Women in Tech Series: Bringing a human side to cybersecurity
The Women in Tech series puts the spotlight on women who are championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital innovations across UNDP. By sharing these inspiring individual stories, we hope to encourage others to choose this path and spur gender equality in the digital sector.
Cybersecurity Analyst Sandy Jourdain does not see herself as a typical tech person. Although her job in the UNDP Cybersecurity Unit is technical, Sandy epitomizes the human aspects of the job.
“At the end of the day, the job is about providing a service to people. Many of the offices we support are facing various challenges, and therefore there is always a human element in how we provide support,” Sandy explains.
Sandy’s journey into cybersecurity was not clear cut. “I am a bit of a dark horse hire, meaning I did not attend a leading University or business school like most of my colleagues. I learned mostly on the job and took a few technical training courses that helped me learn quickly.”
Sandy began her career at UNDP in 2007 as a Networking Engineer, supporting the new data center set-up and migrating all country offices from PIX firewall to Managed Security Services providers.
“When I started at UNDP, it was just a gig, a job that would pay the bills. I remember skipping the organizational town hall meetings because I didn’t expect to be here so long. I didn’t expect anything!
As she took on voluntary training and learned new skills whenever possible, her responsibilities grew, and she had soon been with the organization for two years. Sandy describes this as a turning point.
“I wanted to understand how the organization worked and how I could contribute to UNDP’s vision. Since I had field technician experience, I knew the necessity of providing the best support possible for the country offices. My goal was to be available to them when they needed me and escalate their issues immediately, so they don’t have to wait too long for a response from the headquarters.”
After several years on the Networking team, an opportunity opened to join the Cybersecurity team. “I love cybersecurity because it incorporates a lot of different aspects of IT. It involves research, interaction with different people, interaction with different agencies, and constantly thinking one step ahead.”
Although the Cybersecurity unit is a small four person team, they have positioned UNDP amongst the top companies in the world receiving the CSO50 award seven times, along with Microsoft, Cisco, and the Bank of America.
Cybercrime has become more sophisticated as technologies have evolved. Sandy explains that a big part of working in cybersecurity is monitoring the latest threats and mitigation trends to understand how these can be applied in UNDP to protect the organization. She spends her time collaborating with colleagues to assure our cybersecurity controls are functioning as expected, interacting with internal IT specialists responding to phishing attempts and other cybersecurity concerns.
Sandy also resumed her university studies with a focus on Information security while with UNDP. “I am very grateful to have had managers who understand the value of investing in the people from within. I think we need more of that, because we have lot of interns and consultants who love the organization, like I do. We need to make the most out of these people.”
Core to her role is educating personnel on how to protect themselves online, building capacity and transferring know-how.
“Cybersecurity people are used to living in the shadows,” she said jokingly, however, to develop professionally she has had to step out of her comfort zone.
“I was never much of a public speaker, but my manager saw something in me and encouraged me to do webinars and trainings for UNDP colleagues, and eventually I grew more comfortable with this.”
As part of the United Nations International Computing Centre 4th annual Common Secure Conference hosted in Valencia, Spain in 2022, Sandy presented a “Cybersecurity, A Holistic View” lecture about implementing best practices and standards for a stronger organization to a room full of cybersecurity professionals. “I was nervous and surprised that everyone liked it but was happy to meet five other women working in IT with UN sister agencies”, she says.
Making strong connections founded on respect and kindness has been key to a successful collaboration with her peers. “I have always tried to be humble. I try and remember that we are all just human beings. Outside our professions, someone is a dad, a brother, a son, we all have things we care about. Anyone can become an expert, but not everyone applies kindness to their expertise.”