3 October 2023
When Gunjan Bhaskar moved to New Zealand, she thought she’d continue her teaching career. But, plans changed when she stumbled across Unitec | Te Pūkenga cybersecurity programmes.
Growing up, Gunjan Bhaskar (29) always thought she’d enjoy a long career in education – just like her mother. Back in her home country of India, she studied for two degrees: computer science and education, with majors in math and science. That led to a job teaching physics at a secondary school. But in 2019, when she got married and relocated to New Zealand, she found herself adapting to a new country – and was faced with finding a new career. Today, Gunjan works as a Virtual Security Specialist at Spark. Not only has she successfully launched her career in cybersecurity after studying for Unitec | Te Pūkenga Graduate Diploma in Computing, but she has also recently been nominated for the New Zealand Women in Security Awards.
Time for a career change
When Gunjan landed in New Zealand, she didn’t know anyone (except her husband). She also didn’t have a job. So, she started volunteering as a home tutor, teaching English to migrants and refugees. “I’m not a stay-at-home kind of person,” Gunjan laughs. Once she got her work visa, she began to investigate getting her degrees accredited by NZQA, hoping to restart her career as a teacher. But after a few false starts, she found herself at a crossroads. “I realised it would take a few years of study to become a secondary school teacher in New Zealand,” Gunjan explains. “But I wanted to get into work as quickly as possible. So, I considered a career change.” That’s when fate intervened.
Going back to computing
Gunjan had previously studied web development as part of her computer science degree. She researched different IT courses and started to have conversations with her friends and ask questions. But she still wasn’t sure that was the right move. “I was cautious – if I was going to go back and study, it needed to be something I was passionate about and had great job prospects,” says Gunjan. One of her friends had recently started studying at Unitec | Te Pūkenga, which piqued her interest. That’s when she came across Unitec | Te Pūkenga cybersecurity programmes. “I started doing my own research and realised very quickly it was a new field of work – and there were many opportunities available,” says Gunjan. “But it’s when I spoke with one of Unitec | Te Pūkenga computing professors who was very helpful and answered all my questions, that I decided, ‘Ok, this is it – I’m going to do this.’”
Connecting study and work through internship and job opportunities
Fast forward one year, and Gunjan is now a proud graduate of Unitec | Te Pūkenga Graduate Diploma in Computing. She says she loved every second of her year studying at Unitec | Te Pūkenga. But if she had to pick a favourite part, she says it was the opportunity to apply for an internship. “It’s just like applying for a job,” Gunjan explains. “You send your CV to different companies, and they choose who to call back for an interview.” The first time Gunjan sent her CV to Spark, she was unsuccessful. But she wasn’t going to take no for an answer. She got some advice from her lecturers, updated her CV, and resubmitted her application. This time, she got a call-back. “During my internship, I realised just how quickly cyber technology was evolving and I knew I’d made one of the best decisions of my life,” says Gunjan. Alongside her Spark internship, Gunjan also worked part-time as an Information Security Analyst with Unisphere Solutions, an independent IT consulting firm. She heard about the job through one of her academic programme coordinators and knew it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. Gunjan says Unitec | Te Pūkenga computing team were always connecting students with industry work placements, on top of all the real-life projects that are part of the programme. “Those work opportunities showed me how all the technologies and software I’d learned about impact real business outcomes,” explains Gunjan. “Every day, I was learning something new, and it gave me a good insight into the work I’d be doing after graduating.”
Securing a dream job – and an industry awards nomination
A few months before officially graduating, Gunjan was applying for full-time positions at Kordia, Eir Evo, PwC and Spark. After interning at Spark, she couldn’t pass up the chance to go back. Today, she’s one of Spark’s Virtual Security Specialists, generating reports for customers and filtering security queries through to the managed services team. Her dedication to the role and willingness to learn are two of the many reasons she was nominated by her Internship supervisor for Best Security Student at this year’s New Zealand Women in Security Awards. “Last year, I attended as a plus one. This year, I’ll be attending as a nominee,” Gunjan laughs. “I can’t express in words how I feel about it.”
Considering a career in cybersecurity?
Gunjan knows how scary it can be switching careers, particularly later in life. As advice for people facing that decision, she says, “It’s important to believe in yourself. Because if you don’t, nobody will.” Then, she adds, you’ve got to get proactive. After Gunjan did her first internship, she crafted a LinkedIn profile and started connecting with people in the IT security industry. “There are so many people out there who are willing to help you – just start asking questions,” she says. She also recommends taking full advantage of the opportunities available at Unitec | Te Pūkenga, whether that be work placements or adding Microsoft certifications to your CV. And, if you’re unsure or need help at any point, lean on Unitec | Te Pūkenga computing team. “They were very supportive throughout my time at Unitec | Te Pūkenga,” says Gunjan. “I’m still in contact with many of my lecturers, so that says something about them as people.”
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