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Career Changer: Nina Niinivirta

Name:  Nina Niinivirta

Job and title: In between jobs

Professional interests: I believe that the type of work I do is more important than the domain. I enjoy working in roles that involve creating something new rather than simply repeating the same tasks day after day. Some examples of domains that interest me include information security management, DevSecOps, and cybersecurity awareness.

Previous career: Previously worked in hospitality in Finland and Switzerland, and as a substitute teacher. In addition, most recently worked at Fraktal.

Educational background: Bachelor’s in Education, Master’s in Cybersecurity

Hobbies: Snowboarding, surfing, dancing, going to the gym, doing arts and crafts, and volunteering with W4CFI.

Song that gives me power: Maija Vilkkumaa – Viimeinen elämä

Connect with Nina: Linkedin: Nina Niinivirta


Nina Niinivirta cybersecurity career
Meet: Nina Niinivirta

When did you start considering a career change, and what jobs did you have previously?


I studied to become a teacher. But later, I realized that’s not what I wanted to do. So, I took some time off to think about my future. During this break, I moved to Switzerland and worked in the hospitality industry. 


Eventually, I came back to Finland and landed a job at Fraktal. However, at the moment, I am in between jobs and actively seeking a new opportunity in the field of cybersecurity.


I had agreed to share my career story at the beginning of the year with the readers of Women4Cyber Finland, and I wanted to have a new job by then so that I wouldn't have to talk about my job search while being unemployed. 


But alas, life doesn’t always pan out the way we planned.


I realized, however, that it's important to share realistic stories about current situations in the working world and not just heroic stories about past challenges that have been overcome. This period of searching for my place in the cyber security world is also a very valuable part of my career journey.


Can you please tell me what sparked your interest in cybersecurity?


While living in Switzerland, I began contemplating my future because I really didn’t feel that the hospitality industry gave me enough professional challenges, and I wanted a job that I could do remotely. However, before the pandemic, remote jobs were primarily in IT. Then, I decided to take some online university courses. 


During this time, I was also bitten by the cyber bee — I met an Italian guy who introduced me to the world of cyber security.  And I realized that cyber security is more my thing because it allows me to do something important and meaningful. Well, I never saw the guy again. But my interest in cyber security stayed. 

What were the things that made you nervous about changing careers? How did they turn out?


Changing careers can be nerve-wracking. I was afraid of how I would survive financially because, obviously, I wasn't entitled to an adult education subsidy. I’m in my 30s, and while my friends were progressing in their careers, buying houses, getting married, and having babies, I had to revert to a student status with a low income. Even though I know we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, I couldn’t help myself.


And now, when I finally got into the field I wanted, I’m in a position where I feel like I’m not moving forward in my career. If you were to ask me how I feel about being unemployed after resigning from my first cyber job, I would be honest with you. I feel ashamed, depressed, hopeless, and like I am the biggest loser in the world. 


According to an article by Duunitori, it is recommended not to quit your job until a new job is agreed upon. However, I did the opposite and now find myself in this situation. 


Honestly, after experiencing these negative feelings, it is challenging to go to an interview and radiate self-confidence. Especially after facing several rejections, I have had to work on building my self-confidence.


But my story doesn’t end here. 


Tell us more. What kind of support or encouragement did you receive about your career-switching journey?


One of my dear ex-colleagues once said, "A humanist came to shake tech," and I aim to continue doing just that in the future. 


This idea was reinforced by an interviewer who felt that I could positively shake up their team. I believe in speaking directly and honestly, regardless of whether my words are loved or hated. 


It's important to identify your strengths and hold onto them tightly, even when it feels like you're going headfirst into a trench without a reverse button. 


But don't worry. You can always find a way to climb out of the trench.


Did you study cybersecurity, or did you directly apply for a new job to make the switch?


After spending three fantastic years in Switzerland, I returned to Finland to complete my bachelor’s degree in teaching and also pursued information technology as a minor subject. 


The following spring, I was accepted into the Cybersecurity Master’s degree program at the University of Jyväskylä, from which I have now graduated. A few months before starting my cyber security studies, I began working at a cyber security company called Fraktal. I was lucky to get this first job in the field. That was in May 2021.


In October 2023, I decided to leap at moving forward with my career. So I left Fraktal. 


Fast forward to today. I’m still between jobs and looking for my next opportunity in cyber security. After resigning from Fraktal and being unemployed, I worked on a ship and as a substitute teacher to pay my bills — it felt like I had gone backward in life instead of forward.


Even though I’d graduated with a degree in Education, teaching isn’t really my cup of tea anymore. Teaching was the toughest job I’ve ever done. It left me feeling paralyzed every day after work. 


And somehow, through trying to cope with being a teacher, I needed to find the right vibe and energy to write outstanding job applications. But after exhausting work days, my fingers weren’t taking any orders from my brain because it almost felt like there weren’t even any signals at all.


But what disappointed me the most was the fact that I couldn’t, and wasn’t, doing the work I really wanted to do. And I was going backward in my life.


Was it difficult for you to secure your first job in the field of cybersecurity?


It wasn’t that challenging to find the first job. I had sent around 10 applications or so before securing one. But it has been a lot more difficult this time. 


As a summary of the past few months - I have received 11 invitations for job interviews but have yet to be able to get accepted in any of them. One after another, I had to face rejection. 


However, these experiences have taught me a few lessons. 


Firstly, it has become clearer to me what I want to do in my career. Secondly, I need to prepare better for interviews. Lastly, some positions I had applied for weren't even what I was interested in. 


I positively remember the people and companies who called me, even when the answer was unpleasant, meaning I wasn't selected. From one place, I received a call two days before Christmas. Although it wasn't good news, I appreciated the effort and straightforwardness. 


On the other hand, generic e-mails, especially at the end of the recruitment process, almost feel like being dumped by a text message. They are cold, faceless, and disrespectful.


Did the cybersecurity industry meet your expectations? What challenges did you face, and what did you enjoy the most?


I didn’t have any expectations, but I knew that if I wanted to get into this, I needed to do a lot of work. During the interviews, it was pointed out that I have less work experience in the field of cybersecurity than other applicants. 


Though it is true, I also didn't know German when I moved to Switzerland, yet I worked in customer service, handling all duties in German in a bank and hospital. While my colleagues relied on English, I carried a German grammar book around with me at work.


In 2021, when I applied to study cybersecurity at university, I was in a hurry as I had completed 120 credits in a year. Therefore, I almost skipped the entrance exam, thinking I didn't have enough time to study. However, I read the exam materials in a week and was able to get in. Luckily, I put in all my efforts during that week. 


As a child, I even learned to ride a bike with a cast on my leg. 


That’s to say, while it’s true that I don’t have enough work experience in the field yet, I believe that if I want something, I will work hard for it. And anyway, I’ve heard often that these things are not rocket science and can be learned.


What are your tips for someone considering a career switch?


Job seeking can be tough, especially when switching careers and lacking experience. It's important to remember that you're not alone in facing these challenges. It's okay to feel overwhelmed and let your emotions out - roll into a fetal position and cry your heart out if needed. But more importantly, be kind to yourself.  


Take a break if needed, and return when you feel ready. Although it's natural to experience negative feelings, strive to maintain a balance with positive emotions. Remember, and this is also a reminder to myself: This is just a minor problem in life. It will pass, eventually.


On a positive note, unemployment has allowed me to pursue my long-term dream of traveling to Costa Rica. I’ll be here working barefoot as a volunteer in a surf hostel until April 22, pura vida! I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to travel while unemployed. 


I already feel a lot more motivated to develop my skills and expertise, and send more job applications with a healthy dose of sunshine and vitamin D. 


So yeah, I’ll keep sending applications from the other side of the Atlantic while the waves break under my board. I believe I’ll be working in cybersecurity again in the spring. ¡Buena suerte a todos —  everything will be alright!


Interviewer: Serena Chan, W4CFI Articles

Nina has volunteered for Women4Cyber Finland's Events team since 2022.

 

Women4Cyber Finland's Career Changers series highlights the interesting career paths of women who have ended up in the cybersecurity industry as career changers. The purpose of the series is to raise awareness of the diverse work and study opportunities in the information and cybersecurity industry and to highlight women who inspire others with their own career stories. Would you like to tell your own story as a career changer? Sign up to be interviewed by sending us your contact information (name, email address) and a short description of your background to: articles(at)women4cyberfinland.fi


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