Women in Digital: Nadia Kadhim

We speak with Nadia Kadhim about how her background as a lawyer and children’s rights expert helped shape Naq Cyber, where she says she has “dedicated an entire business to protecting livelihoods”

Posted 4 January 2021 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?
I did enjoy school. I had to work hard; it didn’t come very easy to me. But I was very lucky to have been disciplined enough to not mind and even enjoy the hard work. I have always enjoyed learning new things and obtaining new skills, and am still always taking courses and trying to grow as a professional and as a person aside from my work.

What qualifications do you have?
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Law and a Master’s in Public International Law with a specialisation in International Humanitarian Law (=law of war). During my Masters, I focused on IHL in relation to children’s rights. So, as you’ll see, no cybersecurity qualifications in that list! The lack of traditional cybersecurity skills should not be an obstacle for anyone wanting to enter this exciting field, because I am living proof that it’s very possible without those.

Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or combination of both?
I finished university in august 2017, and because I had already been working as an independent contractor for a company for a number of years during my studies, they were very happy to hire me straight away after graduation. You could say that my career path has been quite smooth in that sense.

What’s the best career advice you can give to others?
Find something you’re passionate about and go for it. Doing things halfway does not work. You can only really succeed if you are fully focused and fully committed. That being said, I have found it to be extremely important to find the right balance between my personal and professional life. We need to take care of ourselves and find the time to breathe. I’m finding this to be more true now that I am self-employed, because it’s very easy to burn out if we’re not careful.

If you had to pick one mentor who has had the biggest influence on you, who would it be?
When I was 14, I met a woman who was kind, strong, bold, courageous, authentic and fair and she wasn’t afraid to ruffle some feathers if it meant that she could help those in need. She wasn’t afraid. She helped me become the person I am today by being a true female role model and to this day, every day, I still aspire to be a little like her.

From where do you draw inspiration?
From a young age, I knew that my main aim in life was helping other people. That took different forms throughout my university years and my career, and was mainly focused on helping to protect children who faced abuse or other risks in their upbringing and help the professionals around them to take better care of these children. I draw inspiration from their success stories; I think we can all learn from and be inspired by the most disadvantaged members of society, their resilience and their perseverance.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced to date?
My career up until now had been focused on child protection and I had a passion and a drive to protect children. My biggest challenge was trying to protect these abused children whilst also trying to abide by the law and deal with the bureaucracy of large organisations and government. Everyone in this field has the interests of children at heart, but it seemed that bureaucracy could get in the way of that noble goal. It is very important to, in all walks of life, whether that is protecting children or protecting small businesses, put the person at the core of the decision-making process. This is why we started Naq Cyber, and dedicated an entire business to protecting livelihoods.

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?
A good leader is able to see where an employee’s strengths lie and motivate and inspire them to exploit those strengths and further develop personal and professional skills. I’m finding that the personal skills I’ve always had are the things that are helping me the most in my newfound role as leader. I enjoy talking to people and help them to find the best in themselves and overcome any obstacles, professional or personal. I believe that happy and healthy people are the most productive people, so having these maybe even maternal skills to focus on the person, rather than just the work or skills, is paramount. We are all just human, and we need to allow ourselves to be human around everyone.

From a work viewpoint what has 2020 been like for you so far?
I started work for Naq Cyber at the beginning of the year, and we made some real strides in a very short time. Then coronavirus hit, and we had to figure out how we were going to overcome that obstacle. Luckily, this sector has proved to be quite resilient to the current pandemic, especially with regards to the shift to home-working and increased need for cybersecurity. Then, at the end of June, we applied to the NCSC Acceleration programme in Cheltenham that was due to start in the middle of July. We were one of the lucky six start-ups to have been selected. We were incredibly excited but a little nervous as well, because we had to be very quick about relocating to Cheltenham in the midst of the lockdown-measures. The programme ended in the last week of September. In conclusion, I think it’s safe to say that so far 2020 has been a whirlwind: life-changing but overall, very positive.

What is the biggest cybersecurity challenge we face today?
As professionals, we know that the vast majority of SMEs don’t have proper protections in place despite the fact that they are increasingly targeted. They [SMEs] are exposed and unprotected, but cybersecurity does not get the attention and priority it deserves. As a cybersecurity company, we are not competing with other cybersecurity vendors or fancy IT-equipment, but we are competing with the bottom line of these small businesses. Especially since coronavirus, small business owners have had to worry about being able to pay their staff, often at their own expense. They feel like the risks for them are not big enough to warrant action from their side. But sadly, about 50 percent of SMEs will get targeted and when that happens, there is an overwhelming chance of bankruptcy.

We are trying to educate the market and explain the risks without being unnecessarily fear-mongering. I always try to explain it as follows: You wouldn’t leave your house with your door right open and all your physical valuables there for criminals to take right? So why are you leaving your computers unlocked, with all your virtual valuables there for criminals to take?

Give us a fact about you that most other people wouldn’t know.
I am a professional jazz singer in my spare time (of which there is not a lot at the moment).