My journey from fashion design to cybersecurity
Hortense Rothery is an Account Support Representative at Aura Information Security.
OPINION: Did you have a “nasty nerd” in your class at school? Someone incredibly smart but rather petty and unwelcoming?
To me, it looked like a small but intimidating group of mostly male students who dominated the classroom when it came to technical subjects.
All in all, I was very lucky to have had a rather pleasant experience at school. I had a great group of friends and did well in most subjects, especially math. But some smart boys in my class stared at me, as if to say, “This isn’t for you. It’s our thing”.
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They were the kind of people I connected to on the most academic and technical subjects. So when it came time to choose a career, the idea of regrouping with them for the rest of my life made me deeply uncomfortable.
Reluctantly, I left behind my interest in math and technology, opting for a career in my other interest, fashion – where I felt like I belonged.
Young girls make decisions like this every year.
It’s one of the reasons we have terrible gender ratios in the tech sector, which is the fastest growing industry in the world with some of the best salaries. Male dominance in tech has a direct impact on the overall gender pay gap and unless something changes it will only get worse.
But instead of assuming these ratios and working for maximum pay, I opted for a life in fashion design.
Looking back, I had what most people would consider a successful start to a fashion career. I presented a collection at Shanghai Fashion Week. I’ve worked for Kowtow and Birkenstock, and started my own fashion label, Droplet.
But I was working unsustainable hours for a pittance, and I was very aware that my business was adding more material waste to the world.
I started to feel followed by the thought: Did I make the right career choice?
Then Covid hit and I had to leave Australia where I was working and running my business. I could no longer justify the work it takes to earn a living. In the end, it was just the shakeup I needed.
I closed my business and thought about those mean school nerds. Could I return to this environment? Would these personalities/characters have mellowed as they got older? Was I ready to make my way through the industry?
After 10 years in fashion, I took a leap of faith and made the decision to start my career from scratch.
I studied web development and learned to code. I was intimidated by academic and social challenges, but at the same time I felt so much stronger and more confident than when I was a teenager.
I really enjoyed the project management side of development and ended up getting a job at Aura Information Security. I have since been promoted and our management team is helping me develop a career in the cybersecurity industry.
Going from fashion design to cybersecurity was a complete shift, but now I really feel like the tech industry is where I’m supposed to be.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying women shouldn’t pursue a career in fashion. Some of the smartest, most creative people I know thrive in this industry. What I’m saying is that women need to feel confident and empowered to take on a role in any industry.
I also want to make people aware that women’s journey to tech paths starts early – parents, teachers and friends need to come together to make sure girls have the opportunity and the confidence to lean into those technical subjects if that is where they see themselves doing well.
Initially, I felt like I didn’t belong in the world of numbers, coding and technology – not because I was bad at it, but because I didn’t see it as a welcoming space for a young person. woman like me. Once I overcame those apprehensions, I realized that there were tremendous opportunities for someone like me and that I had a lot to offer.
I bring people skills and operational experience from my previous career to a new one, and I’ve found that my new colleagues really appreciate a different perspective.
Now I try to encourage others. Along with Kordia CISO Hilary Walton, I started a new “Women and NB in Tech” group.
To women and non-binary people choosing a career or considering a fresh start, don’t rule out the tech industry. There is so much we can bring to this industry, and with New Zealand’s digital productivity at risk of falling behind, the industry really needs our talent.
And for parents, teachers and business leaders – you can help encourage us more to enter the industry, creating more inclusive and welcoming environments that will encourage more girls and women to thrive in the STEM subjects. Together, we can smash the nasty nerd culture and make the tech industry richer and more diverse.