Why Ballerinas Make Great Cyber Security Professionals

April 16, 2021
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The much-maligned ‘Fatima’ campaign from the UK Government was a tone-deaf disaster, sticking the proverbial knife deeper into the back of the arts industry during an incredibly difficult time.

The implication, of course, was that Fatima’s current career in ballet was unsuitable, and so she may as well retrain in cyber. There are lots of issues with this, but the two main ones that stick out to us are:

1. Who says Fatima wants to re-train as anything? Why is her dance career apparently untenable?

2. Cyber needs more people, and has a growing skills gap, but this gap should only be filled by people who genuinely want to get into cyber. The advert’s assertion that Fatima’s next job could be in cyber, “she just doesn’t know it yet” implies that she has no inclination to enter the field.

Fatima Cyber Advert

That said, for certain groups of people, entry to the world of cyber has long been withheld, or at least littered with obstacles. A very deliberate façade has evolved around tech in general, one which tends to preclude women, ethnic minorities, neurodivergent people, and people with disabilities. It’s not surprising then these demographics, and particularly people from creative industries, can struggle to see cyber as a viable career path in the first place, believing that they could never access that world, even if they wanted to.

This is partly why CAPSLOCK exists: to demonstrate that anybody with an interest in tech and a desire to learn can retrain as a cyber security professional, regardless of their background. Contrary to popular belief, cyber isn’t just about intensely technical knowledge, and this side can always be taught to those willing to learn.

Solid impact or ‘soft’ skills are a huge bonus in the cyber world, too. They include self-motivation, business understanding, attention to detail, critical thinking, and communication. We help people who are seeking to transition into the world of cyber realise that they already have a lot of these skills.

So, Fatima aside, why would a dancer with an interest in tech make a good cyber security professional?

Motivation is a key attribute that dancers tend to have by the bucket-load. Like in many performing arts industries, the seemingly endless cycles of auditions can be a cruel mistress, meaning that dancers must foster an attitude of determination and resiliency. Likewise, cyber security requires a robust, determined mindset in a high-pressure environment.

Professionalism and stage presence is drilled into dancers from a young age. Music cuts out halfway through a show? The show must go on. Dancers are consummate professionals at keeping a cool head when challenges arise, much like the calm focus required in a cyber security incident.

And how about attention to detail? Co-ordination? The ability to work well in group? The list of transferrable skills which a dancer could apply to InfoSec goes on and on.

Mikey, CAPSLOCK Learner

A perfect case study for the opinion that dancers make great cyber professionals is one of our Part Time CAPSLOCK learners, Mikey. He is a professional dancer whose passion for performing arts has taken him all around the globe.

Speaking about the links between creative experience and suitability for cyber, Mikey said:

“An example I always like to use is what it’s like to perform on a cruise ship. Unlike in a theatre or show on land, when you’re working on a cruise ship, there are no back-ups and no understudies. You have to adopt a critical mindset. We were constantly adapting and improvising, thinking on our feet if something went wrong, and solving issues as we went. Now that I’m studying cyber security, I am drawing on a lot of those skills to solve the problems we’re exploring on the CAPSLOCK course.”

The wider point to make here is that people from all kinds of creative backgrounds have a wealth of transferable skills which are often overlooked in technology fields. A recent study about the cyber skills gap conducted for DCMS found that 23% of UK businesses have existing employees in cyber roles who lack communication, leadership, and management skills. The industry is crying out for these impact skills, and people with creative backgrounds often hold them in abundance.

Emily, CAPSLOCK Leaner

Emily, one of our Full Time learners, completed a BA in Lighting Design at university, and went on to found and run her own wedding stationery design company. Whether you’re working with an excited pair of soon-to-be newlyweds or a global company in need of cyber consultancy, understanding the client and tailoring your work to meet their needs are vitally important skills.

“People are often confused when I tell them I’m retraining in cyber. Up until now I’ve tried my best to pursue a career in design, and they can’t understand the link. But there are many areas where graphic design and cyber security overlap: understanding and applying digital skills, problem solving, and learning new languages occur frequently in both industries.”

Rebecca, CAPSLOCK Learner

Another CAPSLOCK learner with a background in the arts and a passion for cyber is Rebecca. As a former Head of Music & Performing Arts and a freelance composer, Rebecca’s transition into cyber isn’t an obvious one, albeit a very welcome one. For what is sheet music if not a type of code, requiring skill and dedication to decipher? The ability to see patterns of harmony and discordancy in music has such obvious links to log analysis and threat monitoring, offering musicians a unique insight into these elements of cyber security.

Of course, Rebecca’s background in education will be a huge plus in the cyber workspace, too. Leadership and management skills (which, don’t forget, are severely lacking in cyber roles) are used on a daily basis by teachers in the classroom, who facilitate and oversee the work and progress of many students at one time.

Being able to take information and reframe it in a way that is digestible to an audience, whether that’s school pupils or executive board members, is yet another key transferable skill that will stand a cyber consultant in good stead.

Speaking about her CAPSLOCK experience so far, Rebecca said:

“I’m loving this course – with a background in the arts, education and politics I never thought a career in technology would be possible – but here I am.”

As it stands, the cyber industry is clearly missing some of the skills that are often wrongly dismissed as ‘soft’. But approaching STEM from a purely technical perspective is only hardening the cold, impenetrable veneer which puts so many people off pursuing careers in these fields.

Our inaugural cohorts are overflowing with immense talent, evidenced by the commitment and results we’re seeing every day in the online classroom. We are seeing first-hand how your background, level of education or life experience has no baring at all on your aptitude for cyber, and in many cases, how more creative and diverse knowledge is extremely well-suited to this industry.

It would appear that, if given the chance, many of the people who feared that a tech career wasn’t possible are actually the ones who will help provide the world of cyber with the dynamic, creative, lateral impact skills which it is so sorely lacking.

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