What are your full name and job title?
Maria – a forensic specialist.
What did you study?
I graduated with a Bachelor of Information Technology in 2017.
Where did you grow up? Have you held any previous employment?
When I was young my parents travelled a lot for work, so I spent a great deal of time in Asia. I had a lot of unique experiences growing up overseas and made friends in many different places. Once I reached high school we moved to Canberra and I’ve been here ever since. While studying both at school and university, I worked part-time in customer service roles. Surviving in retail and working in fast food set me up well for interviews, particularly questions related to dealing with stressful situations!
How did you get to your current job position?
With university graduation looming before me, I realised I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with myself. As a result, I applied to every IT-based graduate program I could find, one of which was ASIO’s Technologist Graduate Program. Before stumbling across the application it had never occurred to me that ASIO would even have a requirement for IT specialists, but once I started the process it quickly became my first preference. Luckily I was successful and spent my first year in the organisation moving between different technical teams, learning what they do, playing with some cool toys and figuring out what kind of work I wanted to do permanently. At the end of the graduate year I got placed in my current position as a forensic specialist.
How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?
IT was something I started on a whim in high school because I played computer games and used a computer all the time. Once I started learning to program it clicked quickly and I loved it. When university decisions came up I knew that I wanted to keep being able to program, but I was also considering an animation oriented course. In the end that fell through and I commenced a Bachelor of IT, which was the best thing that could have happened. Studying IT at university exposed me to a diverse specialisation and allowed me to try a bunch of different aspects of IT in order to figure out what I enjoyed most. Once I graduated I did consider looking at jobs that were not IT-specific, but my love of solving problems was too strong!
What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?
I applied to a number of other graduate programs and the kinds of interview questions were pretty similar across all interviews. Most of the positions I applied for involved an assessment centre, a full day of activities and an interview. The activities ranged from group activities to individual writing tasks, to more specific skill-set tests. Don’t fret though; mostly these are used to see how you work with others and under pressure. For one application I entirely misunderstood an entire activity and definitely got it wrong, but they still offered me a job!
The interview part included questions such as ‘Can you give an example of when you had to deal with a difficult customer?’ Any previous work experience really helps with these kinds of questions, however, group work at university gives you enough experience to have an example or two up your sleeve. There were also IT-specific questions, but they tended to revolve more around the aspects of IT I had experience with and examples of projects I’d done, rather than specific technical questions.
What does your employer do?
ASIO’s purpose is to protect Australia, its people and its interests from threats to security through the collection and assessment of intelligence – this means the work you do will truly make a difference. We need people with a wide range of skill sets and experiences to accomplish this goal.
What are your areas of responsibility?
My team undertakes forensics and intelligence gathering activities in support of operations (these activities are allowed under the ASIO Act). It can be pretty exciting when you are out in the field working on a deadline and solving unexpected scenarios as they come up – every day is different. Along with this, we also develop tools and capabilities to help us complete our work more efficiently. This means I get to play with a lot of cool ‘toys’ and have to keep up with new and evolving technologies in a complex and constantly changing field.
Can you describe a typical workday? What was the last thing you worked on?
As I’ve just started in this team I’m still learning! My days usually consist of a lot of research and training exercises, where I get to practice the skills that I need to complete forensic work. In addition, I have been given tasks that are relevant to my skill set and are somewhat familiar. For example, I am currently building a computer to assist with data processing.
What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?
There are a lot of career opportunities at ASIO. The organisation provides opportunities for people to move around to new areas, try new roles and find their work-life balance. The Technologists Graduate Program is a great example of this: I have already worked in three different roles across a variety of technical areas. For me personally, I have multiple roles that I could work in across corporate IT and in our technical operations areas. Training and mentoring programs, along with on the job learning and development opportunities will help me to develop and refine my leadership skills for when I decide to apply for promotional (or other) opportunities.
What would your career be you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?
Honestly, I’m not sure. I spent a little bit of time working in private industry so I might have kept that job – but the role was more governance-based. I imagine I would still be working in IT to solve problems.
What do you love most about your job? What kind of task do you enjoy the most?
I chose IT because I loved the problem-solving aspect of it and my job definitely allows me to continue to do that. There is nothing more satisfying than coming across an unexpected problem or a missing capability and being able to fill that requirement. Additionally, I love knowing that the work I am doing is directly helping to keep Australian’s safe. There is a lot of job satisfaction from that.
What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends? Are stress levels high?
Working for the ASIO has a lot of unique limitations, given the environment we work in. For example, only a handful of people know where I work. Given the work we do and the oversight mechanisms ASIO is bound by, there is a certain level of responsibility that comes with that. Line managers and colleagues are supportive and the organisation ensures we have the relevant training to do our jobs, which certainly assists in feeling supported.
My role does require some after-hours work, but I am either compensated for the additional hours I work, or I get time off in lieu. The people who work at ASIO are a lot like a family and everyone is looking out for one another. Even when things get difficult you won’t be alone in overcoming them.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?