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by Sofia Villegas
12 December 2023
Top Women in Tech 2023: Jude McCorry

Jude McCorry is the CEO of the Cyber & Fraud Centre

Top Women in Tech 2023: Jude McCorry

Next on Holyrood’s top women in tech 2023 profiles is Jude McCorry, who has over 20 years of experience in the technology sector. 

The chief executive of the Cyber and Fraud Centre was born in Ireland, where she started her career with Dell. She joined the Cyber and Fraud Centre Scotland in April 2020. Previously, she was the chief executive of the Scottish Business Resilience Centre and was the director of business development at The Data Lab. She is one of the founders of the UNICEF Data Hub for Children and sits on the board of the Edinburgh Data Driven Innovation Hub at Edinburgh University.   

She spoke to Holyrood on the need to improve the diversity landscape in the sector, how education should embed digital skills into the curriculum and why cyber-security should be a nation-wide priority.  

 

What is your first tech-related memory?  

My first tech-related memory is when my brother got a Commodore 64 for Christmas.  

 

And when did you decide exactly to go into tech?   

I got into tech by mistake. When I was leaving university in Ireland, I applied for a job with a tech organisation, but it didn't say who the organisation was. This was right before the big tech infiltration into Ireland. So, Dell, Apple, Gateway, …were just about to open.  

I got asked to interview and all I knew it was an American company that wanted to set up in the country. And, then during the interview, they told you who the company was (Dell). So, I got into tech by mistake.  

 

What/who is your biggest influence in the sector?   

It is not just in the tech sector, but I would say in general. So, I come from a very small border town in Ireland, and there wasn't much. There was low aspiration, people wouldn't go to university or have high-profile jobs. There weren’t many jobs on the border or in Northern Ireland at the time… I didn't know what I wanted to do.  

But I loved French, and I just had this thing that I wanted to go to France.  

And my mum saw an advert in the paper to apply for a Euro languages scholarship, it is an organisation where you had to speak only French for three weeks in a residential college.

I looked at the advert and decided to apply, I was successful and then I was away for three weeks, where I made some good friends and met people from all over the world – which, again, there wasn't much opportunity to do where I grew up.  

The person who probably has inspired me as a young person to go and do something different was the person who gave me that scholarship, Brendan Murtagh, the chief executive of Kingspan. He wanted to give people in Ireland opportunities - particularly in the border regions - that would help them to think outside the box, be more ambitious and learn different languages.

The opportunity to do this really opened my eyes as to what my education could give me, and also showed me that I wanted something different, to get away from where I lived for a while.   

 

Would you say that you felt as supported as your male colleagues to take on opportunities during your academic years?  

So, pupil support and mentoring for going to university was non-existent at the time. You had to figure everything out yourself.  

Also, tech didn't really exist when I was at university. There weren't any kind of aspirations for people to go and do things like that, you just had to go and find your way.  

But once I started in the tech industry, I thought Dell was a good employer for looking after people and giving us the same opportunities. I never felt any different to my male colleagues at Dell, we both thrived together and supported each other.

Dell were also very supportive of working mums. A lot of the mums would take the summer off and go down to seaside areas and spend the whole summer with their kids. So, Dell was very supportive around work life balance, and I think it's probably still the same.

So, I was brought up in the IT industry very equally.  

 

So, would you say you haven't found it challenging as a female to be heard within the industry?   

No, I think it's challenging for every woman. And I think that if you do speak out, sometimes you're seen as a troublemaker.  

We did a conference a few months ago - and some anonymous feedback after the conference said the event had a lot of “rhetoric around diversity and women in tech”. It asked if we thought the glass ceiling had been hit - because the chief executive of the Cyber and Fraud centre, the policy lead at Scottish Government Cyber Resilience Unit, Claire El Azebbi, and Lindy Cameron, chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre, are all female. So basically, what they wrote is that three is enough.  

That's what you're battling against all the time. In a lot of the meetings that I'm in, I'm the only woman in the room.  

I will call out sexism, I will call out misogyny. I want a better life for my daughters and the young graduates we have coming through. And I think in Scotland, we've got a long way to go yet on equality for women in tech.  

 

In those meeting rooms where you are the only woman do you struggle to have your voice heard?    

No, but probably because of my title and my personality.  

However, I would probably feel more like that sometimes with women than I do with men. Sometimes I find women are not as supportive as they should be with other women in Scotland.  

 

Circling back to the feedback you got from the conference. Have these behaviours ever discouraged you to continue going forward?  

It's the same with everything in life. You have to keep those kinds of people to the side. You're going on a journey; you're focusing on the road ahead. So, I think feedback like that probably would have crushed me about two or three years ago. Now, I laugh at it because I think it's in the minority.  But as long as it's out there, we know there's still a lot of work to be done.  

There are times when I see a conference with 18 men speaking and people say, “it's just because there are no women out there” but then if they get called out, of course there are women at their next conference – and that makes me really annoyed.

If I am asked to speak at a conference I always check first who the other speakers are. If it's very male dominated, I will say no. I know sometimes that does not help the “cause”, but as a woman in tech you feel like you are sometimes that “token” woman speaker. This consideration should start at the planning stage.

When I worked at the Data Lab, I had a fantastic colleague Brian Hills, who said we should aim for 50/50 split when planning all conferences and events. Yes, it is harder to find women and to also encourage them to speak, but we need to put the work in.

 I think the government should also be looking at where they're talking at events and doing the same thing. So, saying ‘We're not going to speak at this because we don't see a huge diversity on the panel.’  

 

And why did you specifically focus on cyber and data?  

I've got two teenage daughters and when they were small, I chose my career quite carefully to make sure that nobody got left behind in my work-life balance. So, I was able to try to control everything, didn't have to travel a lot and could attend school concerts, school plays, school sports days, etc.  And the Data Lab was very family oriented. We'd have family days where we’d bring kids to work to show them what their parents were doing.

I also chose the Data Lab because of the Chief Exec Gillian Doherty. When I went to the interview, I knew I wanted to work for her. She was a force of nature, an amazing woman to work for and I worked for five years there.    

After that, I wanted to look for a chief executive role – there aren't many smaller chief executive roles in Scotland. And this one came up and I applied for it, and I got it.

 

What would you say is the moment in your career you are proudest of?   

I think getting a job in Dell computers was really good. I was able to start a career in tech at a young age and learn about the industry while I worked for a company that put the work and support around staff.

Second, I worked in a startup in Ireland – which went under when the dotcom bubble burst – and it was one of the best companies I ever worked for, in terms of both teamwork and leadership. Even though it failed - we all learned so much and was a huge growth time for me, (although it did not feel like that at the time). 

Probably taking on the chief executive role as well. I started in the week of Covid, so I'd never met the team. My first conversation was on Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which we'd never used before.  

It also was a turnaround situation – the organisation wasn't very financially healthy. So, to build the team and a lot of the team still to be here has been amazing. Also, to rebrand as the Cyber and Fraud Centre, see the support that we give organisations as well as watch our students graduate and help them get into industry, makes me really proud. They’re like my other kids.  

 

What would you say are the biggest challenges the industry is facing right now?  

 I think everybody's talking about the AI challenge and they're talking about it quite negatively. It is all scaremongering, fear, uncertainty, and doubt.  

Also, because I worked in the Data Lab before, I know we shouldn't just be talking about AI, we should be talking about data science in general and looking at the low-hanging fruit. So, can we look at data and AI to make lives better? And why not talk about the examples where lives have been made better rather than focusing on the potential negative outcomes?  

We should be having more of an optimistic but cautious approach.

 

Do you think we should embed digital skills further into the school curriculum?  

Yes. I founded – alongside other colleagues - the UNICEF Data Hub for Children which looks at how you can use data to enhance the lives of children

When we were setting it up we looked at how children are educated in Refugee camps etc they give children this ‘educational passport’ which in the event of a child from Syria needing to study in a different country, allows them to show what they've learned so that their education isn't disrupted.  

Also, in a lot of the refugee camps, children may not study history or geography, but may learn coding. They teach the children how to do coding and software development because it is a universal language. It’s something that, although they might be displaced for a few years, they could make a living from when life is better for them. Not everybody wants to go to university, but we all need digital skills going forward.  

I think this way of looking at education creatively is probably better than what we did as a country during Covid, when we used Glow and stuff. A lot of children were left behind in this country, because they did not have access to IT equipment, and it was very difficult for teachers to support them.

So, I think our education system needs to be turned on its head and looked at creatively.  We cannot keep blaming Covid for the downturn in our education system, we need to start focusing on what we need from our students over the next 10-20 years.

 

Do you believe certain areas need to be a focal point in training?  

Because of my background – I would like to see more training in Data Science and Cyber and Fraud. If we look at fraud for example, there are about 18,000 calls every year to Police Scotland on fraud and 95 per cent of those calls are cyber-enabled fraud, so we need to start looking at this differently rather than on a case-by-case basis.

Data science, cyber and fraud is not something you can learn about for two or three years and then be fully versed in it for the rest of your career. Technology is changing ever day – today is the slowest day of the rest of your life.

We have an ever-evolving fraud and cyber landscape, but we're not getting enough investment or funding for cyber and fraud in Scotland overall. There's £100m being invested into the UK for fraud down south, but nothing in Scotland.  We need to start looking at how innovation can help solve this ever-increasing problem.  

 

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