From an interview with Christine Koneri.
Christine’s journey began in India, with educational stopovers in Australia and the U.S., before landing in Canada in 2018. She earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering in India, then worked for two and a half years as an SAP security consultant with one of the world’s largest accounting and professional services firms. From there, Christine travelled to Australia to complete her master’s in Information Systems at the University of Melbourne, where she found an opportunity to do an exchange program at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She studied and worked for a year in the U.S. before returning to India to consider her next steps. Christine is currently a senior security consultant with one of the world’s largest cloud technology and consulting firms. We asked her to tell us a little bit about coming to Canada, technology consulting, and to provide some insight for newcomers making the journey now.
I had to decide whether I would stay in India, go to Australia, look for opportunities in the U.S. or elsewhere. That’s when I heard about Canada’s growing economy and the opportunities here. I took a leap of faith, literally. I didn’t know anyone here or much about the place, but I thought, “Well, I’ve studied and worked in the U.S., so it shouldn’t be very difficult.” But it was very different. There were a lot of changes, a lot of things I had to learn and relearn. I’m very grateful for the community in Canada that helped me adjust to my new life here.
The government-sponsored programs are like nothing I’ve seen in other countries. The local community programs for newcomers, the support you get, the kindness of people, that really was what helped me grow and get to where I am, and that’s why I love to be a part of that community that invested in me and helped me.
My main goal when I arrived was to find a job. I was lucky because I had a backup – I worked part-time as a communications coach, but I didn’t want to rely on that too long. My target was to find a job in my field within two or three months. After coming here, several well-meaning friends and acquaintances warned me that I would likely need to step down and start from the ground up – and that I might need to look for work outside my industry. However, I felt that I had invested so much time, resources and passion in my education that I had to find a way to find my perfect fit. And I was going to do everything possible to make that happen. I knew that I had the skills; I just needed someone to have faith in me and give me the right break. I took courses and just kept pushing to see which door opened.
I was also looking at how I could use my consulting skills to find a job. Networking and being able to tell your story are super important in consulting. As part of a reputable company or firm, people have to trust you. You have to build a network of people who know you and can vouch for you. So from that perspective, consulting is really about building relationships.
Consulting with people who know the Canadian job market
I work in cybersecurity, which is an up-and-coming field. It’s a place where there’s a lot of need, and therefore, lots of opportunities. I have always been passionate about Cyber Security Consulting. One of my key strategies for finding my first job in Canada is networking. Networking helped me understand the Canadian job market. I remember speaking to a partner at one of the big consulting firms here. I told him I worked in SAP security back in India, and he said, “Rather than saying you worked in SAP security, why not say you worked in application management, or application security – that will help broaden your career opportunities.” That really transformed the way I built my resume and how I interacted in interviews. Talking to people through information interviews helped me understand the market, know that cybersecurity consulting was what I really wanted to do, and learn to prepare accordingly.
There was a market out there that needed my talent, but I had to know what parts of my experience and transferable skills I could apply. I knew consulting was where I wanted to take my career. I loved the fluidity, and the way that I could work with many different projects, different clients; I could be a part of the ideation, and see an actual product coming to life. At the same time, not being stuck in a project forever was very important for me.
The company I currently work for is a leader in the industry, and I get to work with and learn from the top industry talent – people with fifteen to twenty years of experience. I’ve just completed one year in my current role: it is my first professional job in Canada, so I feel this is a real milestone. And it’s been a great learning experience to understand, not just the work culture here in Canada, but also to look at it from a global perspective as well. In a short period of time, I’ve been able to grow my skills, grow within the role and the company.
I’m right in the heart of consulting now. The team I am with is called SSRC, which is Security Strategy, Risk and Compliance. I have always loved strategy because what makes my job effective and meaningful for my clients is really stepping back, looking at the broader picture, and helping a company see where they are and where they have to be. Performing a gap analysis and further building out a strategy roadmap helps them achieve their goals and objectives while addressing their gaps.
Careful assessment can help newcomers prepare for success
When we look at a situation from an SSRC point of view, we always base our assessment on an industry-recognized framework. We look at what is currently in the organization and assess what gaps can be filled to take the organization from where they are to where they have to be. And then we make a road map of how to get there.
1. Research the environment
If I put the same lens on the newcomer journey, I would say the first step is understanding your environment. Research is key because you’re coming from one culture to another, from one work environment to another, so understanding the differences is really important. This gap can be addressed by performing thorough online research or reaching out to organizations like Arrive to better understand the landscape and what it is that you’re getting into so that you avoid surprises.
It’s really important to prepare. So get information and identify things that can be done before you leave. For example, simple things like your resume. Get it reviewed by somebody with experience in Canada. It took me many iterations to get my resume to the Canadian standard, so get that work started. Also, reach out to people in your connections on LinkedIn and arrange for virtual information interviews. Get different perspectives and strategies, and then pick which works for you. It might be surprising to see that people are more than happy to help. The key, however, is to ask! My mentor once told me if you don’t ask, you don’t get. That mantra has stuck with me ever since.
2. Gap analysis
If you have any certifications to complete, get working on it because they can take time. Next is to attend networking events. As we navigate new protocols due to the pandemic, events are being held virtually. So attend these virtual meet ups to gain information to understand what it is you may be missing, or identify skills that you currently have that are transferable in Canada and improve your digital presence. Fill those gaps.
3. Risk and compliance
There are always risks when you set out on this kind of undertaking. You have to identify acceptable risks and plan for them. Like how long it will take to find a job and how much money you have set aside or how to rent an apartment without a credit history. There are also the country’s basic rules, how to get a driver’s licence, how to file Canadian taxes and more.
Knowing what to expect before moving and understanding the cultural differences, you’ll need to adapt to help you build your strategy to arrive prepared in Canada. Get as much information as you can, network, talk to people and understand the job market here. That was my strategy.
Being part of a community and helping others is important to me
I wanted to find a perfect fit when I came to Canada. That was my goal in terms of my career and my life. I found my career and I wanted to find my community. I didn’t want to be a foreigner forever in a country where I have chosen to live. So for me, being a part of a community was being home. I attended meetups to see where I would fit as part of a community. I also have a heart full of passion for people. So, I am happy to give back by helping newcomers who are coming to Canada now.
I am very proud of my Indian heritage, and I’ve liked the other countries I’ve lived in, but Canada is a truly different place. This country has so many opportunities for people who are willing to pursue them. As I now call Canada home, I would like to represent it in a way that makes the people and country proud.