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The Art of Belonging

Helen Payne - Grammar Queen

Starting a new job is always a daunting prospect. New people to get to know, a new office to find your way around, a new commute to perfect the timings of. Having offered you the job in the first place, the new company must be relatively confident that you can provide what they will be paying you to do. You, on the other hand, might not be so confident when that job is in an entirely new field.

On my first morning at Immersive Labs (in a rose-tinted pre-coronavirus world) there was the usual hubbub of hellos and administration tasks. Friendly faces smiled at me from behind computer screens and tea was offered from every angle. So far, so good. A sinking feeling arrived, however, during the first team meeting, when everyone set out their tasks for the day.

“We’ve got the Python meeting at 1,” someone mentioned.

“Have you tracked those CTF Boot to Root labs on Jira?” another asked.

“Github repositories”

“Uplifting the steganographic malvertising lab”

“DNS Enumeration”

“Web app hacking”

“Sodinokibi ransomware CVE”

It went on. I understood none of it.

I had joined the company as a copywriter. My role would be to proofread and edit the text content that this amazingly intelligent technical team had put together, and also write some blog content and website copy when required. It was nothing I hadn’t done before, just in an entirely different area. I didn’t know my VPN from my PHP, and was perplexed by using Linux instead of Windows. These people, greeting me with an earl grey, had trained for years in cybersecurity, computer programming, coding, and ethical hacking. The best in their field; they knew exactly what they were talking about.

Helen Payne working from home

What the hell was I doing here?

I am a writer. I love words and reading, and even voluntarily chose a Latin module at university while studying literature. I’m a grammar nerd; one of those awful people who feels compelled to tell strangers when an apostrophe is used incorrectly. I am an artist who sells paintings as a side hustle. I spend all my free time drawing. I am a musician and have been in various bands over the years. I have a whole drawer just for ribbons, for goodness sake.

I know. I was not going to fit in at a tech start-up.

Helen Payne - chilling in the sun

I spent the first few days convinced that someone was going to tap me on the shoulder with a sympathetic smile, uttering the words “actually, we’re not sure you’re right for this.” The amount of questions I asked was mortifying. In hindsight, I was experiencing a classic case of imposter syndrome, until I had a sudden realization. The HR team had known all about me before my interview. They knew my work history at a music website, previous journalism experience, and various creative side hustles. And they still hired me. They saw something in a driven, creative spirit that totally aligned to values of Immersive Labs, which I couldn’t see until I’d fully settled into my role. I eventually found myself enjoying learning about cybersecurity and ethical hacking, concepts that had never even entered my vocabulary before. It turned out that I had loads in common with my team, and I made friends with artists, musicians, readers. I felt totally guilty for assuming that no one here would be like me. How wrong I was. Since, I have joined a book club and a recipe sharing Slack channel, been for drinks with my team, gorged pizza in the park, talked about our favourite bands, and taken part in some dumb quizzes.

After years of believing myself to be inferior to my mathsy friends at school, my physics PhD friend at uni, and my engineer housemate now, the encouragement and praise from my Immersive colleagues has taught me that the arts are not subordinate to STEM subjects, no matter what the Cyber First adverts of 2020 tell us. A community needs copywriters, designers, musicians, and creators to thrive. At risk of sounding a bit up myself, my skills be that re-wording sentences for cohesion, whipping up a blog post, or tailoring existing content for different audiences are just as valuable as those of an appsec specialist or a backend web developer. They’re just different, that’s all. And that’s fine.