INTERVIEW: Removing barriers, at work and outside of it
Atlassian’s Jodie Vlassis warmed to cybersecurity at an early age, and never looked back
Jodie Vlassis traces her interest in technology back at least to the age of 12, when she would watch her brother “do some pretty cool things” developing software and decided she wanted to learn to do the same thing.
She learned Java programming at a young age and steadily moved towards cybersecurity, which she eventually realised she savoured “for the pureness of it”.
Cybersecurity is “constantly evolving,” she says. “It’s a fast-paced environment where there’s always something new to learn – and that’s something that really excited me, and that I really wanted to be a part of.”
Yet even at a young age, Vlassis says, she recalls that she “really knew cyber security to be very male oriented”.
While doing consultancy work with Deloitte, Vlassis ran into Atlassian representatives at an industry function – and, although she wasn’t looking for a job at the time, the new job opportunity arose – and she grabbed it with both hands.
“I was fortunate to have joined an organisation like Deloitte where there were other females around,” she says, “but when opportunities arise and you know they’re too good to refuse, you have to put yourself out there.”
Now working as Security Trust within the Trust and Security team in Atlassian’s Cyber Security SME, Vlassis explains that her responsibility “is to remove barriers, such as security blockers or any issues that may prevent customers or potential customers from growing with Atlassian.”
As someone supporting customers from the vendor side rather than the consulting side, Vlassis admits the new role has been a change – but in the end, she says, cybersecurity is cybersecurity.
“The foundation of cybersecurity doesn’t change” from role to role, she explains. “What changes is your end audience. But at the end of the day, we’re all here to achieve the same goal – to ensure that cyber security is at the forefront of every business, and we do that by building trust through security.”
The joy of mentoring
A nominee in several categories in 2019’s inaugural AWSN Women in Security awards, Vlassis was a finalist in this year’s Best Champion for Women in Protective Security/Resilience category.
It’s a badge she wears with pride, although she points out that she grew into the role rather than seeking it out.
“I’m not a traditional women’s rights activity by choice,” she says, “but because I have a role in the cybersecurity industry, it makes one me automatically – and I guess this is due to the lack of strong female leadership. As a result, I’ve become a de facto mentor.”
Mentorship has proven to be in her blood, Vlassis says: “it brings me a lot of joy knowing that if I can be present and help at least one person, then at least I know I’m doing what I’m meant to do.”
Her own career has been supported by mentors both in and out of her working environment, which she says has been invaluable by providing an unbiased opinion or point of view.
“But don’t have a mentor just for the sake of having a mentor or because everyone else has one,” Vlassis says. “You need to make sure that a mentor is going to help guide you, and help you become the best version of yourself – so you can provide that to the next generation.
She was given an opportunity, she says, “and if I can give back and pay it forward to someone, then I know I’m doing my job.”
Reaching out in a time of pandemic
The challenges of this year’s COVID-19 pandemic brought the role into finer focus, as the shift to isolated remote working fostered a greater emphasis on networking and one-to-one support.
“Since COVID happened, I feel like I’ve been given the opportunity to network more than ever,” she says, “and it has provided me opportunities to connect and mentor and support. It has opened up a new online world where we can now connect with anyone at any time – and I have enjoyed advising young women on how to make it in an industry where, unfortunately, women are still largely marginalised.”
That situation has changed in recent years, she adds, through greater advocacy for women in cybersecurity roles and the greater attention that many executives are paying to issues around gender equality and representation.
Longer-term institutional change, however, will take time – and broad buy-in.
”In my years in boardrooms I can attest to the underrepresentation of women– and it’s a systemic problem that definitely needs to be changed,” she says.
“Boosting economic and job opportunities for women, and marginalised groups, needs to be part of the solution,” she says.
”But It’s not just a one-person solution, it’s an everybody solution – and by increasing awareness within our workforce, expanding and creating mentoring opportunities, and forging women-oriented communities, we can really ramp up female representation.”