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“The number of women in tech is low, the number of Māori and Pasifika women is shockingly low, and the number of neurodiverse women in that group would be even smaller again.”
Denise Carter-Bennett (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei) joined Datacom in August 2021 as a cybersecurity analyst after impressing the security team during an internship as part of her Diploma in Cybersecurity at Unitec.
As a child, Denise was diagnosed as autistic, and at the age of 30, she was formally diagnosed as ADHD. While ADHD can present challenges, Denise says there are aspects of the way her neurodiverse brain works that are incredibly well-suited to tech and to her role as a cybersecurity analyst.
“Thinking outside the square comes naturally. I often see things others can’t, and I’m good at picking up anomalies. When I’m engaged by the work, I can have hyper-focused attention and I like digging for answers.”
Denise says her intense interest in learning new things has always made her “a bit of a nerd’ – but an inquisitive mind is a valuable quality to have in the rapidly changing world of cybersecurity.
“It’s really important to know what’s happening in the market and to keep up to date about the new cyber attacks and threat actors. The stories you see in the mainstream media are about breaches and attacks that have already occurred, so I do a lot of reading and research to stay ahead.”
Now that Denise has found her niche in tech, she wants to continue advocating for greater neurodiversity in the sector.
Before applying to study cybersecurity, Denise had previously worked as a librarian, freelance writer, social-media consultant and public servant, but her interest in tech was apparent early on.
As a primary school student, she taught herself basic programming by reading books from the library, and as a teenager, she taught herself languages like Python and Java.
Denise was introduced to the world of “white hat” or ethical hacking and open source security while studying at university in the early 2000s, and while she didn’t see tech as a career option back then, it saw the beginning of her interest in data sovereignty and cybersecurity.
In 2020, Denise was a keynote speaker at the 2020 Women in Technology conference (WITCon), talking about neurodiversity in the tech sector and the importance of bringing together diverse minds (neurotypical and neurodiverse) to unlock innovation.
Denise says one of the highlights of WITCon was being surrounded by so many talented women in tech, but it made her even more aware of the need to see more Māori and Pasifika women and more neurodiverse people in the field.
“There are some quite narrow stereotypes about what neurodiverse people look like,” says Denise, who has a 12-year-old autistic son. “Being an advocate is important for me. I want to challenge people’s assumptions – whether those assumptions are about others or themselves.”
In 2022, Denise is scheduled to present at KawaiiCon, the largest security and hacking conference in the southern hemisphere.