Annelie Jensen never saw herself in cyber security.
After an academic career studying law and international relations, the field conjured images of “shadowy people in dark rooms”.
“I never even remotely considered that I could have a career in cyber. I had a negative association with the hacking world, where people try to dox you online,” Jensen said.
But that all changed when she took a break from her studies and had a stint working at EB Games.
Realising she wanted to be the one to create video games rather than just selling them, she was drawn back to university to study game design but, when applying, another subject sparked her interest.
“It was ethical hacking that caught my eye,” she said.
“I thought, ‘That will explain how computers work’, because you’ve got to know the fundamentals to exploit it.”
Jensen said she was immediately “hooked”.
After finishing her degree last year, she became one of the first three graduates to join a new cyber security stream within Westpac’s technology graduate program which kicked off last month.
The bank’s program, which has been running for 20 years as a two-year rotational initiative offering graduates a taste of different elements of technology, has evolved to an accelerated 12-month program, with new graduates joining one of five streams. As well as cyber security, there’s data, software engineering, robotics and automation, and digital UI/UX.
Of the 2021 and 2022 graduate intake, 93 per cent have academic backgrounds in science, technology, engineering or maths – known as STEM – and 52 per cent are women.
Jensen was relieved when she became aware of Westpac’s cyber security graduate pathway, having been worried she’d have to “build up a reputation in software engineering before asking to slide over” into cyber.
She was also glad the program isn’t dominated by males, as she had assumed it might be.
“There are only two guys in my team of six, and my chain of command is female,” she said.
The skills of cyber security graduates like Jensen are in increasing demand.
RMIT Online estimates Australia will need 18,000 additional cybersecurity professionals by 2026. Meanwhile, AustCyber puts demand for indirect cyber security workers at 100,000 to 150,000.
In November last year, the Australian government announced it would recruit 100 additional cyber security staff to the Australian Federal Police and is investing $70 million in the Cyber Skills Partnerships Innovations Fund.
Westpac Group Chief Information Security Officer Richard Johnson said the graduate program was critical to ensuring Westpac had a pipeline of skilled cyber security specialists.
"I’d say the skills shortage that exists in Australia when it comes to cyber professionals is a real concern,” Johnson said.
“We need to make sure we are doing all we can to upskill the next generation of cybersecurity specialists, because the need for this capability is only going to become more acute.”
He said the program aims to build knowledge in cybersecurity principles and enable the grads to be part of an experienced information security team.
"This is a definite step in the right direction when it comes to exposing graduates to build, test, maintain and improve the tools and frameworks to enable and accelerate the security of our customers and the services we supply them,” he said.
Equally important is encouraging young people to take up studies in cyber security.
That’s the objective of Cyber STEPs (Secondary to Tertiary Education Partnerships) a $3.8 million national collaboration between non-profit Grok Academy, government, industry and education and Phase 2 of the Schools Cyber Security Challenges. Westpac is one of the founding industry partners supporting the initiative.
Last week, to launch Cyber STEPs, Grok’s Cyber Live event saw students from across Australia face down a simulated cyber-attack on Australian targets.
Johnson said Westpac’s support for Cyber STEPs was important to help inspire young people to pursue a career in cybersecurity and to improve online safety in the community.
Jensen, meanwhile, says she’s “in love” with her first rotation in threat assessment and excited about the path ahead.
“Cyber is a giant area, an endless ocean of information and you could be in it for 10 years and not even get your feet wet.
“For someone curious like me, it’s perfect.”
Read more about Westpac's graduate program streams.