From A to Z: Why Onyeka Illoh believes cybersecurity is a constantly-learning job
This series aims to profile people’s journeys in entering a unique job industry.
By: Haeley DiRisio
Meet Onyeka Illoh.
Illoh has worked in cyber security for nearly 10 years, most recently as a senior security governance specialist at Sun Life.
Illoh helps with keeping cybersecurity up to date, as well as ensuring data is encrypted, everything is monitored and logged in order to keep a close eye and secure a company's data.
“We’re solving problems everyday, we provide guidance,” she said. “This is how other people are doing it, we’re not doing it, how do we get to that point so we’re not breached?”
Illoh says that the field of cybersecurity requires people with diverse skills and requires different strengths.
“I work with people with varied skill sets to solve problems, whether big or small,” she said. “The field also presents varied opportunities, both for technical and non-technical individuals. There’s something for everyone.”
After leaving her home in Nigeria, her first time ever leaving the country, Illoh set off to study engineering at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England.
“Not knowing anybody in the UK and traveling out of Nigeria for the first time was very daunting,” she said. “On the other hand, I was looking forward to making new friends and advancing my educational aspirations.”
Upon graduating, Illoh received her bachelor of engineering degree and began — what many of us know well — the task of job hunting.
In the beginning, the search wasn’t easy. “I was looking for jobs, I wasn’t getting any, I was like ‘Do I go back for my master’s?’ But I really needed hands-on experience,” she said.
At the time, Illoh was working odd jobs to pay her bills. While working in a shoe store, a hair salon and as a taxi dispatcher, she realized it was time to make a change.
“There’s got to be more to life than this,” she said.
Illoh had some family living in North America, including her sister, who was living in Canada. After graduating from Loughborough in 2008, she decided to come to stay with her sister in Toronto. In 2009, she began studying wireless telecommunications at Humber College.
With this experience under her belt, she contemplated the idea of doing her master’s degree and finally decided upon Concordia University of Edmonton, where she went on to earn her master’s degree in information systems security and assurance management.
All of these steps led to where she is today. Illoh said she had mentors in her field and felt that doing both a postgraduate certificate and master’s degree gave her an advantage when it came to job hunting.
She continues to learn and develop her skills because “the industry changes a lot,” she says. Illoh also advocates for building on the experiences you already have when it comes to honing your skills in the cybersecurity world. Each program and course she took added to her development in her industry.
“Cybersecurity has evolved since I entered the field,” she said. “For instance, Springer International published my research paper on cloud services as a business enabler highlighting the advantages and disadvantages. About five years ago, priority was on integration and alignment with existing enterprise architecture. Today, most enterprise services and applications are cloud-based.”
As for the importance of cyber security itself, Illoh says it’s crucial for information — whether that belongs to people or to companies — to be protected.
“If you aren’t encrypting data, that's a problem right there,” she said. “Yes, you’ve closed the door, but have you locked it and did you use a padlock that can easily be picked?”
For Illoh, cybersecurity is about problem-solving and advancing. It is ever-changing, and therefore encryptions need to keep up with the industry standards.
Jobs in cybersecurity are growing “twice as fast as any other computer-related occupation,” and are anticipated to grow by almost 28 per cent between 2016 and 2026.
In today’s world, everything is online; our information can be accessed by anyone if it is not secured. As the increase and refinement of cyber attacks grow, people — and especially companies and organizations — need to protect their information.