A Case for the Liberal Arts in Cybersecurity
I have a great job. As a Global Threat Analyst, I provide intelligence analysis to senior executives and security teams at Cisco. I focus on the confluence of global political trends and advanced persistent cyber threats.
People frequently ask me how I got such an interesting job. I started as an English major with a love of languages and an incurable travel bug. I taught English in Japan in the 1980s and worked in a number of roles, including research for a Japanese television documentary production company. A series of historical documentaries about the US Occupation of Japan after World War II sent me to the National Archives in Washington, DC and eventually, armed with a Master’s Degree in International Affairs, into the federal government.
As my career unfolded, the world was changing around me. Business was globalizing and the digital revolution was underway. By the time I made the career jump to Silicon Valley tech 11 years ago, there was a growing need for people who could straddle geopolitics and cybersecurity. Cisco’s then-CEO John Chambers saw the value in thinking about the global forces that were impacting Cisco’s business and corporate responsibilities. I was given the opportunity to address some of these problems. For example, could Cisco help government customers translate geostrategic trends into actionable intelligence to better protect their networks?
These days, I am part of Cisco’s Advanced Security Research Group. I get to work with some of Cisco’s smartest (and coolest!) engineers on forward-looking questions about securing networks. Many of the hardest problems come down to anticipating human behavior. After all, at the heart of almost every data breach is a combination of human shortcomings. Every new digital technology, if it has any hope of being secure, requires software designers and security researchers to consider the motivations of those who want to break it.
I recently had the privilege of speaking to a group of Cisco CTOs about the global threat landscape. We talked about how governments seeking an edge in emerging technologies obtain intellectual property and trade secrets. We talked about the historical and cultural context for European commitment to data protection. Making networks secure requires this kind of context.
I encourage anyone with a liberal arts background, especially women, to consider a career in cybersecurity. Your insights are needed, and the talent shortage means that recruiters may be willing to work with you, even if your resume doesn’t reflect hard technical skills. In addition to time-honored on-the-job training, there are also non-technical jobs that touch cybersecurity—jobs like threat analysis, government affairs, insider threat programs, travel security, and marketing and communications.
I hope my story about breaking into cybersecurity as a liberal arts major encourages others. It is an endlessly interesting career, and it is a necessary one. The tech industry needs more women, more “right brain” thinkers, and more context about how we got this far, to keep the train we humans are riding on headed toward a future where we would want our children to live.