhere,” John says. “At the moment I’m really enjoying being in London and I can’t see that changing anytime soon, but it’s nice to think there might be an option to go to America and work there at some point in the future.
“I really like my role and I’m fascinated to see the way the industry will grow and the direction cyber will take.”
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