"It’s not luck that got me here, it’s taken a lot of hard work"

Beth Jenkins IWD

A treble award winner, holder of a degree and a Masters, a former police forensics expert, and now a cyber security lecturer, it’s not luck that got Beth Jenkins to where she is today – hard work is the secret.

But, for the 25-year-old from Caerphilly, resisting the temptation to say she’s ‘lucky’ to have achieved so much at a young age is really important to her, particularly as she aims to inspire the next generation of cyber specialists, of which women represented just a quarter of the worldwide workforce last year.

Beth’s road to her current role at the University of South Wales (USW) started at St Cenydd School in Caerphilly, where she gained four A-levels - history, ICT, English, and religious studies – and then attended USW as both an undergraduate, where she did a degree in computer forensics and then a Masters in cyber security.

As part of her degree, Beth spent a year on placement in the digital forensics unit at Gwent Police, and then secured a role with the force when she finished her postgrad, aged 22.

“After I completed my Masters I worked as a digital forensic examiner with Gwent Police, then after about six months I took a sidestep to become a quality specialist in the labs,” she said.

“I’d always wanted to go into the compliance area, so this job was perfect, allowing me to help ensure all the processes that the police carry out in their complex forensic work are of the highest quality, maintaining their accreditation, and enforcing the requirements to make sure they’re legally watertight.”

Although she was, as she describes it, ‘thrilled’ to have the job at Gwent Police, Beth always had a craving to go into another line of work, and jumped at the chance when the opportunity arose.

“Teaching is always something that I wanted to do, so when the chance to work at the University came up I couldn’t really ignore the opportunity,” she said.

“Everybody used to say, even when I was little, ‘Beth’s bound to be a teacher’, because I always loved the idea of doing it. I then went and volunteered at my old primary school when I was in secondary school.

“The only thing that put me off teaching in a primary school was I would have to teach English, maths, science, history, everything, but I really wanted to specialize in cyber, because that's what I loved and it's what I still love.

“When I started my degree I remember looking around at the lecturers and thinking they were so amazing and they got to do the best of both worlds for me - the teaching, which I love, and they got to teach digital forensics specifically, which I also loved.

“It was something I really, really loved and wanted to go back into, and I was really lucky that Gwent Police was OK with me giving guest lectures at the University.

“When I applied for the job as a lecturer in digital forensics at USW I genuinely didn’t think I would get it, because I was quite young and wasn’t sure I had the experience, even after the interview I just thought it would be good to go through the process.

“Then I got the email to say that I'd got the job and I actually had my parents read it and, like, double check that I was reading it correctly because I was just so shocked.”

After securing her ‘dream job’, Beth has also had a few other things to celebrate in the past few years.

Last September she was Highly Commended in the Alan Turing Award at the National Cyber Awards, and was a winner two years running in the Cyber Security Awards, scopping the Newcomer of the Year in 2022 and the 2023 Cyber Personality of the Year, which recognises an exceptional individual who has demonstrated outstanding leadership, advocacy, and expertise in the field of cyber security.

But does this make Beth feel that she has a responsibility to encourage more girls and women into the cyber sector.

“A little bit,” she said. “I didn't used to, particularly as I’ve only been in this industry a short period in the grand scheme of things. However, even in that short period I’ve filled up my metaphorical CV and managed to create something of a name for myself in this industry.

“When I tell people what I've done and I start rattling off all these cyber conferences that I've been to - I've done Europol three times, I've done the Magnet - which is a worldwide conference - and I'm doing that twice, and work with the Forensic Science Regulator, they look really surprised, especially when they realise my age.”

It is this fact that has led Beth to fight back against a common response that many people have to success, believing they are ‘lucky’ to have achieved what they have.

“I often used to say that I've been lucky to make a name for myself, but I actually I need to stop myself from saying that,” she said.

“I've worked so hard for this – I’ve put literal blood, sweat, and tears into my career because it's just what I adore, and it's what I'm so enthusiastic and passionate about.”

As for others looking to go into the cyber industry, Beth advises they refuse to accept that they don’t belong.

“You don't need to be intimidated if you know what you’re talking about, whatever age you are, or if you’re a woman or a man” she said.

“I would go to conferences and look around the room and there would be 200, 300, 400 people in there, and a good 90% of them, if not more, would be men. But being different isn’t a barrier if you know your stuff, and I want to encourage others to realise that.”

Having shown that hard work, and not luck, has been the key to her success, what would Beth say International Women’s Day means to her, particularly as its 2024 focus is to inspire inclusion.

“I like to think of it as a celebration, a day for women everywhere to celebrate how far they've come,” she said.

“There’s a really good quote from the Barbie movie which I use in presentations, which I think sums up my thoughts, ‘We mothers stand still so our daughters can look back to see how far they have come’.

“I really like that idea, it mirrors the cyber industry and how other women who have worked hard are going to get us even further.”