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It’s fair to say that I’ve had a rather different journey into the tech industry than most, pursuing a career in physiotherapy before pivoting to cybersecurity. 

In the early 2000s, I’d relocated to London from my native South Africa. I was still working as a physio at the time and liked it, but it was very one-dimensional and one-to-one. I wanted to be involved in something more dynamic with a team of people.  

It was around this time that I got to know a few people working in IT, which was a booming sector. I loved the idea of working in technology because it changes so rapidly. I figured that there would always be opportunities because IT is an ever-evolving beast. Nowhere is this truer than in cybersecurity.

I’ve also never been more determined than when a male acquaintance of mine told me I’d never make it in IT. That in itself is a lesson: don’t let naysayers shout you down. Use it to motivate you! 

The only practical experience I’d had in technology was through maintaining the computer network we had set up in my physio clinic. I didn’t let that deter me from giving it a go, so I added that experience to my CV and off I went.  This was a real turning point in me realising that in terms of skills and change, from little things big things can grow. 

I quit my job as a physio without anything else lined up. I guess moving overseas at a young age provided me with greater self-belief needed to leap into uncharted territory.

My first thought was to approach a not-for-profit organisation, as I thought they’d be willing to take a chance on someone as green as me. I explained that while I didn’t have lots of experience in IT, I did have a degree (albeit in a different discipline) and I was prepared to work very hard, starting at the bottom of the ladder 

They hired me as a contractor and I ended up working there for about 18 months. I learnt a lot during that time and did a few short courses, continually learning and adding value to the business. 

This was another lessondon’t stop focusing on your own professional development.

Even though back then technology was a very male dominated profession, and still is to a lesser extent, I never found that to be a deterrent. Instead, I found it opened doors, as I’d often hear potential employers say that they would like to have more female IT staff to offer a different perspective on issues than the men. Lightbulb moment: turn a challenge into an opportunity for progression. 

Now that I have been rewarded for that early initiative with a challenging and enjoyable career, my advice to anyone considering doing the same is to not be afraid of change but embrace it. I am a big believer that you can learn a lot in a new role as long as you have the right aptitude, ambition, and attitude. 

Although my initial career in physiotherapy is somewhat different to my current career in cybersecurity, I drew on the fact that they also have similarities. Whether it’s treating a patient with torn ankle ligaments to get them running again, or working with an enterprise customer to prevent risk, in both cases you’re working with people to solve an issue.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that communication is one of the most important skills you need to be successful. Also, don’t take business dealings personally. You’ll encounter set-backs whether you’re growing your own business, working through huge issues (like what 2020 threw at us) or looking for that next career step.

During those times don’t recoil back into your safe zone or you’ll go backwards. Back yourself, remember why you started on your journey and take motivation from the fact that the biggest leaps are often made when we step way outside our comfort zone.

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Alison O’Hare

Alison O’Hare

As Mimecast’s regional ANZ Technical Director, Alison oversees the growth and development of Mimecast’s pre-sale/technical consulting and professional services teams. Transitioning from physiotherapy into the world of cybersecurity, Alison is a firm believer in coaching who is heavily involved in the technical training of her staff and identifying leadership opportunities to be filled.

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