To mark International Women’s Day 2022, Information Age is publishing a special series, Women in IT Leadership. We speak with 15 women in various tech roles across Australia about how they got their start in the IT industry, their approach to leadership, and how to encourage more females into technology careers.
Today we speak with Alison O'Hare, Technical Director ANZ at Mimecast.
How does one make a leap from physiotherapist into cyber security? Just ask Alison O’Hare, Mimecast’s regional ANZ Technical Director.
Leading up to 2000, Alison was working as a physiotherapist in London, when she became acutely aware of the booming IT industry.
Although she enjoyed her job as a physiotherapist, she often felt her days were always the same.
“The patients turned up with similar issues, whether it was sore knees, ankles, shoulder or back, day after day. I had friends working in IT and, there was excitement in this space, particularly the hype around the new millennium.”
Intuitively, she felt she would love working in the technology field. She also drew parallels with both industries.
“At the clinic I was dealing with patients all day solving their problems. In IT, I would be dealing with an end user or customers trying to solve their problem.”
Her first-hand experience in technology was at her clinic where some of the strengthening machines were hooked up by computer. Working with these machines fascinated her.
Eventually, Alison took a leap of faith and left the clinic.
“That’s not to say it was easy, or challenging. I didn’t have the knowledge I needed. I had to study again. I knew I couldn’t walk in and learn on the job. Somehow I got lucky with the organisations that I would end up working for.”
“Also, I got to know more people working in IT, and I loved the idea of working in technology because it changes so rapidly.”
Today, Alison has no regrets about leaving physiotherapy behind.
What she loves most about the industry is that IT changes all the time.
“You’re working with people, whether it’s end users in a company or a customer you’re trying to help resolve an issue. I love the problem-solving side. Constant changes are what keep me in technology.”
You have to start somewhere
For the past 14 years, Alison has been working for Mimecast. Initially, she began as a service delivery director in the Boston office, before moving to Australia in 2012 when the company expanded.
In her current role, Alison oversees the growth and development of Mimecast’s pre-sale technical consulting and professional services teams.
The daily challenges are what keep her focused and on her toes.
“You can never be comfortable; whether its innovation or change, nothing stands still, the playing field is constantly moving. Some days it’s like, ‘how can I keep on top of everything’, and that’s what drives me.”
Feeling like an imposter was challenge she faced early in her career.
“When I started, I didn’t think I had the depth in terms of understanding the industry and the breadth of technology. That imposter syndrome did surface at various times in my career.”
What got her through was the multitude of avenues that the IT industry offers.
“There are so many different areas you can move into from security to development. Depending on the type of person you are and the skills you have and how much hands on you want to be, you can move around in terms of your focus and strengths.”
Her biggest frustration in the security space is that so much time and money is spent on solving problems caused by people or hackers.
“From cyber security to breaches, it’s people who are attacking people at home or companies, and they’re making money! It’s frustrating that a lot of time is wasted solving these breaches, due to attacks made by individuals.
“It’s costing consumers and companies millions of dollars to protect themselves. These attackers are also trying to ruin the reputation of organisations.”
As a mother of two young children, O’Hare is keen to help her children understand digital transformation in order to protect them.
“I talk to my kids about protecting themselves online all the time,” she adds. “Digital transformation is a great thing. We’re all connected and you can do so much more because of it. It’s so exciting, yet at the same time, it’s so dangerous because of all of this. We all need to remain aware.”