United Kingdom

Looking for oddballs to excite Boris? The PM's former confidante JENNY ARCURI writes: I'm your gal! 

Dear Mr Cummings,

Britain needs misfits, you say. Those oddballs, the wild cards, the 'super-talented weirdos' you want to shake up the Civil Service. Perfect. Where do I hand in my CV? 

Or if you think last year's salacious, unsubstantiated gossip about my relationship with Boris precludes me from applying along with the 35,000 misfits who have already done so, I can certainly recommend a few oddballs who could help. I've been hiring people like that for years.

I know that the Prime Minister of all people knows talent is talent, regardless of whether someone has a university degree — because time and again I have had lengthy conversations with him about this very topic, over lunch or at my office.

I take full responsibility for getting Boris interested in technology, because there was no one else at the time who explained these things to him in a way he could relate to, understand and champion, writes Jennifer Arcuri

When he was Mayor of London and was simply handed a list of bullet points about tech before making a speech on how it was influencing business, Boris appreciated my candid way of explaining complicated topics, such as encryption, in a way that related to the everyday British citizen.

Today, as he announces whether he will allow Chinese technology giant Huawei to build Britain's 5G network, I'm sure he will be thinking back to those lessons. (For what it's worth, I strongly believe that as Britain embraces life post-Brexit, it should be manufacturing its own infrastructure projects rather than outsourcing them.)

I take full responsibility for getting Boris interested in technology, because there was no one else at the time who explained these things to him in a way he could relate to, understand and champion.

When he visited my flat in Shoreditch to discuss these matters, he would often comment on my giant wall of 'British Business', which displayed all the fascinating articles and infographics I'd recently read.

As a relative newcomer to England and still an MBA student, I created my wall to help me understand the UK business landscape as a whole. I remember Boris fondly applauding my ability not only to point out weaknesses but to drive solutions to fix these problems.

Boris appreciated my candid way of explaining complicated topics, such as encryption, in a way that related to the everyday British citizen, writes Jennifer Arcuri (pictured outside Downing Street)

And this doesn't require a university education. Having spent all of 2015 gaining five industry certifications in information security, I can attest to the fact that when it comes to being savvy about cyber security, you don't need to be well-versed in maths or sciences, or even capable of writing a robustly secure computer code.

So, in fact, Mr Cummings, your lateral instincts are right. 

As the UK prepares for Brexit, it mustn't focus solely on attracting the kind of experts who wear pinstripe suits (I remember well that Boris himself once referred to these people as 'great supine proto-plasmic, invertebrate jellies').

Subconsciously, I suspect, you are looking for people very like yourself, with unconventional personalities but conventional educations. Oddballs, maybe, but nothing too anti-Establishment.

Let me tell you where I've been hunting out misfits for Hacker House, the cyber security company I co-founded in 2016.

Forget Eton and Harrow — we've been scouring the streets of London, pockets of Manchester and internet forums for disaffected hackers. The brilliant brains Britain needs are lurking in front of laptop screens in every town across the country, often in Britain's most deprived regions.

My ambition is to see places like Britain thrive on the global stage as leaders in cyber security, writes Jennifer Arcuri 

Some of the best hackers I've worked with don't just lack a university education, they have barely a GCSE or any other formal qualifications. 

There is a vast reservoir of talent that the Establishment has always ignored because these people aren't chips off the old block.

And as I suspect you realised, Dominic, when you arrived in Government as the Prime Minister's special adviser last summer, Establishment types are exactly what we don't need.

We have to start doing things differently because the old way isn't working. This was clear for all to see last October, when the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee reviewed the award of a £100,000 government grant to Hacker House after critics of the Government claimed it was only given to us because of my close relationship with Boris.

At the mention of 'penetration testing' — programmers' jargon for seeking out the weaknesses in digital defences — MPs sniggered like smutty schoolchildren. 

But unlike his immature colleagues, I know the Prime Minister has some grasp of the problem because I have explained the essentials to him myself: from encryption to virtual private networks which can make any computer appear to be anywhere in the world.

I instilled in Boris the importance of never connecting to unsafe public wifi networks. I also know that he appreciates that some of the smartest brains in Britain are hidden under hoodies, because he was often a guest speaker at my conferences.

So if, Mr Cummings, you really are serious about revolutionising Whitehall, why don't you just copy the solutions developed by Hacker House?

We have created a course called Hands-On Hacking, which not only teaches corporate teams about essential hacking techniques but propels new students into cyber security jobs.

These are the people Britain needs if it's going to thrive post-Brexit: the kind of people who don't identify with corporate culture, who often don't know how to write a CV and probably can't afford to go back to college for more training.

Without them, Britain's critical institutions will be vulnerable to attack. In other words, our greatest threat could, instead, be our greatest asset. The poacher would become the gamekeeper.

I should be upfront and admit that Hacker House has taken a lot of flak recently, partly because we are not profitable yet. But to me, that isn't important. What matters is solving a critical problem.

I know Boris Johnson understands this and I am certain that's what lies behind your appeal for unconventional thinkers, Dominic. Naturally, I want to help.

My ambition is to see places like Britain thrive on the global stage as leaders in cyber security. 

That's why in March we will be taking Hands-On Hacking to deprived areas of the UK with the Digital Armour Group, a boutique cyber-training company, kicking off with a four-day intensive training course in Grimsby.

After this training week, we plan to develop a permanent training centre in Grimsby, on the North Sea coast.

Dominic, I'd love to see you in Grimsby. I promise you'll meet lots of outstanding and original minds, and not a stuffed shirt among them. You might even find one or two 'unconventional thinkers' for your team.

As I always used to tell the Prime Minister, now is the time to 'Get Excited'.

Yours, 

Jennifer Arcuri