Growth and cyber awareness are vital to a cybersecurity career

Dr. Iretioluwa Akerele earned her master’s in Information Security and Computer Forensics in 2013, and just two months after graduating, earned a position as a senior analyst at a Nigerian private professional service organization. Since then, her career has only grown.

While reflecting on her career path over the past decade, Dr. Akerele says, “I mean, in the last 10 years, I've done a lot. I have had the opportunity to work as a consultant for several organizations. I have supported more than 50 organizations to date, to align to best practice requirements like the ISO 27001 standard. I have also worked in the industry as an information security manager.”

With many professional accomplishments under her belt, there is one in particular that Dr. Akerele considers to be her greatest accomplishment: her Ph.D. in Information Systems Security.

“It's not an easy feat to start a Ph.D. and complete it,” Dr. Akerele says. “So, this is a very big deal for me, and I consider it my greatest accomplishment so far.”

She believes that her Ph.D. complements the industry experience she has developed over the years, providing her with unique experiences in research.

Dr. Akerele serves as an advisory board member of the Cybersafe Foundation, an organization with a mission to defend the most vulnerable from cyberattacks. A key role that Dr. Akerele plays in this organization is supporting the CyberGirls Fellowship, which is a one-year program equipping women between the ages of 18 and 28 with skills in cybersecurity. The program is free and helps to get the attending women certification-ready and prepared for a career in cybersecurity. The goal of the CyberGirls Fellowship is to close the gap of gender disparity in cybersecurity so that women in underserved African communities can improve their socio-economic status.

Dr. Akerele is also the Co-Founder of CyBlack, an organization that unites industry professionals, educators and advocates in order to overcome financial barriers and support individuals while they pursue their cybersecurity aspirations.

“We usually require mentors to support some of the things that we do at CyBlack,” Dr. Akerele says, “So one of the key things I do is having to identify the right talents who can work with us and help us to also achieve our mission at CyBlack.”

With cybersecurity, there's always an opportunity to grow.”

Mentorship is a significant part of Dr. Akerele’s professional life, as she has and continues to support individuals seeking a career in cybersecurity.

I think every security leader should mentor people who are coming to the cybersecurity field,” Dr. Akerele says.

The importance of cyber growth and awareness

“With cybersecurity, there's always an opportunity to grow,” Dr. Akerele says. For those who have a “get rich quick” mindset toward cybersecurity, Dr. Akerele recommends a different perspective.

“Don't do cybersecurity, because by the next month, or by the next quarter, you want to start making lots of money,” she says. “It does not work that way.”

Furthermore, she encourages those looking into cybersecurity simply because it is a buzzword to look elsewhere, as the industry can be challenging if there is not true passion behind one’s interest in cybersecurity.

“If you're not interested in it, you're not going to go far in the field. So the interest is important,” Dr. Akerele says. “Another thing to keep in mind is that when it gets tough, it's your interest that will keep you going.”

Moreover, Dr. Akerele emphasizes the importance of spreading awareness about cybersecurity threats and best practices — even to those who aren’t interested in pursuing a cybersecurity career.

“When it comes to education and awareness in cybersecurity, it is very important. It has to be continuous; we need to continually let people know the importance of cybersecurity,” she says.

A passion for cybersecurity

Dr. Akerele’s passion for cybersecurity has not only fueled her career growth, but it has also been a driving force behind her mentorship. Her passion has inspired her to develop ideas and initiatives that have propelled herself and others higher into the cybersecurity field.

“I call myself an idea bank,” Dr. Akerele says. “I have been able to create great initiatives for the cybersecurity community, which has also contributed immensely to my career in this field.”

She cites the ever-changing nature of cybersecurity as the main reason behind her passion. “It's always exciting to know that what was obtainable seven to eight years ago is different from the conversations we are having today. For example, in today's landscape when it comes to cybersecurity, we are talking about cloud, we are talking about AI, we are talking about machine learning, we are talking about threat intelligence.”

Dr. Akerele’s passion for cybersecurity has driven her to develop a strong commitment to the cybersecurity landscape. From building her career to engaging in mentorship, she has turned her passion into a professional path.

“Within the cybersecurity field, there's always something to look forward to,” she says.