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Landing my dream job in computer security

 |  Lauren Brennan

Hi, I’m Lauren! I started at NC State believing that I was going to graduate with a degree in Computer Science and go on to work for a huge tech company or the federal government.  During my junior year, I realized that I disliked coding but still wanted to be involved in the field of security. After careful consideration, I switched majors to Political Science. I chose PS because it allowed me to continue to focus on technology although I no longer had a technical major. This degree is very versatile and enables majors to pursue opportunities in a wide variety of career areas. After narrowing my interest to national security, I began to take advantage of professional development opportunities pointed out by my professors. For example, I attended various lectures on National Security issues at both Duke and UNC-CH. I also got the chance to spend two weeks in Washington D.C meeting with various national security fellows and other students interested in security from around the country as a part of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies program.

I have continued to stay involved in the Computer Science department, although I am no longer a part of the College of Engineering. I have made it a priority to keep up my technical skills through completion of a variety of computer security related online courses and certifications. My desire to bridge the gap between computer science and political science through computer security policy analysis has allowed me to apply for and receive several scholarships to attend conferences around North America.

The first conference I was able to attend through prevailing in a competitive scholarship process was BlackHat USA 2016 in Las Vegas, NV. BlackHat is one of the most prestigious annual conferences in the computer security industry. Similarly, through the NC State Women in Computer Science student group (where I maintained membership even after switching majors) I won another scholarship to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2016 in Houston, Texas. These conferences allowed me to learn from expert presentations on both technical and policy related issues in computer science. The Grace Hopper conference  celebrates all women in computing – whether they are computer science majors or not – and it was there that I gained an interview for my eventual 2017 summer internship and later offer for a full time job  following graduation.

My political science courses have helped me transition from being purely technical to developing a broader and more nuanced understanding of computer security. Because of my unique background as a computer security enthusiast majoring in political science, I have received multiple internship offers to work on information security policy and analysis for big technology companies in the Silicon Valley and Chicago. I have received offers to work with financial, healthcare, research, and independent companies across North America because of the transferable skills that I have developed with the political science department.

Ultimately, I ended up working for a company in Silicon Valley, where I helped conduct security assessments in both San Francisco and London. The strong writing and critical thinking skills that I acquired through my Political Science coursework helped me to understand the information security policy of the company, translate the more technical parts of the actual policy implementation, and produce written content for the Board of Directors and Chief Information Security Officer. I never would have had this chance if I had not decided to blend my political science knowledge with my technical knowledge and competencies.

Though I now work in computer security, I am almost entirely certain that I would not be where I am now – career or education wise – without the Political Science department and the professors here at NC State. The skills I have learned from the Political Science department have allowed me to get a job in the industry of my dreams.

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