Women in Digital: Anna Webb

Anna Webb, head of security operations at Microsoft identity, security and cloud provider Kocho, on her career path as a woman in digital, and what she sees at the biggest tech challenges we’re facing today

Posted 21 November 2022 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?

Of course, there are ups and downs throughout everyone’s school journey but overall I did enjoy school. I was educated in Welsh from the age of five, which afforded me some opportunities that my friends who attended English medium schools didn’t seem to have. For example, I was able to get involved in Welsh language productions for television something I still do on occasion today. Computers started to be introduced into school when I was in year 9 or 10, but were mainly there to replace the typewriters. And the programming side of computer technology was kept more the boys in the 6th form who were supported by specific IT teachers.

What qualifications do you have?
Despite owning a computer at the age of eight – an unusual thing for the time – I never considered going into IT as an option. In fact, as a high school student, I focused my energies on studying tourism and leisure. Though in the end I opted to follow my interest in computers, and studied for a HND in Computer Science at what is now the University of South Wales, which I really enjoyed, even if it was an unusual change. I also hold a level 5 NVQ in Leadership and Management, something I am immensely proud at achieving under some tough circumstances at the time.

Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or a combination of both?
I would describe my career path as unconventional. A lot of my career decisions were based around a bit of advice I received from a colleague in my first job as a help desk operator at British Airways. They said: “Stick with a place for two years, get all the skills and experiences you need and then move on. Keep doing this until you find the career you can fall in love with.” I’m fortunate to have arrived at that point now at Kocho, and I don’t think I would have done anything differently.

What specific challenges do you see women facing in the industry?

I think there are countless other wider issues still making being a woman in tech specifically so much harder than it needs to be. Misogynistic hiring practises for one, as the stereotype of a ‘techie’ is still very masculine. Also, I have encountered my fair share of the ‘old boy network’ type culture that permeates across all industries, and I’ve experienced first-hand the disappointment at being overlooked by a leader who chooses favourites amongst employees based on gender or background. Undoubtedly, women everywhere come across these types of challenges in the workplace, and I’ve both seen and felt how demotivating it can be when your talent is not recognised because of internal politics or if the employer maintains rigid policy on childcare.

It’s great to see that at Kocho we have a flexible and diverse workforce, and I’m thankful to be able to benefit from that.

What is the best career advice you can give to others?
To not get overwhelmed when things don’t go according to plan. It may sound like a small thing, but we’re all too susceptible to feeling disheartened when plans fall through or the results, we’ve worked hard for, don’t materialise. Each setback is a lesson, and every challenge will just make you better prepared for the next obstacle. If you get too burdened by negative feelings, you’ll miss out on the opportunities to grow your career even further.

If you had to pick one mentor that had the biggest influence on you, who would it be?

I’d have to say my uncle, Gordon Webb (he’s actually my great uncle but that’s another story). He was the one with enough foresight to buy my first computer. He always took an active interest in my career, and encouraged me to strive for the best outcome in exams, work and life. If ever I was at a crossroads with a role or decision at work, he’d be the one that I’d talk to the most about it. I am sad to say he passed away last November at the grand old age of 95. But he will continue to be a huge part of my life.

From where do you draw inspiration?

What inspires me at work is my team. Seeing them work together to deliver the best service for our clients, using their expertise to improve on what we do daily and seeing their excitement for new clients and new opportunities is really special.

At home I am continuously inspired by my kids and my husband. It may sound cheesy but I am blessed by how accepting my family are of a mother and wife who has done well in her career, who works long hours in a high stress role. Whether it’s how they get stuck in with household tasks or independently take accountability for helping the ship run smoothly, we each play a part in creating a happy family life.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced to date?
My biggest challenge has, undoubtably, led to my biggest achievement. At Kocho, I have been able to create and lead its new Security Operations Centre (SOC), an amazing project that I am proud to have driven forward. Naturally, with any task so large, it comes with hurdles and challenges that needed mitigating, facilitating multi-level logistics and managing conflicting interests can be a tricky job. Yet through working closely with my team, I was able to oversee the creation of something I am genuinely proud of. As well as form a new workplace, to watch my team grow and evolve using state-of-the-art tools and technology.

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?
The ability to maintain integrity and morality when facing adversity is something I stand by. I have mentioned how internal politics can be demotivating, but in order to come out on top, an individual needs to have a good sense of themselves as well as a good sense of their own worth. People should trust that their individual experience and skills will get them on their desired career path and through doing so, inspire the next generation of talent to prioritise their skills over a shortcut up the ranks.

As a woman, I have also always appreciated leaders that don’t pigeon-hole people. There should be no “you are a woman, therefore…” about it, which can be condescending and demoralising. Training and personal development opportunities should be offered on equal merit, and every team member granted access to toolkits that expand their knowledge and further their career. Recognising employees based on their talent and appetite to work hard, will undoubtedly not only increase the overall success of the team and organisation, but also will lead to better female representation.

From a work viewpoint what has the last 24 months been like?

The technology sector has sat in an unusual position compared to other industries, throughout the upheaval of the last two years. Where others have struggled, most tech companies have thrived. Indeed, at Kocho, we’ve seen a major acquisition and rebrand take place all within the last year and a half.

We’ve also seen an unprecedented demand for cybersecurity solutions. Stimulated by the workforce across many industries getting increasingly mobile and continuing to work remotely or adapting a hybrid approach to work, the technology sector has seen a lot of innovation. As cyberattacks become more sophisticated, we are creating technology that is even more so. Threat detection solutions, compliance assurance and the ability to view a company’s cyber security framework in one single pane have all seen a boost in popularity. There’s no denying that it’s an exciting time to work in cybersecurity!

What would you say are the biggest tech-based challenges we face today?

Speaking from personal experience, the exodus to remote work has definitely put significant pressure on workplaces to adapt and digitalise. It’s exciting, but equally brings a new set of challenges to workplaces as with a dispersed workforce, there are more endpoints for attackers to find a way into company’s systems.

We possess the technology to secure the remote workforce, the challenge now is ensuring that their access points and IDs are secure so that our clients can continue to reap the rewards of the new normal.

What can be done to encourage more women into the industry?
Women in Leadership and Women in Tech programmes are hugely beneficial. At Kocho we have a bounty of initiatives for women to participate in them. Whether its learning from others or sharing tips from my own career to women at the start of theirs.

At Kocho, we’re actively strengthening our relationship the University of South Wales – in order to nurture and inspire the next generation of cyber security talent – particularly young women who might be looking for someone they can follow to kickstart their own careers in technology.

Give us a fact about you that most other people wouldn’t know.

I’m the treasurer and Responsible Individual for a local Welsh medium early years childcare setting. This is a voluntary position, and I am part of a small team of trustees that oversees the management of the staff and the running of the setting. As the Responsible Individual the buck stops with me when it comes to dealing with the Care Inspectorate and local education authority. I am proud to say that the setting has won awards for Best Provision in Wales (2017), Best outdoor area (2018) and this year we’ve been nominated for two more awards.