The former head of cybersecurity for the British Army has urged people to take control of their lives and “go for it”.

Jonathan Shaw CBE, who was recently listed in The Official Top 16 Digital Disruption Speakers to Book for 2022, says his greatest regrets are the doors he didn’t open.

Asked by Mark Matthews to give his younger self one piece of advice, he says: “It would be, ‘take opportunities and have more confidence in yourself’. I look back at the things I regret in life, the doors I didn’t open as opposed to the ones I did.

“Just have more confidence. Go for it. Life isn’t a rehearsal. Take control of your life and make the most of it, because it’s all out there and time goes very quickly. 

“I’m looking back – I’m 63 now – and I’m thinking I’ve done some good things, but I could have done more.”

Ministry of Defence

Shaw, who served with distinction in The Falklands, Kosovo and Iraq, was head of the defence cyber security programme at the Ministry of Defence.

“[My proudest achievement there] was going from someone who knew nothing about cyber to someone who could talk quite knowledgeably about the conceptual side of cyber,” he reveals.

“I mean, cyber clearly has a deeply technical aspect to it – but what I learned very quickly was that the implications of cyber technology and how it’s affecting all our lives are more important. 

“That ability to talk analogue about a digital subject and make it meaningful to people who didn’t understand… that, I think, was my greatest achievement.”

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Trust and empower your cyber experts

Asked for his view on leadership in cybersecurity, he says: “Cyber is fundamentally disruptive. It disrupts the whole hierarchy of information and knowledge, because organisations tend to be set up on the basis that people at the top of the organisation get the information first.

“Actually, in the cyber world, that is not true. People of my age, people at senior levels, they were cyber tourists, they had no clue. And so, leadership must change because you can no longer wait for the people at the top to work out what’s going on and then give orders.

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“You’ve got to empower people, you’ve got to train people, you’ve got to trust people. Younger people are much better at cyber stuff than I am, and so, what you need to do is switch from a system of command and control that’s very top-down, to one that actually empowers people at the coalface. 

“That’s going to give you the people who understand it and it’s going to give you a speedier response, because one of the things about the hierarchical system now is they’re too slow to respond.”