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An Interview with NCC Group’s Saira Acuna

Among the global technology firms with recent Philippine presence, the NCC Group is focused on developing local talent for various careers in cybersecurity. It has partnered with educational institutions to help shape a more relevant and updated curriculum that is more in line with the current trends in the job market. 

The NCC Group is a global information assurance, source code escrow, and cybersecurity firm which was established in 1999. Headquartered in Manchester, United Kingdom, it has offices in North America, Europe, and  Australia. The Philippines is its second office in the Southeast Asia region. 

After formally opening its Philippine office in Bonifacio Global City last January, we sat down with Saira Acuna, the NCC Group’s Country Director Global Delivery and Operations Centre. Acuna, who is a Filipino, has a 18-year career working for multinational companies in the Philippines and Australia in the field of training, sales, and business operations for software and technology firms. Starting off with her training in health care as a pediatric nurse, she moved on to other fields such as data science, management, and leadership. 

PhilStar Tech: In what way do Filipinos excel in the field of cybersecurity?

Saira Acuna: We have great communication skills and good work ethic. Filipinos are naturally curious and creative when it comes to problem solving. Growing up as children, I think that’s a core value for us. We are really fast learners and adaptable to change. That was very prominent at the beginning of the IT-BPM (Information Technology and Business Process Management) in the Philippines.

PST: Can you tell us about your career  journey since you graduated from school?

SA: I’ve been with IT-BPM for 18 years. I spent the last 3 years with NCC Group. I started in the medical field, went to the university for nursing, and worked in a hospital for two years. I moved to BPOs and started as a credit and billing specialist. Within that 18 years, I moved from finance, software and hardware development, and I became a technical trainer. The NCC Group is my first  cybersecurity company.

PST: Do you think you can relate to your previous experiences in different fields?

SA: Absolutely. As a nurse and registered midwife, I need to make sure there’s attention to detail as you are dealing with people’s lives and you need to have good communication skills.  The same goes with IT-BPM and cybersecurity where communication and problem-solving are the two important things.

PST: Who are the other Filipinos you look up to in your field?

SA: I came back to the Philippines in September. I lived in Australia. After not working in the Philippines for 13 years, I lost connection in the industry. But since then I have met many inspirational leaders, both male and female. The two that I can mention are Jack Madrid and Monette Hamlin. They’ve embraced NCC and shared their expertise and knowledge in the industry.

PST: What advice can you give people who are looking into having a career in cybersecurity?

SA: Immerse yourself as early as possible. Do your own research. Learning about cybersecurity doesn’t stop with taking a course or majoring in cybersecurity. Get out there, everything is readily available. Keep updated with what’s happening in the market and the industry. Look for mentors, people who will generously share their experience.

PST: What has the NCC Group been doing to encourage Filipinos to go into the field of cybersecurity?

SA: We invested in the community. We reached out to universities because we believe we need to start the next generation of talent as early as possible. There are other things we can do in partnership with universities and higher education make a sustainable learning pathway for students. For our awareness program, we visited UST and Sisters of Mary which is a Girlstown school for underprivileged children. NCC is very passionate about finding diversity and balance and making sure that we reach the younger generations.

PST: Do you subscribe to the idea of educating kids in IT at an early age?

SA: Early education is very important. It’s important that we immerse them in the new technology as early as possible and introduce them to available tools developed by the private sector.

PST: What should students focus on under cybersecurity?

SA: As an entry level, the technical assurance side of things is becoming a point of entry for cybersecurity professionals. Even the defense side of things like vulnerability scanning and bug bounty side of cybersecurity. You can split it between the technical assurance and the managed services side of cybersecurity. Testing has proven to be very effective in building your cybersecurity career.

PST: What do you think can be done to improve the image of Filipinos as hackers?

SA: I’ll go back to the efforts of the private sector like  NCC in reaching out to the younger generation and teach them about cyber awareness and the implication and repercussions of what you do as a professional. We just need to make sure we work with government agencies, governing bodies, regulatory organizations, and the private sector. The NCC Group has contributed by participating in framework, governance, and policy creation and sharing its insight that was developed from its research.

PST: What can you say to those who want to go into the field of cybersecurity?

SA: It’s not as scary as you think it is. If you like to learn and want to contribute to a digitally secure environment, it’s a great career to be in. Cybersecurity is not limited to just being a consultant, or having a  technical capability. Like any other business, we have other departments like finance etc. Immerse yourself in what is cybersecurity, find a good mentor, and join us at NCC.