For cybersecurity expert Ljubica Pendaroska, president of Women4Cyber North Macedonia, the road to success in her career looks more like a puzzle that she had to solve to get to where she is today.
She began as a teaching assistant at the Faculty of Law in Skopje, North Macedonia to become a renowned personal data and privacy specialist. Nowadays Pendaroska is working on long-term projects with international organizations and institutions such as NATO, UNICEF and the OECD. She’s also a data privacy consultant for many tech companies around the globe.
In an interview with The Recursive, Pendaroska describes her professional journey in the field of cybersecurity, as well as her commitment to promoting women’s participation in the complex world of cybersecurity challenges.
In this new “Women in Tech” series, we will introduce you to talented tech professionals that are riding the wave of change in the most exciting tech companies and ecosystem organizations in our region. Having a strong and devoted team is one of the prerequisites of success for every startup venture and what investors are most often looking for, so we want you to meet the ladies who are making innovation happen.
We will explore different roles and jobs – from technical talents to professionals responsible for the growth and exploration of new markets, to IT jobs you haven’t even heard of, yet. We will also talk about what it is like to work in tech – the skills you need, the challenges you meet, the work environment that helps you thrive, and the future of work altogether.
The Recursive: Tell us about your career as a cybersecurity expert and how did you arrive at your current position?
Ljubica Pendaroska, Women4Cyber: The road was more like a jigsaw puzzle that I had to solve to get today’s complete picture. That being said, that part of the glittering image that is “invisible” to the public.And of course, a lot of personal internal re-examinations, testing opportunities in accordance with personal affinities, ups and downs.
As a teaching assistant at the Faculty of Law, I have delved deeper into the world of privacy and personal data protection as a segment of cyber security. At that time, as today even more, the world needed more individuals to deal with privacy in practical life, in the business environment, but also in international organizations.
So, I became a privacy expert in many long-term projects of the EU, NATO, UNICEF, OECD. I have also worked as a data privacy consultant for many companies and brands around the globe. At the same time, my growth as a cybersecurity expert took place in parallel with the development of the cyber world, hence the greater involvement of women in this important social and business segment has become one of my priorities.
Aware that humanity is evolving only through research and transfer of available knowledge but also the understanding that in a world of enormous digitalisation development is possible only if it takes place in all parts of the ecumenical, my current work engagements are related to lecturing and training for data protection and privacy, not only in Europe but also particularly in Asia and parts of Africa.
How did you come up with the idea for Women4Cyber North Macedonia, and what are the main goals of this project?
I would say it was the other way around, the idea came to me. In 2019, following my success and commitment in the cyber world, and following my lecture at the European Commission Summer School, I was awarded by a reputable UK platform as a Top 50 Women of influence in cyber security for Europe. And then the story of our national charter began. I received an invitation from the Women4Cyber Foundation in Brussels to establish and lead the national branch of this organization, under the auspices of the EU European Cyber Security Organization.
This is how Women4Cyber North Macedonia was born, as the second national chapter. The idea behind the action is through joint efforts, especially through the acquisition and increase of cyber skills in women, customized courses, promotion of role models of successful women in the cyber environment, to increase the supply of highly qualified women in the cyber labor market.
And of course, at the same time to work on raising the awareness of the business community that women are a very valuable link in their successful work and management.
What have been the advantages and disadvantages of developing as a cybersecurity expert as a woman?
My life guides stem from the personal belief that lack of something can be an advantage if you know how to approach it. So, there is no obstacle that can not be overcome, only for some it takes more effort, time and investment, if you have energy and a strong desire to achieve the goal.
The years have confirmed to me that the cultural matrix and stereotypes built on the social belief that women are not for professions that rely heavily on technical and information knowledge are often an obstacle. But also the image of the girls themselves who portray the individual working in the cyber world as exclusively male.
Personally, I can say that I have not had in my career development “challenges and difficulties” related to the fact that I am a woman, or maybe I have not perceived them as such! They were more related to age (for example, that I am too young to do the job successfully), and sometimes the struggle was mainly to prove that people from less developed parts of the world can be better than those who come from rich and developed regions.
But, in general, the fact that women are around 22% represented in various cyber professions, and less that 20% when it comes to high executive and decision-making positions in cyber companies, speaks loudly for itself that there are great obstacles of social, cultural, and awareness nature standing behind the unbalanced situation in cyber world.
What does a day in your life look like? Tell us something we don’t know about the field you’re working in.
Every day is different, depending on the specific daily work menu. Sometimes the working day is completely dedicated to the preparation of customized training materials, sometimes to the trainings themselves. The next day can already be dedicated to personal development as a lecturer and coach. There are days when I’m obsessed with promoting the idea of the benefits of female leadership. But on the other hand, all days are the same, united around the personal motto I follow: inspire and allow yourself to be inspired.
For all of us who live in an era of complete digitalization, cyber communication, but especially for those of us who work in the field of privacy and data protection, it is a challenge every day to ensure the dual goal: human dignity and the greatest possible value of information. Being an expert on privacy and data protection means knowing the essence and specifics of many different businesses, responding in a timely manner, and preventing the spread of harmful data.
What did you want to be growing up and how has this vision changed over the years?
It is natural for vision to be re-examined and changed as the soul and intellect evolve. Sometimes, you do not see the target clearly, even though you know it is there somewhere. For me, it has always been important that I know what my goal is, even though there were momentary “deviations” that meant a time lag from my ultimate goal: to do what I believe I am best at – transferring knowledge to other individuals, in a way that will stimulate a “sleepy piece” inside the listeners to wake up, and perhaps experience what in psychology is called an “a-ha” moment.
So, I can confirm that even now, while I’m answering your questions, I’m in a personal transformation process, it’s a never ending story.
What is your definition of success as a cybersecurity expert?
Well, nowadays, more than ever, it seems to me that being and staying yourself, to live your own self is the real success. And, ultimately, if you succeed to encourage even one person to research, to find and to follow his/her own path, congratulations!
Because, at the end of the day, only then you’ll be the best version you could be – and that is the formula to build yourself professionally, financially, emotionally.
What do you think makes you good at what you do?
I have devoted a lot of time and energy to researching myself. And with that, I have identified my affinities and innate abilities, which through tireless learning and work have grown into my strongest points.
Pairing these two things is the key to personal happiness and success. I do not strive to be “good” in everything, but I want to be “best” in something!
How has technology shaped your career as a cybersecurity expert?
Working with “data” as an asset means that using technology and timely following of the updates are simply a “must”. New technology, for those who are ready and willing to adapt, is an absolute positive advantage and challenge. But, I would say, technology is at the same time a ruthless machine that “grinds” those who are less willing to indulge and commit to change.
I am in that first group, I strive and dedicate myself to innovations, and I can testify that it is the technological advances and ways of electronic communication and operation that have enabled me to be competitive worldwide. And this is especially useful for young, and experienced, quality people living in this, relatively speaking, less developed part of the world.
What are your professional goals for this year?
For this year, I promised myself and committed to completely reorient my professional activity towards two things: lecturing and training. At the same time, to expand my field of vision to a very attractive part of the world, when it comes to my professional sphere of interest, Asian countries. And I have already stepped on that path!
At the beginning of the year, I was awarded one more time as the “Women with the most Influence in Cyber Security in Europe”. With pleasure, I will continue to work and inspire, and spread the word about the positive changes that women can bring in the world of cybersecurity.
Tell us about how you coped with a big failure in your career? How did you move on?
Honestly, I witnessed more small failures, I can’t even think about any big one. Maybe it’s because of the way I perceive the things happening in my life in general, trying not to make drama but to try to be realistic and rational, especially when there is high emotional intensity. And the moments of failure are exactly like that.
My recipe is quite simple, but a constant one: persistent work on the inner self, which will know how not to react violently and tragically when something fails. Everything is a process, nothing is given once and for all, just keep walking, it does not matter how fast, just keep going.
What is your motivator during not-so-productive days?
Well, during those days I’m trying to be gentle with myself, and that’s what I’m very proud of myself, I learnt not to be too judgmental and harsh towards myself. Then I take some book, and it works!
Practicing what Italians say “Dolce far niente” relaxation in carefree idleness, a real challenge in this life, full of “fast” things, like in a movie, right? It’s important to share with people struggling with motivation, that overworking and overwhelming is not an “ideal” that the human race should follow.
After a while, guess what, motivation for work is back, and I’m even more productive. My strong advice: don’t push yourself too much.
From remote work, through automation, 4-day working week, to universal basic income, how do you imagine the future of work?
Who knows! One thing is for sure: humanity is constantly moving, sometimes faster, and sometimes slower. From my perspective, no matter the way we are going to work in the days to come, the ultimate goal should be to be productive but at the same time fulfilled as human beings.
Only physically and mentally healthy and satisfied people can be successful in what they do. It may sound too idealistic, but it is a universal and timeless truth! And of course, don’t forget to inspire – yourself and others.