Anthony Singh, a Security Consultant within IBM’s UK & Ireland Security Business Unit, takes us on a journey through his career to winning the 'rising star of the year' accolade at the UK IT Industry Awards.

In this special guest blog-post, Singh explains how his enjoyment of all things technical led him to a career at IBM, working collaboratively with clients to help defend and prevent cyber security incidents across a variety of different industries.

1 - My career to date

Growing up in the digital age has allowed me to witness how technology has become more powerful, prominent and progressive. Throughout my years in education, I always prioritised obtaining technology-related qualifications over everything else.

I was passionate about being innovative, exploring the unknown and most importantly - helping people. I knew my future career was in technology, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to specialise in. When I was 17, I completed a six-week internship which reassured me that my future was in technology. During this internship, I received experience in cyber security, information management, application development and technical support.

A year later, I accepted the opportunity to study Computer Science at the University of Nottingham. Studying computer science provided the opportunity to gain valuable skills from a multitude of areas within the IT industry. As Computer Science was a broad subject, I was hoping within my three years of studying to find the field that I wanted to specialise in.

At the time, cyber security was at the forefront of all my choices, as my internship provided a high-level introduction and there was a significant skills shortage globally. The proliferation of technology has changed the world, but protecting what is important to us remains a challenge for organisations of all sizes. Unauthorised access to smartphones, computers and networks has become the reality for many and as a result, cyber security has become a board-level priority.

In my final year of studying, I chose a module dedicated to cyber security. Within two weeks of studying the module and exploring it further - I knew I wanted to specialise in cyber security.

Shortly after graduating from university, I began applying for cyber security graduate roles. One of the first positions I applied for was a cyber security specialist role at IBM. This was a programme focused on delivering the next generation of cyber security specialists. IBM was a company I had dreamed of working for since a young age and IBM’s position in the cyber security market would allow me to contribute to global transformations and play my role in an organisation’s cyber security journey.

My first role was as a security intelligence analyst, this involved monitoring and analysing an organisation’s security posture. I was part of an operational team who would be the first responders for any potential cyber security incident. This was a rewarding role, which allowed me to upskill new IBM employees and teach clients about cyber security and the threats that were affecting their organisation.

Over a year later, I moved to a new role focused on consultancy, working collaboratively with clients to design, build and implement pragmatic security solutions and services. This allowed me to become a trusted advisor for multiple clients by helping solve their problems and manage complex security transformation programmes. Consultancy means every day is unique - and it also means I learn a lot about the industry, the latest trends and what clients are looking for.

As an individual working in the cyber security industry, I believe I should pride myself on becoming knowledgeable in as many areas as possible, so I can truly offer the best expertise for the clients I work with. There is always constant change within the industry, which opens doors for new opportunities and fresh perspectives. Consultancy allows me to understand the challenges faced by organisations and how these differ in industries. It also enables me to identify key elements from a complex cyber security perspective and communicate this to clients in terms of their language.

Within IBM, I have had the opportunity to develop skills beyond cyber security, by obtaining qualifications in project management and service management. I have also received an internal certification from IBM which reflects the mentoring commitments that I have taken on since joining. One particular scheme involved mentoring a student from the University of Greenwich, which confirmed to myself, no matter where I end up within my career; one of my priorities should always be giving back and mentoring.

2 - Succeeding in cyber security

Early professionals play a pivotal role in all organisations. Since joining IBM, I have followed a few core principles which I believe have allowed me to succeed in the field of cyber security. One of the most valuable learning points, is understanding we are all human and being empathetic to our clients and colleagues. We have to understand what our clients want, and it is my duty to help them navigate through complexity.

We are both on the same journey - client and consultant. In a consultancy role, I have to be flexible and adaptable, and most importantly my results always need to be tailored for the organisation I’m working with and fit for the future. With the cyber security industry constantly changing, organisations want to ensure they are adhering to the latest industry standards and best practice.

Similarly, with our colleagues, we need to understand how to get the best out of everybody and this involves understanding different motivations, interests, and passions. I like reviewing my own progress every month, this allows me to look back and assess the differences that I have made. If I haven’t made a positive impact, then I have done something wrong and something needs to be urgently revaluated.

Becoming a trusted advisor is what many consultants in the field of cyber security aspire to be. Trust is built through consistent and continuous hard work and effort, and building trust can be a lengthy process, particularly if an organisation is concerned about their overall cyber security state. However, the clients’ objectives are always at the forefront of what I do, and consciously, are always on my mind.

I pride myself on improving all the time, and I ensure that my values can be seen in the work that I deliver. By earning trust, I have been able to take on more responsibilities which has allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone and pursue new challenges. This has included presenting to various executives on ‘threat intelligence’ and leading different engagements. ‘Relentless reliability’ is a motto that I live by. Whether it is a client, colleague or manager - relentlessly and consistently overachieving has allowed me to be remembered for the right reasons and has provided opportunities that would have never been possible without perseverance.

Giving back and mentoring has been a priority of mine since I started my career and it has been incredibly rewarding. I have participated in internal and external events which have allowed me to interact with students and aspiring professionals of all ages who are yet to make critical decisions regarding their future. With the breadth of opportunities available today, making a decision has never been more difficult.

I am an advocate for pursuing your passion and doing what you enjoy, this is something I encourage all students I interact with, to focus on. As I am mentored myself, it is just as important to pass and share the knowledge I derive. The gratitude expressed from students is an incredible feeling and is one of the best forms of motivation for me to keep going, as it increases my passion for the industry.

As mentioned previously, no matter where I end up within my career; one of my priorities will always be giving back and mentoring. According to a recent report from ISC2, global IT security skills shortages have now surpassed four million, therefore I ensure that I dedicate time to informing people about the cyber security industry - and more importantly, stress that you do not need a technical background to start a career in cyber security.

As an early professional in an ever-changing industry, I believe it is important to continually learn. Without doing this, I am at risk of not keeping up with the changing cyber developments and this could affect my ability to advise the clients I work with. I need to stay updated with industry best practice and the latest trends.

Organisations will offer great opportunities for early professionals to learn certain skills and become specialists in certain fields. I highly recommend pursuing these opportunities and learning as much as possible within the first few years of your career. It then becomes just as important to maintain this learning.

When I first joined IBM’s graduate scheme, I was told by multiple people that one of the most important things I could do, was to build my network. Networking focuses on establishing and nurturing long-term relationships with clients, partners, colleagues and mentors who can all play a part in your long-term success. When you invest in professional and personal relationships, it can help foster your career development.

I have a network of individuals who I look to for guidance and inspiration – and this is used as an input for my work. I also found my current role because of networking. Early professionals may start in roles that don’t appeal to them from a long-term perspective. My advice would be to focus on completing all tasks to the best of your ability – this allows you to be remembered for the right reasons.

3 - BCS awards overview

The awards process for BCS was efficient, enjoyable and rewarding. The process started with an online application which asked for evidence against a number of criteria. Candidates can use examples from inside and outside of work to substantiate their ability to meet these criteria.

The areas used in my application process were ‘professionalism’, ‘role model’, ‘innovation’ and ‘measurable success’. All of which, are critical for successful early professionals. Shortly after the online application, ten candidates were shortlisted and invited to the Etihad Stadium in Manchester for the finalist day.

The finalist day consisted of a panel of individuals who asked questions about your application - this was an excellent opportunity to talk about my success stories in greater detail as sometimes character limits on application forms can restrict the level of detail provided. This was also a relaxed environment which helped massively. Regardless of which stage of the process a candidate is in, they shouldn’t be scared to talk about their achievements and what makes them different. Being able to do this effectively will benefit individuals throughout their career.

The last stage was the awards ceremony, which was held at Battersea Evolution. This was an incredible event with the best talent all across the industry in one place. This was an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of others and recognise the importance of the UK IT Industry Awards, as it creates a platform to showcase personal, organisational, technology and project excellence.

Seven months on from the event and I still feel inspired by the stories shared by various presenters on the night. Often, we celebrate the success of our colleagues and organisation, but it is rare we celebrate our success as an industry.

Winning the ‘rising star of the year’ was the best achievement of my life and the end-to-end process was incredibly enjoyable, especially as I was able to network with other candidates during the process. However, there are lots of commitments that come with the award and it is of paramount importance that I continually develop in the criteria and dimensions that I was originally assessed against. At the end of every month, I like to review what I have done in each dimension to ensure that I have consistently delivered and improved. Each of these months adds up and creates noticeable improvements.

Most importantly, sharing the journey with like-minded individuals who are pursuing greatness was a privilege. The event highlighted the talent and potential within our industry, and I can’t wait to hear the success stories of all future candidates.

If you’re reading this and want to apply to any of the categories, I would encourage you to do so. Due to the nature of our industry, there are so many unique and special journeys that haven’t received the recognition they deserve, the UK IT industry awards is the largest of its kind and gives you the best possible platform to inspire our professionals of today and tomorrow.