ESO Belfast: Jilin, Jade and Conor reveal what life is like in Cyber Security and why the NI technology sector presents such exciting opportunities

  • Photo: Conor McCloy, Jilin Mandumbal Raju, and Jade Truffitt

    By Kathryn McKenna

    Belfast-based company ESO, which has headquarters in Austin, Texas, as well as locations across the United States and Canada, is driven by the power of data to improve community health and safety, working with the likes of fire departments, hospital services and the government to help make a difference to people’s lives when they need it most.

    Sync NI got the chance to sit down and chat with three members of ESO Belfast’s cyber security team recently - including the fact that since 2004, ESO has been pioneers in creating innovative, user-friendly software to meet the changing needs of the world today’s emergency service agencies, and they are the largest software and data provider to EMS agencies and fire departments.

    During our chat, ESO’s flexible working culture truly shines through, with all three team members highlighting their remote hybrid working policy as a real catalyst for work life balance.

    “Coming into the office one day a week with purpose because I want to, as opposed to all five days in my previous role at a different company, makes such a difference in terms of not having that commute twice a day,” Jilin reveals, to nods of agreement from his regional co-workers.

    Jilin Mandumbal Raju, who is a Security Engineer based in Carryduff is joined by Jade Truffitt, a Security Risk Manager from Strabane, and Conor McCloy, who is a Senior Security Vulnerability Manager based in Coleraine.

    Conor’s role is to oversee, and build out capabilities to identify, assess and manage vulnerabilities across the ESO estate. “This includes vulnerability scanning across all of our VMs and endpoints, including serverless infrastructure; as well as leading our pen-testing and code scanning efforts at ESO,” Conor explains.

    All three team members are passionate about ESO’s working culture, with each highlighting different reasons why they enjoy their roles.

    “Just like Jilin, I really enjoy the hybrid working aspect, especially because I am based in Coleraine,” Conor explains. “I also really like the fact we can use the office with purpose when organising things like connection days with our in-person company meetings or town halls.”

    “The tech that we work with is a pretty unique proposition in Northern Ireland and it is very meaningful. With the company mission to improve community health and safety through the power of data, it means from a security lens, safeguarding the cyber security of our products makes it much more meaningful to me and relatable as healthcare is such a basic necessity and ESO does so much to support and drive improvements there.”

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    Conor adds: “I also really enjoy the quarterly security team events that we run. I think they're a great thing and I always really look forward to them. We'll organise an activity, for example going to Prison Island in Belfast and then we'll go out for a team dinner to help get to know our colleagues. It provides that recognition to the team for another good quarter’s work.”

    And for new team member Jade, who joined the organisation in March, she reveals she loves the excitement of learning something new “every day.”

    Jade’s role involves identifying and assessing risks within the organisation and working with the appropriate parties to remediate those risks. As part of Jade’s role she also manages the remediation to reduce service level and develop policies and procedures to promote a culture of security awareness within the organisation.

    Jade explains: “I worked with my previous company for a long time. Here, everything is new and it is quite a new programme so I'm able to put my own stamp on it. As Conor said, knowing what ESO’s mission is also makes it an incredible place to work as you know they are out there trying to drive the healthcare system and make it better and easier for the patients at the other end. Working in security, it feels good to know we are helping to protect patient’s information.”

    Security Operational Engineer Jilin works closely alongside one other team member located in Belfast as well as the US team on the defence approach.

    “Whenever we are getting our leads from security platforms, we are monitoring and investigating those sellers and if we need to make any forensic kind of activity, we will do it,” Jilin explains.

    “The work life balance gained from working in a hybrid culture is invaluable. We are also gaining professional life growth from ESO. Whenever we are purchasing a new security product for example, we get training from the vendors. In addition to this, if somebody is interested in taking up other security courses, you can take part in the reimbursement programme. There is so much more, but the benefits overall are just amazing.”

    Passionate about tech, Jilin has the following recommendations for young people wishing to pursue a career in the field, explaining: “There are a lot of foundational things you can do which are available for free in the current market which would be helpful for interviews and getting new roles. These courses are affordable courses and you will really benefit from receiving the real-time experience they are providing.”

    Jade adds her own career path has been “unconventional” after going straight into tech at age 18, where Jade worked with her previous employer for an impressive 15 years and got into security during a chance “rotational opportunity”.

    “There was a business need for a short period of time to go in and help out and that was almost about eight years ago now.”

    Impressively, Jade studied her third and fourth level part-time during her mid to late 20’s whilst also working: “I was very fortunate that at the end of what was supposed to be a temporary position that they made my role permanent. So I got my first role in security and built on my knowledge while I was working in that area through external courses. I have just progressed from there.”

    Meanwhile, Conor says his path into tech came about after recognising his passion in the area from a young age: “I’d always been really interested in tech and was into computers and gaming from a young age. That naturally led me to gravitate towards Computing and I.T throughout my education. From there, I studied computer science at Ulster University, Coleraine. I was the penultimate year of that course before it ended.”

    Conor continues: “My interest in cyber security really peaked due to genuine curiosity and being on the cyber defence side helping protect against cyber attackers. I think the reason that probably came about was from being the ‘go-to’ person when I was younger to ensure that my family and grandparents stayed secure online as they entered the online world as well.”

    Now that the trio are each in their respective roles, the resounding synopsis is that every day in the role is different. “We are lucky enough to be able to say that,” laughs Conor. “Every day truly is so different. Whether that's working on a different product or one of the different tracks that we're responsible for.

    “But normally a typical day for me, would firstly involve checking for any new tickets that might have come through in the night. Then I make sure all the vulnerability management platforms I'm responsible for are up and available. Then I'll monitor for any new zero day vulnerabilities and check whether they apply to our environment. I'll also evaluate whether any risk needs to be recalculated due to potential campaigns out in the wild where certain vulnerabilities might be being actively exploited in the healthcare industry or just generally.

    “Each day will involve some level of project work as well. Finally, we ensure that we're continuously improving the defences on our side such as scanning methodologies in order to stay ahead of the curve of the attackers as well.”

    Jilan says his day starts in a similar way, in that he also starts with tickets which generate from security platforms.

    “If the tickets are normal tickets, for example if it's a false positive alert, then we can close those but if we suspect something is suspicious, then everything will change for the investigation. Apart from the incidents and others, we will be working on some enhancement for security projects so our team is fully busy with projects and more investigation and monitoring things. So we are using various products for monitoring platforms.”

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    Meanwhile, Jade says she is continuously learning new processes since joining the team at the beginning of March, as well as meeting new people; conducting vendor research; meeting with different business areas including procurement and different security teams; as well as working on possible collaborations in addition to streamlining processes across the business. Jade is also writing the policy and procedures documents which are foundational for security programmes.

    She also manages any risks already identified within the business and works with various teams to get those remediated.

    Welcoming work culture

    In terms of the culture at ESO, Jade says she has been given a particularly warm welcome by the team and highlights the feeling of equity, diversity and inclusion, which is so paramount at ESO and rings through the company’s ethos.

    “In my previous company I was heavily involved in their Women in Technology group and I co-chaired our LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group, so for me the culture at ESO was a massive part of the appeal of joining the team and was actually one of the first things I asked about in the initial interview stage. Inclusion and diversity is definitely something I am really passionate about and I look forward to building those resource groups within ESO as well.”

    Jilin, who has just celebrated his first year work anniversary at ESO, adds that the hybrid flexible working policy makes a crucial difference to having a work life balance: “Before I joined ESO, at my previous employers I worked five days per week in the office and I found travelling from Dundonald in heavy traffic quite hectic. So I was looking for a hybrid role. When I got the opportunity to work at ESO I feel I have really benefitted from the hybrid working culture. I had also heard great things from people in the industry about ESO’s multi-cultural ethos and culture days.”

    Conor agrees that both the culture of diversity and inclusion as well as the hybrid working approach were definitely draws for him as well. “The hybrid approach works so well because when you're at home, you still feel that inclusion very much but then also when you go in the office it feels very purposeful. With everyone being so approachable and having different ways of thinking, it makes you want to come in, so then when you're in the office it's helpful for problem solving.”

    Conor, who has been with ESO for 18 months, adds the important point: “I think that culture extends itself to where, when we're doing things like employee value workshops and we complete surveys as part of that, everyone feels really empowered to have an input which helps to shape how we make any improvements. This helps keep that culture alive and going.”

    And Conor, who always viewed the industry as an exciting place to work, urges anyone considering a career in tech to “go for it.”

    He says: “There's a thriving technology industry here in Northern Ireland and it's only growing. Quite often, we hear that you can't actually fill the skills gaps out there and we're crying out for more people. There are definitely lots of opportunities within cyber security.

    “Within the industry you'll have a rewarding career where every day is different and the one great thing is the mobility, so you don't have to need to have it all figured out in day one. You can start out as a software engineer or a tester and then you have that ability to pivot, to reskill and vice versa.”

    Jade, who reveals whenever she was “really young” she wanted to be a policewoman, then later developed a passionate interest for CSI. “I wanted to be a crime scene investigator, but I hated science in school unfortunately, so it wasn't happening.”

    But Jade explains she “eventually” got into cyber security, and although they are “all different things,” as Jade explains, but they are “all quite relevant to one another.”

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    To that end, Jade explains: “ I feel like I ended up in some respects doing similar to what I wanted to do as a child.

    “In terms of my advice to young people, I think a lot of younger people are put off by thinking you can only have a career in tech if you are extremely technically minded. But I would just like to emphasise that there are other roles out there. For example with my own career pathway, I have worked to my own strengths and interests, I wouldn't be as technical as Conor and Jilin for example, but there are loads of roles out there that you can get involved in.

    “I would advise people to research those roles and see what is available and what suits your skill set. Some people really enjoy screen and code, whereas other people are more into the project management side or customer facing side. I think it's important to demystify roles within tech as a whole and just understand what is out there.”

    Jilin, who completed his graduate and post graduate studies in India, says cyber security is a “booming sector across India”, adding “everywhere small private firms are giving training as well as live experience for certified ethical hacking.”

    After gaining experience, including working at a French-based IT company, Jilin moved from India to the UK and got a role at a local company before moving across to ESO.

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    “There are a lot of opportunities available nowadays,” Jilin enthuses. “So many courses are available and they are often at affordable rates. When I was studying myself it was a lot more expensive, so I would definitely encourage anyone interested in a career in cyber security to go ahead with it as there are a lot of opportunities and more accessible programmes available now.”

    Conor agrees, emphasising: “In terms of the pathways into a career in tech, you really don’t have to follow the ‘conventional’ route these days. There are so many apprenticeship schemes, programmes and tech courses as well. For example, I know from going to interview skills nights at my former school, most of the kids there are wanting to do the apprenticeship schemes with the local tech companies in Northern Ireland rather than the traditional ‘pure’ university route.

    “There are so many different roles for people to get involved in and it doesn't have to just be school leavers as well. It is the perfect opportunity for those considering a career change into tech to pivot, jump in and start make a living out straight away.”

    How we like to switch off after a day in front of the screen

    Jilin: “I spend a lot of time with my partner, going cycling and swimming, which is definitely how we enjoy unwinding together post-work. My partner is currently working abroad but when she is back we spend a lot of time together in the outdoors.”

    Jade: “I like to spend as much time as I can at the sea, whether it is getting a walk to the beach or getting in for a dip. I love cold water dipping, it is brilliant. I only got into it a year ago but I have found it really blows the cobwebs off and you feel great after doing it!”

    Conor: “Jade has put me to shame because I love getting into the water, though I haven’t been out this year yet! I also love walking the dog with my wife after work before settling in to watch whatever TV shows are watching at the time. I'm also a big Manchester United fan and keen gamer, so anytime I get to watch the football or put on the PS5, I'll do that.

    “We've also been getting into the gardening from the start of spring and find it is another good way to get outside and enjoy the fresh air.”

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