Nell: Fostering Collaborations and Mentorship Helps Promote Equity
The COO of Deimos, Louise Nell, has carved a niche for herself in the male-dominated world of technology including cloud hosting and cybersecurity. Still, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, she spoke on cyber security, the importance of mentoring and support networks and how tech empowers women across the continent while creating equity. Nosa Alekhuogie presents the excerpts.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a woman in the tech industry?
For me, one of the biggest challenges has been to shift my mind and thoughts away from what Brene Brown calls ‘perform, please, perfect’ as a typical female stereotype from my own upbringing. Tech and leadership can be messy, and failure, in some aspect somewhere, is guaranteed. I have spent the last 20 years trying to be a better version of myself. I have just turned fifty, and I am incredibly grateful that I will hopefully have another 50 years to continue this journey of self-discovery and improvement.
Why and how did you start in the tech sector, especially cybersecurity and software engineering?
My original arrival in tech was through a generous bursary to encourage more women to participate in technology. Please bear in mind that this was over 30 years ago. I learned to code, build hardware, and build and construct networks – something that was fascinating and not what I had considered possible at all. I shifted to cloud technology quite recently, joining the Deimos Cloud team in November 2021. This change came about after meeting Andrew Mori, the founder, and being inspired by his vision of a strong African cloud presence built by Africans to empower and elevate African businesses. That is a vision that spoke to both my head and my heart.
How do you think the cybersecurity industry can attract and retain more women?
To my mind, the question is different: How can more women see themselves contributing meaningfully to senior technical leadership roles within the cloud technology space? Self-belief is a significant factor, as is financial support and mentoring. As African business leaders, we need to own up to our responsibility for affecting this change by empowering women to join the industry through training programs, financial sponsorship and being role models.
In your opinion, what are the most important skills needed to succeed in cyber security?
Cyber security is a niche field, even more so than general cloud computing or information technology. With this in mind, my first answer is always two-fold: self-belief and a genuine curiosity and interest in the field. One of the positive outcomes from the increasing volume of news stories regarding cybersecurity breaches is that the area is gaining exposure and is at the forefront of innovation.
What emerging cyber security threats do you think are the most concerning?
Data breaches at large financial institutions continue to surprise and concern me, and although these are certainly not new, they continue to put citizens at risk. Having your personal or financial information compromised is a significant breach of personal privacy, which often has dire consequences for individuals. Deimos has also witnessed a notable increase in cyberattacks targeting businesses due to misconfigurations in their cybersecurity systems. Misconfiguration refers to vulnerabilities in an organisation’s cybersecurity systems resulting from incorrect or incomplete configurations. With the widespread adoption of cloud technology, more businesses are transitioning to the cloud, often trying to save costs and manage it themselves. Unfortunately, this approach can result in weak spots in their cloud setup. The shortage of local cybersecurity talent only adds to the growing threat.
Considering these challenges, it is critical that we prioritise the development and cultivation of cyber-tech talent in Africa more than ever before.
What advice would you give young women interested in pursuing a career in technology?
Go for it and ignore the voices in your head that tell you are an imposter. To quote one of my favourite movies: ‘You have all the weapons, now fight!’ Believe in yourself, start your journey and be diligent. You can have the amazing career you want. I will advise starting with the basics. Get a good foundation by taking computer science courses and learning programming languages such as Java or Python, you do not need to go to university. There are so many YouTube Channels and online courses, making it easier and more affordable. Exploring different fields is important as technology is a vast field with diverse opportunities. Try different areas, such as software development, cybersecurity, data science, or artificial intelligence, to discover your passion.
Joining a community is on this list as well. Seek out communities, organisations, or groups that support and empower women in technology. These groups can provide mentorship, networking opportunities, and support. Building a portfolio; create a portfolio of projects to highlight your skills and knowledge. Participate in hackathons, and coding competitions, or contribute to open-source projects to gain hands-on experience. And finally, never stop learning. The technology industry is constantly evolving, so it is important to stay updated with the latest trends and technologies. Read tech blogs, attend conferences, or take online courses to stay ahead.
What do you see as the future of cyber security in Africa, and how do you think it will impact businesses and individuals?
We are seeing a strong shift from having a Security Operations Center (SOC) Team to incorporating security into every part of the technology process within an organisation. Previously the responsibility lay with a security team to monitor and respond to threats. In the current security landscape with remote work and running businesses in the cloud, there is a need for everyone involved in the technology process (product owners, engineers, e.t.c.) to have a security-first mindset by contributing to building secure systems to protect financial and customer data. The challenge is for businesses to adapt to this ‘shifting security left’ approach, where security governance plays an integral part in how an organisation operates and approaches technology. Failure to introduce and implement this approach correctly could hinder and slow down businesses’ ability to keep pace with the market.
You mentioned being one of the sponsors of She Code Africa. Can you give an insight into what the programme is about?
At Deimos, we value our partnership with She Code Africa and recognise the organisation’s significant contributions to the African tech industry and the advancement of women in technology. She Code Africa offers practical, cohort-based learning opportunities throughout the year, providing female tech enthusiasts with exposure to the cloud and the platforms that support it. The programme is a hybrid initiative, allowing candidates from anywhere in Africa to participate, and we are proud to support such an inclusive and impactful initiative.
Can you share some insights on how you have nurtured tech talents in Africa so far?
Aside from cultivating a culture of progressions, evolution, and upskilling, we have also sponsored organisations to assist with the nurturing of tech talent within Africa. We are particularly proud of our She Code Africa candidates who successfully completed our challenging internship programmes and have gone on to grow big tech careers. All who participated in the internships received full-time job offers at Deimos.
Deimos has also donated to DevCareer, which supports underrepresented software developers in Africa with the necessary resources to succeed.
We funded Cloud Engineering Books for Beginners for twenty engineers from Adora Nwodo, a Software Engineer, Multi-Published Author and Tech Content Creator based in Nigeria.
We also donated money during the #EndSars movement, as we believe in the safety of our people first. We look forward to so many more opportunities to help our fellow techies on this beautiful and talented continent.
How do you think equity can be achieved in the technology sector?
Achieving equity requires an approach that addresses the barriers preventing equal opportunities for all individuals, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. I believe this can be achieved through 3-pronged approaches. Diversify the talent pipeline; It is essential to invest in educating and empowering young talent in tech to create a diverse talent pool for companies to select from. This can be achieved by supporting initiatives such as She Code Africa to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to enter and succeed in the technology field.
Also, fostering collaborations and mentorship helps promote equity. It is important to actively identify and provide opportunities for less fortunate talent to develop leadership skills and access mentorship programs. Collaboration and mentorship can help these individuals not only survive but also thrive in tech.
I will add creating inclusive workplace cultures. Inclusive equity practices must be implemented from the top down. Companies need to establish policies and practices that prevent bias and discrimination, provide diversity and inclusion training, and promote diverse leadership and hiring practices.
Are you working on any new projects in Nigeria currently?
Due to the sensitivity around cyber security, most of our clients rely on our ability to keep projects and system improvements strictly confidential. With this in mind, I am not able to call out innovative projects currently underway.