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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.

 



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8 Comments

  1. Jean, very nice, thank u for sharing.

  2. Really nice story! I love the freedom where a person is not confined to their degree. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Jean, i still believe you have one of the coolest jobs in the Security & Trust Organization. I don't believe it a stretch at all. The diversity of thought and creativity non engineering types (like you and I) bring makes us all better!

  4. Great story, Jean! Thanks for sharing. I have two Liberal Arts undergraduate degrees and a Master of Library & Information Science degree. I made a career change and now work as a SOC Analyst. Best career decision I ever made. My only regret is that I didn't make it sooner!

  5. Jean, great life story. Love to have you come and speak at CS7 Cyber Security Convention in October. Was looking for women in Cyber Security. Contact me at www.cs7conv.com I think you could be an inspiration to the students who are in the industry as well. Thanks.

  6. Thank you so much for telling your experience, Jean. In addition to being truly inspiring, it provides us with a cross-section of a changing society that, while becoming more and more technological and requiring a workforce with an advanced skill set, needs to maintain that human side that liberal arts, humanities (and women) can give it. And I say this as a graduate in Literature working in a software house, along with engineers, economists, philosophers, physicists, political scientists and so on. As we say here at Imagicle, after all it's always a matter of happy people.

  7. Jean, Thank you for this great post sharing the answer to how you got such an interesting job, and thank you for encouraging women to break into cybersecurity. Let's hear it for "right brain" thinkers!

  8. As a current student double-majoring in International Politics and Security & Risk Analysis, I could not agree more. Technology is something that affects the operations and decisions of every institution around the world today, which is why I believe that experts everywhere should be marrying two or more disciplines together (here, technical and non-technical would be the most obvious pattern) to discover emerging issues in the world. Even current issues could be addressed more efficiently if there were more professionals capable of understanding both viewpoints when addressing them. Hopefully this will become commonplace in the near future.