14 September 2023

All-female 'Dream Team' helped protect Cisco's FIFA Women's World Cup coverage

| Dione David
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Cyber student Noor Zafar

Noor Zafar, a former early childhood educator, is embarking on a career change in cyber. Photo: Noor Zafar.

For one glorious month, we rode the high of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 as our Matildas ushered in a new dawn for women’s sport in this country – but weeks after the dust has settled, we’re still shaking stories of female triumph from that impressive tree – and one has tumbled close to home in the Illawarra.

As the Matildas won hearts out on the field, behind the scenes an equally dedicated group of women was working with Cisco, the official network infrastructure provider for the tournament, to protect the digital network that connected the World Cup tournament’s ecosystem.

Shortly before the international tournament began, TAFE NSW Cyber Academy student Noor Zafar was called up to the Cisco Networking Academy and offered a place on the all-female “Dream Team” tasked with supporting and protecting Cisco’s coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

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Along with the rest of the Dream Team – a collection of hand-selected university and TAFE students and people at the start of their cyber careers – the Wollongong woman would be allowed to shadow Cisco’s IT network professionals to gain hands-on experience installing, servicing and protecting the tournament’s entire communications system across nine cities in Australia and New Zealand.

“It was amazing to gain industry experience on a global event of this scale, knowing the system I was working on was making sure more than two billion people got to see the World Cup,” Noor said.

Specifically, the project ensured media professionals had adequate resources to send content, such as photos and videos, to clients in a timely fashion.

“It was about protecting their livelihoods,” Noor said. “In some cases, photographers have to send photos in less than 10 seconds or they don’t get paid.

“In the process, I learned so much to complement my studies at the Cyber Academy.”

The Matildas celebrate in a huddle

Behind the scenes, IT and cyber professionals worked to ensure two billion people got to see the World Cup uninterrupted. Photo: CommBank Matildas Facebook.

Noor was nominated for the sport by Shan Ansari, her teacher at TAFE NSW, where she is taking introductory networking courses through the Cisco Networking Academy, one of the world’s longest-running and purpose-driven IT skills-to-jobs programs.

“Cyber security is a booming industry with huge demand for qualified professionals and one of the ways TAFE NSW is working to meet that demand is to provide pathways into the career that support more women entering the workforce,” Shan said.

“This includes providing amazing on-the-job learning opportunities, like Noor’s experience with Cisco.”

Australia is short 2300 workers in cyber security with an expected demand of at least 17,600 additional professionals in the sector by 2026, according to a report by The Data Institute.

Women account for 30 per cent of students in the Cyber Academy program, which is designed to address national skills shortages in cyber security through a collaborative approach between industry and vocational and higher education – specifically Deloitte, the University of Wollongong and TAFE NSW.

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Noor said organisers were trying to get more women enrolled and on the cyber career track.

“One of the biggest challenges for women is believing they can succeed in non-traditional pathways so I hope others can believe they can do it too,” she said.

“It’s also open to anyone at any stage of any career. One of the students was a chef, another was a former police officer. We all come from different walks of life.”

For Noor, who first experienced IT by rebuilding computers with her father in their family home, it’s a career change from early childhood education.

“If you have even the slightest inkling that a career in cyber might be for you, but don’t know how to get started, the academy is a good place,” she said.

“They’re looking for diverse people in diverse skill sets who want to be trained in IT.”

Participants at the Cyber Academy, launched with seed funding from the NSW Government’s Collaboration and Innovation Fund, and with ongoing funding for eligible applicants via the NSW Government Smart and Skilled program, gain a nationally recognised diploma and degree over three years, while working in the industry.

The cyber sector offers a broad range of career options. For Noor, the appeal lies in “ethical hacking”, defence and national security.

“Since the Optus and Medibank breaches, we’ve had continuous breaches happening, it’s a massive problem right now. I think we’re now realising that the assets we value are not always the physical ones,” she said.

“Anything I can do to help, I want to do.”

For more information about a career in this fast-growing sector, visit TAFE NSW.

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