A graduate from Abertay University in Dundee who overcame a childhood she describes as a “living nightmare” has written a powerful and inspiring account of her journey to becoming a cybersecurity professional.
Cheryl Torano outlines her turbulent start to life in new book, The Rise of the Cyber Women – a collection of real life stories compiled by Lisa Ventura from the UK Cyber Association.
The stories are by women who are pioneers in the industry, and have overcome adversity or taken non-linear paths to where they are today.
Cheryl, 36, said: “I never even daydreamed about going to university, let alone having a career in the cybersecurity industry.
“I was a very troubled kid, going in and out of the care system and spending most of my days worrying about whether or not my siblings and I were going to eat that day.
“I regularly got into bother in school and in fact was excluded from high school 18 different times.”
At the age of 15, further tragedy struck.
Cheryl said: “On September 14 1999, I lost my beloved big brother. He was just 19-years-old. This was the day, to be honest, when my childhood officially ended. To say I was heartbroken would be an understatement.
“I shut down emotionally for a long time, and when I turned 16 I left school with basic qualifications to get paid employment just so that I could survive.”
Cheryl accepted a job in Office Administration and gained an SVQ level 3 along the way, and vowed to live life to the fullest for both herself and her brother.
She used every spare penny she had to pay for driving lessons, then, after she passed her test, to purchase her first car.
In 2004, she gave birth to her first child, and after a decade working in administration she decided it was time for a change: “Our office printer regularly played up and I spent a lot of time researching the issues and fixing them myself.
“For the first time in my life I dared to dream, and that dream was for a career in IT. I applied to college, and much to my surprise I was accepted.
“However, this wasn’t meant to be as a few weeks later I discovered I was pregnant with my second child. I deferred entry and two years later I returned to college to try once again.
“This time round I was even more determined than before as I had two children solely dependent on me.”
Cheryl was desperate to go to university, and after graduating from college accepted a place on Abertay’s Ethical Hacking course.
She said: “Balancing being a parent and university life was far from easy, and at times I had to remind myself, when I was exhausted, that my end goal was to benefit my children and honour the memory of my brother.
“But In the end, it was worth it. I met fantastic people, inspiring lecturers, had tremendous opportunities and even made world news.
“As part of a project I discovered it was possible to hack a talking child’s doll to make it say anything I commanded. In the months after the project, the toy was taken off the market. I was proud to play my part in protecting children.
“In 2017, I graduated from the university. I was offered jobs right across the world, but because of my young family I was restricted to Dundee.
“Thankfully Abertay was very supportive of me, and I ended up working in the university’s external relations department, before eventually moving on to Brightsolid, where I now work as a cyber security engineer.”
Cheryl has shared her story to inspire others, and in particular inspire women to consider a career in cybersecurity.
She feels privileged to be in the position she is in: “I wholeheartedly want to encourage and support others on their journey into cyber.
“The cybersecurity industry needs more women with all different kinds of skills and backgrounds. Don’t give up on your goals and dreams, and when you hit a brick wall that feels like it won’t budge, keep trying.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help, then ask for help again. There will be days where it feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. If a broken little girl like I was can achieve what I’ve achieved, so can you.
“Reach for the stars, you are worth it.”