3 questions, 1 expert: Chaïma Mechara, incident responder
Ever wondered what it takes to become an incident responder? We asked Chaïma, an incident responder based in our Paris office, to tell us about her career trajectory so far.
Tell us about your educational background, and how this led you to a career in cybersecurity.
From a young age, I was passionate about computer science as a hobby. Despite this, I had always wanted to study medicine. However, in the end I made a last-minute decision to switch to a scientific high school programme that focused on engineering sciences, so I could study computer science at degree level. And I never looked back!
During my final year of high school, I worked on a project that involved developing a wheelchair called Omnimoove, which allowed its users to move in all directions and perform complex movements. I developed a head motion control system using an Arduino-based inertial sensor and a mechanism to detect and react to obstacles. This project earned us a spot in the Olympiades des Sciences de l’Ingénieur (a national engineering competition for high school students in France), as well as another national competition in computer science and digital sciences (NSI). Here, I met many industry professionals and was introduced to the world of cybersecurity.
Though cybersecurity piqued my interest, I wasn’t yet ready to commit to it as my future career path. So, I enrolled in a two-year public engineering school programme with an integrated preparatory class in both embedded computing and cybersecurity. After completing these preparatory studies, I enrolled in the computer science programme at CY Cergy Paris Université, intending to join an engineering school later. However, I decided to stay at the university, thanks to the quality of the faculty.
By my third year, I had committed to a career in cybersecurity. However, I hadn’t decided whether to specialise in the blue or red team. Later, I completed a master’s degree in network and information security as a level two SOC analyst, which confirmed my interest in the blue team. I then discovered the exciting field of incident response, which allowed me to combine my passion for both the red and blue teams, as well as the practical aspects of cybersecurity and cybersecurity research.
I’m really enjoying my work right now, but I’d also like to pursue a PhD in future – if life allows it!
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to study cybersecurity?
Seek out the advice of others who’ve been there and done it! I was lucky enough to receive lots of helpful advice early on, which helped me navigate the complex world of cybersecurity. With so many educational options available, such as computer science schools, engineering schools, and other university programmes, it can be difficult to determine the best path. Now that I’ve completed my studies, I always make time to answer questions from aspiring cybersecurity students.
If you’re interested in technical and operational roles, what matters most is a general passion for computer science – which you can demonstrate by participating in online challenges and Capture the Flag (CTF) events. There are numerous free platforms available to help you sharpen your technical skills, so be sure to take advantage of them and reach your full potential.
In addition to technical skills, I believe that success in cybersecurity also depends on collaboration and teamwork. It’s important to learn from others and work with like-minded individuals to improve your skills and win CTFs. So, don’t isolate yourself. Instead, build a supportive network of colleagues who share your passion and drive.
Lastly, as a woman in a technical field, I feel compelled to encourage other women to consider careers in cybersecurity. It’s an exciting and constantly evolving field that offers numerous opportunities for growth and learning.
What made you decide to become an incident responder?
After completing my master’s degree, I realised that incident response was the perfect way to combine my passion for studying attacks with my role as an apprentice SOC analyst.
Incident response involves keeping up to date with the latest threats and attack techniques, which is essential for effectively responding to security incidents. An incident responder also requires a wide range of technical skills, including forensic and malware analysis, as well as knowledge of all types of information systems. Before accepting an incident response mission, we assess whether we have the necessary skills and capacity to carry out the work, based on the client’s IT environment. However, unforeseen challenges can still arise during the mission, so we must prepare for all eventualities.
My work as an incident responder has enabled me to acquire a wide range of hard skills, which is very satisfying. It has also allowed me to learn softer skills like crisis management and technical leadership, as well as to develop my ability to remain calm, adapt to changing circumstances, and find creative solutions to complex problems.
Moreover, working on incident response missions has given me the opportunity to observe cybersecurity practices in different companies, which is valuable knowledge that I can use in my research work.
Considering a career in cybersecurity? Check out our current job openings here.